In the News

May 27, 2013

Orange County Register

Seed Cycle app was labor of love

By Sherri Cruz

What kind of flowers do bees pollinate? While developing an iPad app, UC Irvine professor of informatics Bill Tomlinson learned the hard way that bees don’t pollinate birds of paradise flowers. Developing an app for a mobile device isn’t only about coding in Java or Objective-C, the languages used by Android and Apple devices, respectively. It’s about getting your facts straight. And knowing your audience. There’s a bit of marketing and a lot of trial and error. And straight-up persistence. Tomlinson created the “Seed Cycle” app with his wife, Rebecca Black, a professor of education at the UC Irvine School of Education.

The app, which is available in the iTunes library, is geared toward young children. In an interactive way, the app shows how flowers come to be.

Bill Tomlinson made all the artwork using Adobe Illustrator.

Tomlinson has a background in biology and stop-motion animation, which he studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. As a side note, his “Shaft of Light” puppet film was screened at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. It’s on YouTube. Back to the birds and bees. Tomlinson created a bunch of birds of paradise flowers, and he made the bees pollinate them.

He then ran a prototype by his sister, an animation professor with a biology background.

“It turns out bees do not pollinate birds of paradise flowers,” he said.

Then the question was: “Are we going to make sunbirds, which pollinate birds of paradise flowers, or are we going to choose another flower pollinated by bees?”

Tomlinson chose another flower. A lot of the coding remained intact, he said. He just needed to remake a bunch of flowers and plug them into the code.

“It would’ve saved me 20 hours of work if I thought to look up the question of whether bees pollinate birds of paradise,” he said. “Having been a biology major, I was embarrassed my sister called me out on it.”

Tomlinson decided to create an app about two years ago.

“About once a year, to stay current with my work and to keep up with the kids these days, I try to learn some new technological skill,” he said.

“An iPad app seemed like an interesting challenge.”

He already knew how to program a computer, so the coding wasn’t necessarily a hurdle. It was a matter of try and try again.

There’s an old saying, Tomlinson said: “A computer will always do exactly what you tell it to and never what you want.”

When he had troubles with his code, he checked, a question-and-answer site he had never used.

“Every question I ever had was answered on Stackoverflow.”

He had one of his friends look at his code, and apparently he broke a lot of rules. “The way in which I made the app is completely in violation of all that is holy in making iPad apps,” he said. But, hey, it works. “It hasn’t crashed.”

His wife worked on the front end of developing the app, planning it out and making sure the content was educational. She also did the voice-over.

Their son, Miles, was the inspiration for the app.

He was 10 months old at the time, and they wanted to create something educational that he might enjoy.

“We wanted it to be fun. But we didn’t want it to be just fun,” he said.

It took six weeks to make the app – about 300 hours, he said. Getting it in the iTunes library, which two years ago was a tangled process, took two weeks of sustained effort, he said. The app has sold 4,000 copies so far. Tomlinson’s wife did some light marketing, posting it on app sites. They also made a nifty YouTube video, which shows Miles and another child having fun with it. Sales have been mostly through word of mouth. If your single goal is to make money, don’t make an app, he said. If you have a good idea, someone with a hefty marketing budget is likely to make a cheap knockoff and market the heck out of it. “I would’ve made this app for free,” he said.
Seed Cycle app was labor of love

< Previous
Students can't resist distraction for two minutes ... and neither can you
Next >
Critical Diagnoses

Media Inquiries
Media interested in interviewing ICS faculty, students or alumni should contact Matt Miller at (949) 824-1562 or