Category Archives: Mobile Development

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Blackberry to force YOU to pay for their app mistakes

The failed mobile app platform that wants to force you to help

The failed mobile app platform that wants to force you to help

Blackberry has outrageously demanded that app developers be forced to support their platform, at the developer’s expense – that whenever a mobile app is released, app developers should be forced by law to also release a version of their app for the Blackberry platform.

In the late 90s, Blackberry was a popular platform. But they lost their crown to Apple and Google Android, because there was one crucially important aspect of their business which Blackberry neglected – their app developers.

Developing for Blackberry was difficult and expensive – from memory, you had to pay thousands of dollars for the Blackberry development environment, then you had to pay hundreds of dollars when you submitted a mobile app, for Blackberry to evaluate it. As a result, hardly anyone developed mobile apps for the Blackberry platform.

When Apple iPhone exploded onto the scene, Apple’s focus on encouraging mobile app development gave their iPhone platform an unprecedented level of versatility – and swept previous incumbents like Blackberry from the field.

If you were CEO of a company which had just been so soundly outcompeted, what would you do?

The obvious solution, you could attempt some product innovation, you could try to find a way to tempt consumers back to your brand, by addressing its shortcomings.

Or you could do what Blackberry has just done – run to Washington, to try to force mobile developers to support your platform, by convincing politicians that your proposed anti-freedom law should be passed in the name of ensuring “equality”.

If Blackberry gets away with this audacious attempt to force others to prop up their business, to pay for their mistakes, this madness won’t stop with Blackberry – the law will apply to any mobile app platform, no matter how obscure.

Where do you draw the line? If some mom and pop business releases 500 phones, do you have to support their platform as well? If a Taiwanese manufacturer creates a new mobile OS, which has no presence whatsoever in English speaking markets, could they sue you if you fail to support their mobile app platform?

And of course, it won’t be long before other industries take notice, and start clamouring for “neutrality” laws of their own, to secure market share through government fiat rather than product innovation.

This madness must be stopped. The potential for this proposal to stifle innovation and crush startup businesses is breathtaking, but Blackberry doesn’t care. All they can see is a possible opportunity to convince legislators to force developers, anyone who commissions an app, to give Blackberry’s business a boost, without Blackberry having to pay a penny. Given Blackberry’s dismal market share, none of the effort devoted to creating blackberry apps is likely to yield a profit – but the “Blackberry Law” would still force you to provide an app for their system, at your own expense.

How to write a mobile app

A nice graphic to denote writing your own app

Writing your own app can save you money and be a lot of fun

Writing an iPhone App or Android App is expensive. Even the simplest mobile apps usually need at least a week or two of skilled developer time to construct.

If you have technical skills, perhaps past coding experience, one obvious solution to save money is to write your own app.

Why write your own app? Beside saving money, writing your own app can be a lot of fun. Writing an app is a creative experience, like painting a picture or composing a song.

How do you start?

You could do what I did – invest hundreds of hours of your time into learning how to create apps for your mobile app platform of choice.

Or you could ask an expert for help – you could cut through all the time consuming trial and error, and ask me to help set up your development environment.

I can get you started with app development essentials:

  • How to set up your development environment.
  • How to create your first app
  • How to transition between different app forms
  • How to create fancy graphics and transitions
  • How to package your app for publication on app store
  • What is the best development option for leveraging your previous coding skills

How long will it take?

The length of time it takes to get started with app development depends on your previous coding experience, and what mobile app platform you want to start with.

For example, if you have a background in developing web apps, you could leverage those skills by using a cross platform development environment like Cordova, which provides a framework for creating an app using HTML web pages.

If you have a choice of starting with iPhone or Android, I recommend you start with iPhone – though the Apple development environment only runs on Apple Mac computers. The Android app development environment is more difficult to set up than the iPhone app development environment, and creating your first Android app is a steeper initial learning curve. However, once you are past the initial learning curve, both environments are very similar in terms of the effort required to create an app.

If part of your app is too complicated for your current level of experience, I’m happy to assist, by creating blocks of code which you can insert into your app. But you can still potentially save a bundle by developing as much of your app as you can, yourself.

Lesson Plan

My recommendation is to start by booking 3 x one hour sessions, spaced 1 week apart.

