The Making of UMMC’s iPhone App

By Chris Lindsley
Blog Editor

In July of 2009, the University of Maryland Medical Center launched the “UMMC Medical Encyclopedia” iPhone application. This app, which is available free on the Apple iPhone App Store or on iTunes, was an immediate hit, and has been downloaded about 1,500 times a day by people in more than 50 countries.

This app was the brainchild of UMMC Web Production Manager Marc Laytar, who talks about the steps involved in creating the app, its success and future upgrades in the following interview.

1. Where did the idea for the UMMC Medical Encyclopedia iPhone app come from?

In examining the applications for the iPhone, I noticed that many of the apps were somewhat superficial in the information they provided. Many were simple health tests or symptom checkers, while others were geared toward doctors or other health professionals.  There seemed to be a void that I thought the UMMC Medical Encyclopedia could fill.  I then looked at the steps required to get the app off the ground and it seemed very doable, so we got started.

2. Talk about the process/steps involved to make this a reality.

The first thing I did was work with Russell Vance, our other developer, to flesh out the application and determine what we wanted the look and feel to be. We wanted the application to have the full functionality of our web encyclopedia, but also look good on the iPhone.  Russell then modified our existing encyclopedia pages to be able to detect when an iPhone was visiting, and therefore optimize the look for the iPhone visitors. I created the graphics for the app, and put the whole thing together using Apple’s iPhone Developer tools. The submission process was somewhat daunting, but after about a month of emails back and forth with Apple, the app was finally approved. The UMMC Medical Encyclopedia finally debuted on July 21, 2009.

3. Has the popularity of the UMMC app surprised you?

The popularity of the app was a complete surprise. We knew it would be popular, but not at the levels it has shown. We watched with anticipation as it moved up the charts — from 20th most popular in the first few days up to 3rd by the end of the first week. It stayed at 3rd for about 2 months before dropping to 4th.  What has surprised us the most is its consistency. We are getting a solid 1,600 to 2,000 downloads a day from more than 50 countries without fail. At the end of December we should be hitting the 250,000 download mark, which is very thrilling.

4. What enhancements/improvements do you plan to make in the future?

The enhancements we plan to make in the near future are to the speed and appearance of the application. By downloading more of the data onto the phone itself, we hope to improve the user experience by making the navigation more seamless and efficient. We also plan on adding new graphics and sliding menus to give the application a more up-to-date look and feel.

5. What tips or advice can you share to others thinking about creating an iPhone app?

For those interested in creating an iPhone app, I suggest you get help from a developer that specializes in iPhone apps. There are more and more developers every day who are specializing in mobile apps and iPhone applications in particular. By consulting a pro, you can avoid many of the pitfalls that occur in the development and approval process.

If time is not an issue, and you have someone who is Mac savvy on staff, try doing it yourself.  Apple has created a great development site to get started building iPhone apps.  Here they provide simple templates and step-by-step instructions to getting started with your first app.