Good. Clean. Honest. Fun.
That’s what the iBeer app represented to a generation of early iPhone users, and that, I’m afraid, is very much what’s missing in today’s world of “non-funkable tokens” and “idle orangutans.” Not only was the app a lighthearted parlor trick that brought smiles to the faces of millions, but it was an industrial juggernaut, earning its creator — a struggling 37-year-old magician by the name of Steve Sheraton — up to $20,000 a day. And okay, sure, you might be one of those raking in millions from cryptographical currencies at the expense of others’ financial negligence, but where’s the joy in that? Where’s the magic?
Sheraton revealed these earnings in a recent interview with Mel Magazine (which we spotted via the good folks at iMore) — and it’s a perfect slice of early smartphone history. Sheraton’s tale harks back to a simpler, more innocent time, when one could entertain a crowd of thousands by simply pretending to drink beer from a phone.
As Sheraton explains, the original gag was actually done using a static video that was sold on iTunes for $2.99. You can see the original demo starring Sheraton below:
But when Steve Jobs launched the App Store in 2008, Sheraton was approached by Apple, which was on the hunt for developers that could make apps to show the potential of the iPhone. So, he overhauled the concept with a newly formed company named Hottrix, replacing animations with real video assets and — the masterstroke — linking those clips to movements detected by the iPhone’s accelerometer. Waggle your phone, and the liquid moved with it; tilt the device into your mouth, and the earth-shattering illusion is complete.
As a result of its simplicity and novelty, iBeer was an instant hit, as Sheraton tells MEL:
“We shot to first place [in the App Store] on the very first day and stayed there for about a year,” he says. “Apart from its visual humor and sort of appealing to the lowest common denominator, iBeer was a large success because it allowed people to show their friends what the phone was capable of. You could show them maps and all these kinda geeky things, but iBeer was easier to understand and a funny, fun way to show off the iPhone’s accelerometer and its bright screen with super lifelike colors.”
At $2.99 a download, the app was soon making big money for Sheraton and Hottrix, who apparently spent the cash on plush accommodation in places like Barcelona and, for some reason, antique furniture (again: it was a simpler time).
Sheraton himself is now 52 and has relinquished control of iBeer to Hottrix (which still makes a version of the app). He now lives on a farm in Spain and says he’s happy “hiding out with my family and fruit.” He’s still in the illusion business, though, and makes smartphone apps for professional magicians to use in their acts. For some, it seems, the magic never has to die.