  1. First Lesson – setting up your mobile app development environment.
  2. Second Lesson – developing your first app
  3. Third Lesson – deploying your app to app store or play store

You can book additional lessons as required. I charge $100 + GST per one hour session. The lessons are conducted using Skype, because Skype lets you share your computer screen, so I can see exactly what is happening, and give you realtime advice on how to achieve you mobile app development goals.

Contact me now for more information on how to develop your own app.

The Best iPhone App and iPad App Games of 2014

The Guardian has published a list of the best iPhone and iPad games of 2014.

Some of the games are obvious – developments of the Angry Birds and Candy Crush mobile app franchises, feeding the insatiable demand from fans for new variations of these mega games.

Others are much less obvious – my favourite from the less obvious list is “Papers Please”, an iPhone App in which you play a Soviet style border agent charged with examining the papers of potential subversives who want to enter your glorious Communist nation. I mean, who would have thought such a crazy idea would win a string of awards, and become one of the most popular games on App Store? The answer, of course, is whoever commissioned the creation of the Papers Please mobile app, and followed their dream to its successful conclusion.

App Store Screenshot from the Papers Please game.

App Store Screenshot from the Papers Please game.

What is more than obvious from the list, is there is still plenty of room at the top. Even simple iPhone App and Android App ideas sometimes hit the big time, as was demonstrated by the iconic iPhone App Bubble Ball. Bubble Ball, which for a short time knocked Angry Birds off the top of the chart, was created in just a couple of weeks by 14 year old Robert Nay. The game has been downloaded over 16 million times. The basic game is free, but clever use of in-app purchases to unlock new levels, has also unlocked substantial wealth for the creator of the game.

Who knows what next year’s top iPhone App and Android App games will be? I’m sure we’ll see new versions of tried and trusted mega games, but there will also be surprises, totally unexpected ideas which take the mobile app world by storm.

One of those winning, wealth creating iPhone App or Android App ideas could be your mobile app idea.

Contact Me if you would like to transform your idea into a mobile app. It might be your app which appears on the list of award winning ideas for 2015.

How to avoid Offshore Mobile App Nightmares

What do you do when it all goes wrong? I regularly hear from people who have taken the bargain basement route to app development, and are now stuck with a bargain basement app – an app which looks bad, is unresponsive, regularly freezes, or even crashes when it is used.

Sometimes these problems don’t show up until the app has been released. Performance problems often don’t manifest until your system has stored a significant amount of data, leading to a frightful scenario in which just as your iPhone App or Android App is taking off, gaining market share, it suddenly all falls apart.

Note I am not suggesting all offshore developers provide poor quality work. Some offshore developers provide an excellent service. But bad developers who cut corners are often very good at presentation – its the main focus of their business. And relationships with good developers can take a wrong turn, a situation which sometimes takes expert assistance to correct.

The following is a list of steps you can take to minimise the risk.

  1. Make sure you possess a working copy of the mobile app source code
    Whoever controls your source code controls your app. The source code is human readable form of your app, which development software uses to construct app binaries, for deployment either to test devices, or to the app store or play store. Without the source code, you cannot make changes to the app, or fix problems. A lot of developers keep hold of the source code, to force clients to continue to use their service.

    It is normal for developers to hold onto the source code until they are paid. But you must insist on source code whenever you make a payment, and you must check that the source code you receive is actually the code for your app. Often the source code is broken or incomplete. This is not necessarily malicious, it can be due to carelessness, or even just an honest mistake. If necessary, enlist the help of a technical friend to make sure you are receiving the real thing.

  2. Control the Server
    A second practice I see all too often is where the developer controls the server. The main use of app servers is to share data between different copies of the mobile app. Copies of the app on different phones can’t talk directly to each other, unless the devices are in close physical proximity. Instead, the apps relay messages via a server. The person who controls your server can shut down your app.

    The developer may have a positive motivation for controlling the server – server administration can be challenging, and they may feel that by shielding clients from this complexity, they are offering a better service.

    But if your developer suddenly decides to start charging exorbitant “server fees”, and if they are unhelpful when you ask for the code to be moved to a different server, there is very little you can do about it, other than a potentially very expensive and disruptive migration to a different server – a migration which can lead to significant loss of client data.
     

  3. Hire a local technical manager
    If your relationship with offshore developers hits a rocky patch, it can be difficult for non technical people to guide the project back on track – if the offshore developer claims that a simple looking change will take a long time to complete, and be very expensive, how can you tell whether they are being honest or reasonable with you? Some simple looking changes really are difficult – or they might be having a laugh, at your expense. If you have already committed significant money to the project, it can be very difficult to refuse ever increasing charges for changes and bug fixes, to bring your app project to a successful conclusion.

