Apple manager turned iPhone app creator tells all

Dave Howell, CEO of Avatron Software, is an iPhone app developer with an insight into the inner workings of Apple: before starting his company -- and coming out with one of the first iPhone document viewers -- he worked for Apple.

Howell's flagship app, Air Sharing, hit the App Store nearly a year ago to great fanfare. Today, it competes with some 200 apps.

The App Store has become the Wild West, where apps spring up seemingly overnight. It's where an app's logo suddenly takes on enormous importance. Some 100,000 apps now line the virtual shelves of the App Store, which opened its doors only a little more than a year ago.

Howell had worked at small companies before joining Apple in 2002. He spent six years at Apple in various managerial and engineering roles. Bitten by the startup bug, he enrolled in Cornell University's weekend MBA program and, in 2008, quit Apple to start Avatron.

Now Howell must guide Avatron through the dynamic world of the iPhone app marketplace. It's a world where unpredictability and opportunity go hand-in-hand, frustration an everyday occurrence, and constant innovation the key to survival.

We spoke with Howell about the early days of the App Store, his Apple experience and how he plans to stay a step ahead of the competition.

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DA: You went from a big company with a closed, paranoid culture to your own startup. How was that transition?
DH: At Apple, I gained an appreciation for all the process you get at a large organization. I had always been a sort of lone wolf working at start-ups and small companies. I was dragged into Apple kicking and screaming [when Apple acquired his previous company] but later really appreciated the power and discipline of it.

The paranoia and secrecy was always frustrating but not as hard as I thought it would be. It was more my fear. For the most part, Apple's processes just work really well. Another frustration with a big company, not just Apple, is that if you have what you think is a great idea, there may just be nobody there to listen to it.

Now, it's not the case at all. We have the nimbleness of a little group. Avatron has seven employees. We just hired two engineers. We're brainstorming every day about features, new apps, new opportunities -- it's a lot more fun.

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