The Future is Clear: Impending Aims to Bring You Tomorrow’s Apps, Today

Impending co-founder Phill Ryu is no stranger to launching apps and starting businesses. He’s one of the creators of MacHeist, the Mac software deal site, and he’s also one of the founding partners of tap tap tap, the development studio that counts Camera+ among its successes, one of the most successful photo apps ever to grace the App Store. Ryu’s latest project, which he created with Impending co-founder David Lanham and collaborators Dan Counsell and Milen Dzhumerov, is called Clear, and it launches today to provide a unique and refreshing approach to a tired concept: the mobile to-do list manager.

Clear is the result of a partnership by Impending and Counsell’s Realmac Software, which makes classic Mac apps including Courier, Rapidweaver and LittleSnapper. It came about because Ryu and company were looking for a to-do experience that did away with the clutter most apps offer and instead provided an experience more akin to a basic, old-school pen and paper list. Ryu has emphasized that a lot of the development process of Clear centered around just getting rid of stuff that wasn’t necessary. It’s an editorial approach not unlike that taken by Apple, so it’s appropriate that Clear is debuting as an iPhone-only application.

Users control Clear exclusively with gestures. Pull down menus allow users to create new items or go back a level, and swiping left or right marks tasks as complete or deletes them entirely. There’s no status bar, and no interface elements that aren’t absolutely necessary. Far from being stark, however, Clear is colorful, fun and replete with sounds that augment the whole experience. It’s an app that changes the entire idea of apps, and one that feels perfectly tailored to the iPhones it lives on.

Ryu said in an interview that Impending was sort of a natural evolution of tap tap tap, where his work led him to make a lot of friends in the development community. Impending itself consists of Ryu and his artist friend David Lanham, who helped with the creation of tap tap tap successes like Classics. The project is “fairly bootstrapped,” says Ryu, funded with just “a bit of money from a couple friends who have had success on their own with apps.” He didn’t confirm specific names, but with the contacts he’s made through tap tap tap and MacHeist, it’s no surprise he was easily able to find investors to back his big ideas.

Big ideas is what Impending is all about. Ryu described it as a place were he and Lanham could accomplish some of the “crazier things [they] wanted to do,” including “ideas from the future to ship today.” The Clear development process began with the decision to “wipe away everything. Every feature you might expect, buttons, the navigation bar, etc. and … start with a blank slate,” Ryu says. He called it a “painstaking process,” but also “so blindingly obvious that this is the way to go,” calling “the investment of relearning things… always worth it.” Clear’s worth is in its effort to break free from convention in order to seek out new and lucrative app markets; mobile software shoppers are sure to become jaded over time, and developers will have to impress with innovative approaches to achieve the levels of success enjoyed by apps like Camera+ and Classics in the past. So far, it looks like Ryu’s gamble is paying off; Clear has already climbed to the number two paid spot in the App Store, despite only making its debut early this morning.

Ryu expresses extreme disappointment with a lot of conventional wisdom about developing software products, noting that “it’s a radically different world we live in today, post-App Store.” He says the “game rules manual” a lot of developers operate by “is completely out of date,” and should be “put out of print before it before it screws up more mobile developers.” Impending is about rewriting those rules, one app at a time. Ryu wouldn’t share specifics about future Impending products, but did say that every kind of app is on the table. “The only condition for an Impending project,” according to Ryu, “is it has to feel like it’s from the near-future.” Clear certainly meets that description.