    With a local technical manager, you are in a much stronger position to negotiate fees. The local technical manager is much more accessible than an offshore team in a foreign jurisdiction. And the right technical manager has extensive experience with software development, so they can push back against unreasonable quotes or other sharp practices.

    One of my favourite techniques for handling an offshore fee blowout, is to provide an “example” which proves conclusively that the quote is unreasonable. This generally involves quickly mocking up a proof of concept of the work item under discussion, to discredit exorbitant claims of difficulty or other excuses for excessive fees. It usually only takes one or two “example” exercises to establish a better working relationship. This corrective technique absolutely relies on you, the project owner, having control of your server and your source code.

If you would like to know more about app development, or would like some advice about getting your mobile app project back on track, please Contact me.

Integrating SharePoint, iPhone Apps and Android Apps

Microsoft SharePoint Logo

Microsoft SharePoint

Microsoft SharePoint is a popular content and data management system, which integrates easily with non-microsoft technology, such as iPhone Apps and Android Apps.

The functionality of SharePoint I have experience integrating is SharePoint Lists.

A SharePoint List is a cross between a web document and a database. It provides means for quickly building and maintaining structured data, and defining relationships between different elements of that data.

For example, you can define a Microsoft SharePoint list which holds details of assets which your company manages, such as factories, shops, or other inventory, then define a second list, which provides a maintenance history for each asset. The second list can be linked to the first list, so for example you can enforce that one of the fields in the second list must be the identity of an asset in the first list.

SharePoint takes care of the complexity of handling collaborative updates to list documents, such as versioning of each change.

There is even an attractive web interface, which is compatible with most mobile devices, and several excellent iPhone Apps and Android Apps, for accessing your SharePoint portal.

So why would you ever need a bespoke iPhone App or Android App, to interact with SharePoint?

The reason clients ask me for help with SharePoint integration is because standard, off the shelf apps do not deliver a specific feature or set of features they require.

For example, what do you do if you want to take SharePoint offline? A client had a requirement that mobile apps be able to be used at sites with poor Internet coverage, so they needed an app which could populate the fields of new SharePoint list instances, and save the new instances in the internal storage of their iPad device, so all the saved changes could be applied to the server once the user had access to the Internet.

Another scenario, a client wanted to extend SharePoint functionality with app device capabilities, to create the ability to upload mobile camera photos to SharePoint list instances, and to upload GPS readings.

Finally, since the apps are interacting with SharePoint as a data store, the Apps are free to implement their own front end – they can guide users through the data acquisition or data delivery process, by imposing a specific workflow on the users – by granting users a limited view of the underlying SharePoint data, and by ensuring all necessary steps of a workflow are executed in the correct order.

A bespoke SharePoint iPhone App or Android App can preserve SharePoint flexibility. It is entirely possible for mobile Apps to apply the bespoke SharePoint functionality extensions on a list field by field basis, to allow the list structure to be changed, to allow new fields to be exposed to users without having to release a new version of the bespoke iPhone or Android SharePoint App.

Bespoke Customisation of the SharePoint experience can help with delivering acceptance and enthusiastic adoption of the underlying SharePoint implementation, by painlessly integrating user requirements which are not best handled by the standard toolset.

Contact me now, if you have or are interested in creating a Microsoft SharePoint based user experience, but have requirements which go beyond what the standard tools can deliver.

The $19 Billion Mobile App

Many of you may have heard of the sale of WhatsApp for $19 billion. None of the people who built the WhatsApp iPhone app and Android app will ever have to work again – $3 billion in cash and $16 billion in Facebook shares is a life changing experience.

What you might not have heard is that there is already a new challenger – Telegram app. Last weekend, according to reports, WhatsApp was down for 4 hours – for 4 hours the WhatsApp service was unusable. That is all it took to drive just under five million WhatsApp users to switch to Telegram app.

Telegram is similar in look and feel to WhatsApp, but its a little faster, and has Snapchat like security features.

If this rise and fall in app fortunes feels a little dizzying, you’re not alone in feeling that way. But there is one important take home message from this narrative: There is still room for a better communications app. And whatever you do, make sure your service is utterly reliable, because even a small break in service can cause substantial damage to your reputation.

