Squire , a media center that we mentioned to you at Apple in the middle of last month, is being at the moment by multitude of alpha testers and little by little evolving to become the best alternative of this type of players in Mac OS X in front of other programs like Boxee, Plex or its origin, XBMC.
Squire is being developed by Sylion Development, a Spanish startup that also has other projects in hand although Squire is their star application right now. We had the opportunity to talk with their developers, Jonatan Castro and Fernando García , so they could tell us the details of how they got here and what they expect to do from now on. We start with the questions after the jump.
One of Squire’s main advantages over the other competitors is that it is programmed in Cocoa, offering better performance on Mac OS X. Other applications have simply chosen to be based on platforms such as XBMC. Has Cocoa-based programming been an added challenge for you?
Creating Squire from scratch, programmed in Cocoa, has its faces and its tails. On the one hand, it’s clear that we had to create all the necessary elements, from its foundations, without counting on XBMC. This extra effort is worthwhile because it has allowed us to create an application that fits perfectly with the Mac platform, its philosophy, and what we’ve always believed should be a Media Center, without the limitations that development on an existing foundation would have imposed on us. Cocoa provides a series of very powerful technologies and its frameworks solve the most basic tasks. This means that the same development on any other platform, with the means we have, would have been impossible.
Let’s talk about another of Squire’s key advantages, the ability to catalogue our film library without having to configure literally anything. We’ve been able to test this and it’s incredibly convenient, so what is the criteria you use to be able to catalogue everything without any problems?
The cataloguing process involves the use of several algorithms. These algorithms study many parameters of a file to determine whether or not it is a movie and then, depending on the name of the file, metadata, its location … we apply another set of algorithms to try to recognize the film or series in question as reliably as possible. The alpha version uses a provisional recognition system, based on other minor algorithms. The actual system has not yet been incorporated.
Recently, in the development of your Alpha version, you have decided to implement your own database in order to offer more efficiency in the organization and thus not to depend on third parties. With all the databases that are already on the internet, what made you do this? Does it represent a big effort for you?
We consider the database to be a key element of the system. Despite the existence of a database on the Internet, we believe it would be unwise for the quality of our service to depend on third parties. In addition, our database is tailor-made, so it is perfectly suited to Squire for Mac and the future services we will be offering.
The construction of the database is taking us a great effort, as big as the program itself. We work not only on its creation but also on search algorithms, optimization of the connections with the program, etc.
Squire uses the VLC player engine to support all possible video formats. Have you had any problems with some formats or codecs compared to other alternatives?
In keeping with the philosophy of applying native OS X technologies, Squire offers a playback engine based on Quicktime. Perian provides Quicktime with support for many formats, but we were not getting the playback quality we were looking for for certain codecs, especially with mkv files.
This made us consider developing an additional engine. After weighing alternatives we decided on VLC for its power, flexibility and the possibilities offered by its VLCKit library written in Cocoa. So we developed an optional plugin with a VLC-based engine.
Squire, therefore, uses a dual system. It uses one engine or another depending on the file to be played.
So far we’ve been able to test two of Squire’s features: the movies and the series. In your promotional video, we saw some signs of integration of external services. Any clues as to what you might include? Have you contacted Apple about integrating certain services such as MobileMe Galleries?
In the field of films and TV series, we are particularly interested in online content stores, i.e. that a Squire user can acquire the right to watch a film or series from one of the various stores on the Internet. In the photo module, we hope to offer services such as Mobileme, Flickr or Picasa, in addition to the mandatory iPhoto support.
We looked into the possibility of integrating MobileMe galleries into Squire. Apple does not provide much information on this or offer an open API. We’re very interested in including MobileMe, but we haven’t contacted them yet.
Many of the alternatives to Squire have implemented their own application catalog to comfortably integrate third-party services. What is your opinion about a possible ‘App Store’ within Squire?
We do not know if the term App Store would be appropriate for the format we want to provide Squire. In our opinion, the use of applications within a media center leads to a segmentation and dispersion of content that does not favor it. We do not like the idea of forcing the user to continually enter and exit applications every time they want to access new content. We think of a more direct, fast and fluid navigation. This does not mean that Squire does not have content from different sources and that it will not be an open platform. It will be, but your content will be organized differently.
One of the main doubts we have is the price of the final application. We have seen traces of a user account system in Squire: will it be the free or paid program, or will you launch free and paid services using those user accounts as a base?
The final application of Squire will be free. Each Squire user will have an account that will allow us to offer more personalized content to their profile, synchronization between devices, etc. Squire
The Mac App Store is being a download explosion and a huge opportunity for developers like you. In your recent iCharlas podcast you commented that due to regulations you are hesitant to launch this service in this store due to video codecs and possible conflict with Frontrow. Do you prefer to be more on Apple’s side or launch the application with traditional download and offer the possibility of integration with jailbreak devices?
As far as Mac OS X is concerned, as we said in iCharlas, we doubt that the Mac App Store is the most suitable medium for Squire. In addition to the potential conflict with Frontrow and other aspects (there are also licensing issues), if we can be sure in the case of using the Mac App Store it would not be the sole channel for distributing Squire for OS X.
A different case will be the future versions of the Squire for iOS. Being a different product, with other needs, will be distributed through the App Store. About the AppleTV we can only say that we would love to see Squire running on an AppleTV, even if it was on devices with jailbreak. Who knows…
We know that your goal right now is to release Squire for Mac OS X and you’re extremely busy with that. You’ve also talked about the possibility of reaching iOS someday. Are you planning to reach out to third-party devices such as Boxee Box, or other third-party players?
The Squire will have iOS versions, we don’t want the Squire to be relegated exclusively to the living room TV. We’re working to make it a platform that users can use on any of their Apple devices. The possibility of reaching third party devices in the short term is complicated. The fact that Squire is written in Cocoa and uses Apple technology makes it difficult to port it to another type of architecture, while retaining its power and functions. However, it is clear that in the future we aspire to be in all types of devices and computers but to undertake such ambitious projects we will first need to grow as a company.
Squire is in an early stage of development (private alpha), so you need an invitation to try it out and the willingness to send feedback to the developers. Jonatan and Fernando have assured us that they are sending out invitations on a daily basis, so if you are interested in taking a look at Squire, just fill out the application form on their official website.
For our part, we can only be grateful to Jonatan and Fernando for dedicating part of your scarce free time to answering our questions. We will keep an eye on the development of Squire and its future , which looks very good.