Armatage man scores App of the Week

A few years back, Mike Levad came up with a great idea, where great ideas often take shape: in the shower.

Inspired by a pop-up alphabet book and the X-ray photography of a friend, he set out to publish a children’s book that would combine the two.

Almost three years later, Levad’s idea came to fruition when it was published Nov. 28, not as a book, but as an iPad and iPhone app called “X is for X-Ray: A Look Inside Everyday Objects.” Upon its debut, Apple named it “App of the Week.”

Levad, 43, lives in Armatage and was formerly a museum exhibit designer. He’s working on the Armatage 365 project, which aims to shoot a photo within the neighborhood once a day for a year (he works with six other photographers and shoots on Tuesdays). He  recently started a photography business called Twin Birch Studios.

He began his march toward the App of the Week when he sent out a mass of emails inviting friends to join him for his Parlor Game Potluck League; he said the league “ultimately went nowhere.”

However, one of the friends he contacted was London-based X-ray photographer Hugh Turvey. The two knew each other from working together at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and caught up over emails.

With Turvey’s X-ray images in mind, Levad had his eureka moment in the shower and approached Turvey about collaborating on a book together. Turvey signed on, and Levad enlisted the help of his wife, Maren, to write the rhymes, because, he said, “she was way better [at writing] than I was.”

To accommodate an alphabet book, Turvey used some of his existing X-ray images and created more, while Maren wrote rhymes to accompany each photograph. Levad shopped the book around to publishers and the responses were inconsistent. Some publishers disliked the photography, while others found the writing to be lacking.

Following the book’s lukewarm reception, Levad and company brought on Paul Rosenthal, a New York City based children’s book writer. This displaced Maren from the project.

“I like to say I fired her, she says she quit,” Levad said. “But we’re not going to quibble about that.”

With Rosenthal onboard, the writer for the project was settled, but soon the format for the book had to be rethought. Making the X-ray photos interactive (by popping up or providing overlays of non-X-ray items) proved to be too expensive.

In May 2010, a month after Apple’s iPad was released, Levad said he realized his book would be perfect for the new tablet.

“This needs to be like that cool book for the iPad, ‘The Elements,’” he said, remembering back.

Levad sent his idea to the London-based app publishing company Touchpress, the same company that published “The Elements.”

“Literally, 45 minutes later they called me back and wanted to talk about the idea, and I tried not to do back flips in my office,” he said, and from there the process took off. “The negotiation lasted five seconds and we just said yes.”

After a $10,000 advance on the deal and a year and a half, “X is for X-Ray” was published in Apple’s iTunes App store.

Levad said the “App of the Week” title was pleasant, if not a surprise.

“It’s awesome, but not a shock,” he said. “Our publisher has a great relationship with Apple.”

While Levad downplays the notoriety his first published app has received, he said “it’s really a 21st century product,” noting the global nature of its development, spanning from London to New York and back to Minneapolis.

He said he thought the app maximized the technology of the iPad platform and with that provided a parting boast.

“If Steve Jobs were still alive, he’d really like this app.”