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Evolution of an iOS app – Part 1

Back in 2008, in the middle of a 4 month trip overseas, I purchased an iPod Touch. It was awesome and opened my eyes up to the new wave of hand-held smart phone devices which were being released. My mobile phone at the time was a trusty but severely outdated Sony Ericsson. Time to immerse myself in the latest technology! So when I arrived back home after my travels, I quickly bought my first iPhone – an iPhone 3G. And so started my interest in all things mac and all things iOS.

By the end of 2008 I had also completed my mac transition by purchasing a macbook. During 2009, at work I became heavily involved with mobile application development and iPhone app development (although not from the programming side).

On a personal level, although I had the tools available (mac + iPhone) and a knowledge of programming, I didn’t feel capable of developing my own iPhone app. Prior to this, I was well versed in web development. It is what I felt comfortable doing and had had a fair bit of success doing. Application development & dealing with things such as memory management just seemed like another world which I was a complete novice at.

First Idea

So sometime in 2009, I wrote a blog post with an idea for an iPhone app. It would allow someone to post to various social networking websites at the same time – twitter , facebook, myspace, yammer etc. It seems like a very obvious thing to do now and their are now companies who make a lot of money from widgets and apps that do this – but back then, there was only one other iPhone app which did this – and it required you to sign up to their service and was all around not user friendly. So my blog post put the idea out there and it was picked up be a UK developer who worked with me to develop the app. In the process of the app being made, I started thinking “hey.. I could have done this myself”. So after the app we did together launched and failed to get any traction I set my sights on thinking of another idea I could do completely on my own.

Second Idea

10 months later…

It was the end of 2009, Christmas time. I tend to buy a lot of my Christmas gifts online as I really hate shopping centres at that time of the year.

So there I was getting many presents delivered by various companies. Having to login to all the tracking sites, copy/paste my tracking numbers each time. Annoying. So an idea for an app was born. Of course, the first thing to do is track for apps that already do this! After a search, there was only one app which had a great design – but it only supported ~10 U.S. based providers. Great! Still a huge market left and a great opportunity to make my app even better with more features. I initially would focus purely on Australian delivery companies. In fact, at this stage expanding beyond Australia was not even on the cards..

It Begins

I signed up for the iPhone Developer Program, downloaded XCode and in early January 2010, opened up Photoshop to come up with some initial designs.

You can see the initial name for the app was “Postee”. I had forgotten about this haha. I quite like it. I wish I could remember why I changed it 🙂 (update – ahh chat transcripts are great for nostalgia – here’s why). Another name which a friend suggested was “Keep Me Posted”. I liked this, but I decided against it because it wouldn’t neatly fit in the space available under the app icon on the device home screen.

So design is the (kinda) easy part of this whole experience and you can see that even today, the current app still looks pretty darn similar. How about the coding?! Well with zero knowledge of Objective-C and little application programming knowledge (despite dabbling in some .NET apps) I sure had a lot of learning to do.

Next?

Part 2 (and more?) will cover how I managed to learn Objective-C and the iPhone SDK and make the app a reality. I will also cover more on the business side such as contacting a whole bunch of shipping providers, GST obligations, earnings, marketing, support methods and how the app and feature set has evolved. Stay tuned.

Running & C25K

In October 2010, I was feeling quite unfit and unhealthy, so was looking for something to motivate me for exercise. I have been through a number of different phases for fitness – namely doing some home video workouts – Body Combat (which I love), ChaLean Xtreme (which I love) and even a little bit of P90X and Insanity (which I love to hate). They are all great, but you do get a bit bored of them after a while. When you have memorised every little joke or inflection in the trainers voice on each video, you know it might be time to move on. I reckon doing each of those for a month each would be great, to keep things a bit fresh. And during winter I probably will revert back to this style of exercise.

But I digress.

I have never enjoyed running long distances. As a youngster I was an OK sprinter but would absolutely hate the torture of running cross country. But being a little older now I thought I would give it another go – armed with some technology for extra motivation ofcourse!

Running Programs

In browsing through some of the offerings for running apps on the iPhone App Store I came across the C25K program – which stands for “Couch to 5k”. C25K is a fantastic program that’s been designed to get just about anyone from the couch to running 5 kilometers or 30 minutes in just 9 weeks. The training program is freely available on the c25K website (metric version here). The program eases the participant into a running longer and longer distances, starting with frequent short bursts of running with recovery walking sessions in between each short run. It slowly builds up your fitness and stamina until your body is ready to attack the longer distances.

iPhone Apps

So I had the running program which would keep me motivated and allow me to achieve goals each week. The next component to assist in my motivation was finding an iPhone app which would complement the running program.

The core features you would want in a running app are:

  • Audio cues for interval alerts (e.g. “Run now for 1 minute”, “Walk now for 2 minutes”)
  • Audio cues for progress alerts (e.g. “Current pace is XX:XX” & “Current distance is XX.XXkm” etc)
  • Map your running path via GPS
  • Split and interval times
  • Calories burned
  • Listen to your own music

Searching the App Store for “C25k” you get a fair few results. The first app I took a look at was “C25k (Couch 2 5K)” by BlueFin Software. It looked and seemed to function well, but I was after something a bit more future-proof which I could use well beyond the C25K 9 week program.

So for general running apps there’s a few big players – all of which are great and would satisfy my requirements. The main ones being “RunKeeper Pro“, “Runmeter” and “Kintetic“. These range from $5-$12 – although RunKeeper Pro is currently free on an extended promotion.

I went with RunKeeper Pro which was pricey sum of $12 at the time – but well worth the money. RunKeeper syncs my workouts to the runkeeper.com website, the GPS works really well & battery life does not suck too badly. It doesn’t have the C25K program built in when you purchase it, but it only takes 5 minutes to setup the program as a set of custom activities. The main advantage being that I can use this beyond the C25K program and for a large variety of other exercise types besides running.

