Apple is known for its strict curation of its App Store, but that’s nothing compared to the labyrinth Shaun Masavage had to navigate to get his miniature breathalyzer DrinkMate approved by the company for use with the iPhone.
Masavage has spent the last year working on an iPhone version of DrinkMate that could get Apple’s approval, after successfully raising over $40,000 last year on Kickstarter to build an Android version.
The Kickstarter for the iPhone version launched on Sunday and more than 500 backers have helped the University of Virginia alum pass its $35,000 goal, $30,000 of which came just in the first day.
“A lot of our backers last year wanted an Apple version,” Masavage said. “We encountered a lot of pushback from retailers too. They weren’t interested in the Android version without an Apple version too.”
The DrinkMate breathalyzer, which Masavage said is smaller than a chapstick tube, plugs directly into a smartphone. Blowing into the device displays instant blood alcohol content results in an app on the phone. DrinkMate is the first product for Masavage’s D.C.-based startup Edge Tech, and he expects the device will start selling much more quickly once the iPhone version is on the shelves. “I’d say 80 to 90 percent of our sales will be for iPhone users,” Masavage said.
But it would have been impossible to start with the iPhone version of DrinkMate, just because of how Apple operates. Apple requires that hardware developers buy authentication chips and Lightning connectors from Apple’s own supplies, and because there’s no bulk discount, it basically doubles the cost of building the device, Masavage said. (Apple did not respond to a request for comment before publication.)
The process is time consuming as well. Developers need to go through the MFi approval program and go through a lot of back-and-forth over the technical details of their products. Even filling out the initial application took Masavage a month-and-a-half. But developers don’t really have a choice.
“For hardware there are serious legal requirements,” Masavage said. “I think we were probably only accepted because of the success of the original Kickstarter.”
“There were a disturbing number of points where I wondered if we could do this.”
Masavage did try to find ways of making the process less painful, such as by trying to find a cheaper source for the chips and connectors he needed. Unfortunately, he quickly learned that any such offers online were always fake, sending him back to Apple for the parts he needed. The frustrations were many.
“There were a disturbing number of points where I wondered if we could do this,” Masavage said. “But I had plenty of encouragement.”
Ultimately, Masavage says he’s learned some important lessons about building hardware for smartphones. Such as, bringing a focus on building for iPhone from the very beginning.
“Android can be your proof of concept, but you can’t sustain a product without Apple,” Masavage said. “Next time, we’re definitely going to start with the Apple version. After that, building for Android will be relaxing.”