Interview with Davide Di Cillo
Tell us about your background and your role in the creation of SyncPad.
My background is in web and interface design. When Apple released the opportunity to develop applications for its devices, we started developing these. SyncPad was actually a company side project, but we saw so much potential that we decided to start it off as its own company. There are going to be more products in this line.
How was SyncPad created?
It’s quite funny where the idea for SyncPad originated from. One of my developers came up with an app to play Pictionary over a Wi-Fi connection. I thought, nobody’s going to want to play Pictionary over Wi-Fi! But there are a lot of people with iPads in Starbucks, a lot of businesspeople. I thought this would be a great tool to use to collaborate remotely. Often I found that as a designer, when trying to explain a concept over the telephone, the client just wouldn’t understand. I always thought that if I could just show the client what I meant, it would be so clear. And if we could make this work over the Internet and not just over a network connection, it would be a great way to collaborate with other people.
So that’s how it started. SyncPad was the first application that was really doing this remotely. All other applications needed to be on the same network, but not with SyncPad. In the beginning, only drawing was enabled. Then people began to ask if they could share other things like pdf files, which is how we entered the presentation market. We really listen to our users and follow the market and react to people’s comments.
We’re a very small company. Aside from two of us, everybody else is remote – we have people based in California, Miami, and Argentina. We built SyncPad from scratch, from infrastructure to application. We’re working on a big change in our infrastructure that will probably go out in September, and we’ve just released a browser extension for Google+ video chat: a SyncPad button that opens a room straight away.
What were the challenges when it came to creating SyncPad?
From a technical point of view, the biggest difficulty in creating SyncPad was to make ‘real time’ actually real time. The data transfer made it difficult, but it’s important that there’s no delay when sharing.
From a product point of view, it was hard to find the right market. It takes a while to understand who you are talking to, who your users are, who’s going to be using the app. The secret to succeed in that is to really talk to your users and understand.
What was SyncPad really designed to achieve? What was the ultimate aim?
SyncPad’s ultimate goal was to bring real time collaboration to the masses, and make it easy and affordable.
What are you particularly proud of about SyncPad?
Well, I’m really proud of the people I’m working with on this product. I really think that the people behind it are extremely smart and we achieve a lot considering that we’re still a small reality and we don’t have huge plans behind us. I’m really proud to see this thing growing and getting the attention it is, and I really see its potential. It’s exciting – like seeing a baby grow! Every day there’s something new happening, and that’s really cool.
How does SyncPad handle security issues?
At the moment, anyone can access a room, so if you name your room something common like ‘test’, there is a chance someone can jump in it. What you can do is select something really obscure, and then use the name of the room as the password.
Things are going to change. Basically we’re moving towards a user system, so there’ll be a concept of users and authentication. You’ll be able to log in using e.g. your Facebook, Google or LinkedIn account. We will have greater security and rooms can be password protected if you want.
This is one of the things you really learn from your users. In my personal experience, I never felt the need for extra security, as I can just use a decent name for the room and the chances of someone jumping in will be extremely low. I understand now that some will feel better if we give them more security, so we’re working in that direction.
We offer a secure version of SyncPad for other companies that need a high level of security, e.g. banks. The client can start their own room, and manage the security themselves. This is an enterprise solution worked on a case by case basis.
We can adapt SyncPad’s offerings for individual needs, as we did for a client in Italy. They had between 40 and 80 people at this event, and each attendee was given an iPad with SyncPad, running on a self-contained environment over the local network. Everyone was able to follow the presentation given by their presenter, and could answer questions posed by the presenter.
What’s your final comment on SyncPad?
The most important thing to remember about SyncPad is that it’s a living product, and is improving week by week. There is an active team behind it. It’s not an app that’s been put in the app store, and then its developers have moved on to something else – we release updates at least once a month. It’s a very active development, and we’re really working hard to make it better.
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