Accessories

The other running related accessories I had to buy were:

  • iPhone Armband
  • Decent running shoes

For the iPhone armband, I ended up getting a Belkin armband from eBay. There’s heaps of armbands out there to choose from – the main things to make sure you get are ones with good moisture control (after all, you don’t want your iPhone to lose its warranty because of sweat), adjustable strap and ease of getting the iPhone in and out quickly.

I spent the first couple of weeks running on grass at the local park and with my standard running shoes. I quickly found I was getting a lot of arch pain as I have quite high arches and tend to roll my foot in. It got to the point where I felt I would need to stop the program. So I went down to Athletes Foot and got a decent pair of running shoes (Brooks Addiction 9) with some extra arch support inserts. The salesperson warned me the pain might get worse before it gets better due to the significant change in arch support and my body needing to get used to it. But the effect for me was immediate – the only pain I felt the first time I ran in the new shoes was the blisters. Fantastic shoes.

I also have found I much prefer running on concrete/footpaths as I find grass to be too uneven. I think the unevenness in the ground was contributing to my arch pain as my feet must have needed to make minor stability adjustments with each step.

Future Plans

So how did I go with the program? Well, I got to the final week of the C25K program and really did fall in love with running during the 9 weeks. I looked forward to getting home from work and going out for a run, it became a routine and one which I really enjoyed. The only thing I didn’t like was running on the really hot days – I really struggled in the heat. But when there’s a nice breeze and the sun is out without being too hot or humid, it was an enjoyable experience.

Unfortunately in the last week of the program, life for very busy with bringing a new puppy home and I didn’t stick to the program in the final week. So I didn’t quite manage to do 30 minutes of continuous running @ a 6 min/km pace. But I did get very very close.

After finishing C25K i did have plans to continue on to the other running plans such as Gateway to 8K (GW28K) and Bridge to 10K (B210K) or One Hour Runner (OHR). Unfortunately, since I didn’t quite commit to the final week of the C25K program so I am not yet ready to take on the next challenge and am actually starting to feel a little unfit and untoned again. So I need to further consolidate on running for 30 minutes without a break, and more importantly increase my pace from ~6:30 mins/km to 6 mins/km. But knowing there are new programs that I can work on in the future is a nice a feeling.

I would wholeheartedly recommend the C25K program to anyone wanting to increase their fitness and lose a bit of weight. The program, paired with some great technology such as the iPhone is a winning combination and certainly converted me from someone who hated running, into someone who (mostly) loves it!

Statuso Goes Live

iphone_screenshotThe iPhone application which I have been collaborating on over the past 2 months has finally gone live onto the iTunes App Store. It’s called Statuso and this is exciting times!

You can grab it from here if your interested.

I have collaborated with Jeff from England on this – he did most of the hard work in actually developing the app, whilst I did design/logic and website stuff mostly. We submitted the app to Apple about 2 weeks ago and after a nervous wait it was made live today.

Of course, I have been spamming it to as many blog and iPhone related websites as possible. And also asking everyone I know with an iPhone to check it out!

I don’t think this app is going to make us rich – but it has been a great learning experience and also brings a huge sense of accomplishment to actually have something out there in the world which we created from scratch ourselves. We do not have any sales data just yet, but if theres anything interesting I will be sure to share it with y’all 🙂

What’s next? Well maybe there will be another app (a game to be more precise) but for now we want to improve Statuso by adding more support for websites (and maybe a few features here and there).

Leeane

Simple iPhone App Idea for a Bored Developer

I have finally got my new macbook. And it is absolutely lovely. I also signed up the iPhone developer program – but I am kidding myself if I think I will be able to start making apps any time soon. I just do not have the time to spend getting up to scratch on Objective C and Cocoa.

But here’s an idea for an application which I reckon people would pay money for. At least 99c anyway. I know I would.

Before I go into detail, here’s the deal. If anyone wants to go ahead and make this idea, you are more than welcome. Credit to me for the idea would be appreciated, and if you are a morally good person maybe you could even split some of the profits with me for the idea. I also have the perfect name for the app (Statuso) and domain name which I would be willing to give ownership over to whoever develops it.

The Idea

The idea is for an application called “Statuso”. Essentially, it is an application which allows users to update their social networking “status” messages from the one application and at the same time. E.g. Facebook, Twiiter, Friendfeed, Identi.ca etc.

It would be a very simple app with only 2 or 3 screens, all interacting with the relevant website API’s. Here is a mock up (click for larger view):

Features I would like to see:

  • Main page:
    • Enter text to post
    • Toggle on/off which accounts to post to (accounts which have been added in the settings page)
    • For certain accounts (e.g. facebook) have the ability to set the text to prepend with the message (e.g. Bob is blah blah)
  • Setting/Preferences:
    • Add social networking accounts

Things to consider:

  • Validation of the number of characters before posting. Must also take into account any “prepend” text as well and then display error message if the number of characters is over any of the limits set for any of the accounts the message was to be posted to.

After the initial release, you could look into:

  • Displaying @reply from twitter or comments left to a facebook message (for example)
  • Allowing multiple accounts for one social network website (e.g. multiple twitter accounts)
  • Prettying up the interface by adding the website favicons/logos for example

So there you go. Do you think it’s a good idea? Wold you use it? Would you buy it for 99c?

I haven’t seen anything like this on the AppStore so far. There was one app which apparently did something similar to what I am wanting, but it also did about 100 other things which made it incredibly complicated according to the reviews I read.

If noone goes ahead and makes it, maybe I will eventually do it myself.

Leeane