active: late 2008 to early 2009


A Meditative Interactive 3D Tree Simulation

iBonsai was a fun little project that became my company's first product. It was a stylized 3D bonsai tree generator for iOS devices, inspired by an earlier experiment with branching systems. It had about 120,000 downloads.

iBonsai on the original iPhone

iBonsai was available on the App Store from 2008 to 2017. I last updated it in 2009 (adding generative music), but unfortunately I was too busy after that to work on it further. Despite the lack of updates, sales continued for several years, enabling me to focus on AI research.

By 2017, sales had decayed to a few dollars per month, and the upcoming iOS 11 would require all old 32-bit apps to be rebuilt. I decided then to remove it from the App Store. I'm still impressed that Apple's platform enabled an app compiled in 2009 for iOS version 2 (called iPhone OS then) to run without changes until 2017, spanning all iOS versions 2 through 10.

Enable sound on this video to hear the generative string music.

The following sections are from the app's page on the App Store.


A digital abstraction of the bonsai experience.

Bonsai is the Japanese art of miniaturizing trees by growing them in small pots. Now you can create your own miniature trees in 3D right on your iPhone or iPod!

With a tap of your finger, iBonsai's sophisticated generative algorithm begins growing a unique digital tree. No two bonsai trees are the same! After about 30 seconds of growth, your mature bonsai becomes a beautifully rendered image in the sumi-e style of Japanese brush painting. The iBonsai algorithm produces a wide variety of trees: you might get simple, elegant shapes or twisted, complex creations. The randomness is the source of its beauty.

iBonsai screenshots

As iBonsai is an abstraction of true bonsai, you need not worry about watering or pruning your tree: simply watch it take shape before your eyes. In designing iBonsai we have carefully pruned the decision-making process in order to give you a hands-free aesthetic experience. For those that wish to have some control over the process, try using the shaping tool to guide your tree's growth.

If you liked Koi Pond, you will love iBonsai. Download it today to enjoy the zen-like relaxing nature of this ancient art form.


Sheer beauty and brilliance... this is one of those apps you need to experience hands-on... hard to pass up once you see it in action.

Steps to iBonsai's huge success: Put an awesome algorithm in a pot, water it with appealing art, and watch it grow into one amazing app.

Infinitely diverse bonsai trees... it's very pretty.

The app is certainly ingenious.

Relaxing and peaceful... quite original.

Spirit of the greatest masterpieces in Japanese 3D style ink.
- Japanese customer review

"Awesome, plain and simple." "My girlfriend is insidiously jealous that I have this." "One of the most relaxing, tranquil, and beautiful apps available." "A creative and artistic masterpiece wrapped up in a simple idea." "Really looks like it is being painted on your iPhone."
- Customer reviews