The first of my 'being productive at the weekend' projects was something I'd actually started over the Christmas holidays - a pretty simple iOS app for checking domain name availability. The few apps I'd found all had the same restriction - they could only check .com/.net/.org domains. At a guess, they were just making a standard 'whois' request and parsing the results. Because every TLD/ccTLD formats their results differently, they just stuck with the main TLDs. (For those that don't know their domains: the 'TLD' is the '.com' part of a domain name. A 'ccTLD' is a country-specific TLD, like '.uk' for the UK or '.ca' for Canada.)
So I thought I saw a gap in the market: an iOS app that could check almost all TLDs/ccTLDs. I knew there was a Ruby gem which had parsers for most ccTLDs so I decided to make a really simple web service, and write the app using one of the mobile webapp frameworks, and then use PhoneGap to turn it into a native app that I could submit to the App Store.
Last weekend I decided to scrap this idea, because I realised that I'd managed to miss iOS apps from all the major domain name registrars, including GoDaddy, which did what I wanted to do and were better in every way. Oops.
I don't count this as a complete failure. As well as learning to do more thorough market research I also got to play with several new technologies, and put an actual app on my actual phone (and through the power of TestFlight on a few other people's actual phones, too).
And since, at its heart, this was just a webapp, I can strip out the PhoneGap-specific code, chuck away some parts of the API that don't matter now, and put the final thing online. So I did: DomainIsFree should work on iOS devices, it might work on Android 2 (or your browser might crash), and in theory it should work on WebOS, but who really knows?
I'm not going to spend time debugging the jQTouch problems on platforms other than iOS - it works for me, and if you have an iPhone it'll almost certainly work for you. It doesn't do anything you couldn't find a website to do, but if you save it to your homescreen on your iPhone it'll be conveniently available for when you wake up at 3am and wonder if 'enwriten.com' is available. (Hint: it was when I checked, it won't be if you check.)
So what have I salvaged from this otherwise failed project? I've got some product development and technical experience, and ultimately I've scratched the itch that started me on this project in the first place. It's not as good a result as it could've been, but it's far from as bad as it could've been too. I'll call this one a minor victory and move on.