Obama ’08

January 16, 2023 • Louie Mantia

A few of us who were on our way out from Tapulous were contacted by these two guys we met over the summer, Raven and Dom. They needed help creating an app for a Senator from Illinois who was running for President of the United States.

The election was in 2 months.

There was an event sometime in the summer of 2008 that was kind of like a hackathon for the all-new industry of building iPhone apps.

iPhone Dev Camp was founded by Raven Zachary. Adobe hosted the event at their San Francisco office, and Dom Sagolla (an Adobe employee at the time) organized it. Tapulous was a sponsor, so all of us were there. But so was …everyone else. Anyone who was making an iPhone app in the area was in this room. It was awesome.

A post from Andrew Mager about iPhone Dev Camp solidly matches my recollection and includes a photo of “movie posters” I made for our apps.

With iPhone software development being as new as it was, I think Raven and Dom needed all the help they could get. We just happened to be available and hungry for a new thing to work on. Given the nature of the project, it was volunteer work.

I can honestly say I don’t think any of us were even thinking of money. Making an app like this, for someone like this, with a time constraint like this was a once-in-forever opportunity.

So we …went to each others’ apartments, sat on the floor, and got to work. It was incredibly scrappy. What actually occurred seems like such a blur, because of how quickly it went. Developers were engineering features that were still being designed. I was trying to crank out as many assets as I could. I wanted it to be a stylish app, so stock UI was out of the question.

The design was overwhelmingly blue and glossy. There was a red “Donate” button on the bottom left (which I made to match the red donate button on the website). It became the subject of some debate. Did it look too much like “Delete” on iPhone? Maybe. So we made it green. To me, that made the app just kinda look like the Start menu from Windows XP.

I got to make a handful of icons for the main view, the app icon (a modified version of Obama’s “O” logo), and all the rest of the visual assets in the app like toolbars and buttons.

The app itself took a lot of information from the website, like articles on issues, news, photos, and videos. But we built some radical stuff too, like sorting your contact list by battleground states. By making an assumption from each contact’s area code, we could prioritize a list of who you should focus on calling to get their vote in the states that mattered most.

We had a pretty tight deadline, and you can understand why. Looking at Raven’s email from September 24, the subject was, “We're out of time - let's lock it down and clean it up.” We fixed the remaining bugs, cut some features completely, and shipped it.

After app review, the Obama ’08 iPhone app [archived] went live on October 3, with exactly one month until Election Day. At the time, it was featured in magazines, on TV, and in the App Store.

I don’t think John McCain’s campaign even considered developing an iPhone app. But that didn’t stop someone from making a goofy one.

The Obama ’08 app team:

They make it sound like it’s a crime to take a photo of your ballot, in case you were wondering why this is so blurry. But also, it was taken with an iPhone 3G.

It’s amazing that I somehow got roped into this. After we shipped, I flew home to St. Louis so I could cast my ballot. Then I packed for North Carolina. After it was all over, I think we all felt like it was the app that won the White House.

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