I’m waiting on Apple for the review of my personal pet project, Gabbai for iPad. Here’s the story behind Gabbai:
Gabbai began as a personal project of mine. I watched the iPad keynote in January 2010, and I had this great idea. I wanted to hang the iPad in every shul, and use it to show announcements and zmanim.
The concept isn’t new. Synagogues all over New York (and worldwide, I’m sure) have computerized displays which calculate prayer times and such. Figuring these things out is complicated, unless you have a calendar to refer to – or a computer. There are LCD based solutions being sold, but they’re prohibitively expensive, so if you see a computerized display today, it’s probably been donated. The idea was to make this both beautiful and affordable. At the risk of sounding cliche, that was my vision.
I began by making a prototype with HTML, just to be sure that the iPad was indeed the right size. I stuck some text on the screen, formatted it roughly the way the final product was to look, and had a friend hold it at the right height across the room. After trying it, I was convinced that I had hit on something.
I figured that if I had a laptop, I’d knock off the project in a month or so, and start selling it. One cold Saturday night in October 2010, I went with a friend to the Apple Store and picked up a white plastic MacBook. I remember unpacking it in the back of a taxi, and enjoying the “new Mac” smell.
Although I had a prototype and a laptop, the hard part was still yet to come. The primary function of the app involved a lot calculations which I was totally unfamiliar with. Luckily, I’m not the first Jewish programmer, others have written the necessary code before me. I discovered Eliyahu Hershfeld’s KosherJava library. The trouble was, the iPad runs a programming languages called Objective-C, and KosherJava was written in, well, Java. I set out to translate it.
The translation of KosherJava was an interesting project all by itself. I learned a lot of things about the Jewish calendar just by reading Eliyahu’s code. I spent much of my summer weekends in 2011 translating the code. Eliyahu was kind enough to answer emails, spend time on the phone, and be generally supportive of my efforts. (The results of the endeavor are available online.)
During the first year of Gabbai’s development, I spent some time in a Yeshiva in Bayswater, New York. I showed working demos to friends, neighbors, and some family that I had in the area. They had some great feedback, much of which has helped shape the final product. However, that was over a year ago.
Time was flying by and I was beginning to get nervous. The app was supposed to be finished in a month, but that deadline had gone to the wind. I left Yeshiva and started college. I began moving on to other projects, but every now and then, I’d open up Gabbai and make some changes to it.
I regained focus in August of this year, when I started using a website to track my progress. Last night, I submitted Gabbai to Apple for review. Gd willing, it will be approved within a week or two and then I can finally realize my vision of an iPad on the wall in every shul in North America.
You can find out more about Gabbai at [https://gabbaiapp.com].