Contact me if you have an idea for a communication app which you would like to discuss. I strongly recommend you download the hottest communication apps, both iPhone apps and Android Apps – Snapchat, Telegram, Whatsapp, and get a feel for what makes them so popular, while working on your idea. Because if you get the design of your new communication app right, the next billion dollar deal could be for you.

Should Apple sell Android Phones?

Steve Wozniak, one of the original founders of Apple, recently stunned Apple fans by suggesting Apple should build Android phones.

“There’s nothing that would keep Apple out of the Android market as a secondary phone market,” said Wozniak. “We could compete very well. People like the precious looks of stylings and manufacturing that we do in our product compared to the other Android offerings. We could play in two arenas at the same time.”


My question – instead of building a separate handset, why don’t Apple allow iPhones to run Android apps?

From a developer perspective, it is technically easier to write Apple iPhone apps than Android apps. The Android App development system (the software used to create Android Apps) is much more difficult to work with than the iPhone App development system – the Android app system is more temperamental, crashes frequently, is fiddly (it often takes hours to figure out why your code is not compiling) and is really, really slow, especially when you are trying to test your work in progress Android app in the Android Emulator. So I am happy to write Android apps – but I prefer to write the Apple iPhone version of the App first.

However, there is no reason why Apple couldn’t fix all this.

Under the late Steve Jobs, Apple was unremittingly hostile towards cross platform development tools – tools which would allow say a Flash application to run on an Apple phone. But I have always wondered whether this prejudice against alternatives was because Jobs was emotionally attached to the NeXT tools he developed when he left Apple in the 80s – and brought with him, when a desperate Apple Corporation reinstated Steve Jobs as CEO. Jobs may have worried other cross platform technologies might displace his iPhone development environment, if he allowed other technologies on his iPhone.

However, aside from the software, Apple iPhone hardware is technologically very similar to Android phones – both Android phones and Apple iPhones use ARM processors, and have similar specifications. Apple iPhones have all the hardware they need to run Android Apps.

If Apple relaxes its software policy a little, Apple has a golden opportunity to be the best of both worlds – to utterly dominate both the Apple and Android app market, with one handset. To bring their design genius to the task of creating a market leading iPhone which can run most of the world’s apps.

Apple could even bring much needed improvements to the Android development environment. If the technically superb Apple XCode iPhone App development environment came pre-configured with the ability to create Android apps, nobody would ever bother using anything else.

Time will tell whether Apple seizes this golden opportunity, or whether the ghost of Steve Jobs keeps Apple loyal to the prejudices of their old master.

If you would like to know more about the difference between Android apps and iPhone apps, or would like to discuss an app idea, please contact Eric Worrall.

If your app idea is not quite ready to go to a developer, please visit Apps Nursery, for expert assistance with exploring and developing your app idea.

A Sure Fire Best Seller App

If the mobile app works, the reward could be millions of dollars, even hundreds of millions.

How do you create a successful iPhone or Android app, which generates vast wealth?

I knew the secret of creating a sure fire best seller app, I wouldn’t be creating mobile apps for other people, I would be creating sure fire best seller Android and iPhone apps for myself.

But I have learned a little along the way.

Consider the runaway success of app gaming – Angry Birds.

The creators of Angry Birds, Rovio, developed over 50 flops before they created the Angry Birds app – they almost went bust.

Were they stupid to create the flops? Were they doing something wrong, which they suddenly got right? Was Angry Birds the result of an epiphany, or was it simply dogged determination? Was each failure a learning experience? Did each failure teach them something? Or did they just get really lucky?

One thing we can safely conclude from the Angry Birds story, is that persistence improves your chances of success. If they had given up, say by the 50th failure, there would never have been an Angry Birds.

You also hear stories about instant success stories. One of my favourites is a simple physics game written by a 14 yr old kid called “Bubble Ball”.

Kid picks up a book on iPhone programming, and spends a couple of weeks writing a game. His mum helped him develop the game levels. The result – millions of downloads.

Even simple ideas sometimes work.

I might not have created an Angry Birds or Bubble Ball (yet!), but I have some useful advice to offer, Based on seeing which apps worked for my clients. The successes I have personally been involved in have all succeeded because of word of mouth.

Before spending your hard earned money, try to work out if the app is something you would tell your friends about. Is the app something you can’t put down? Is the idea something which your friends tell other friends about? Because ultimately, this excitement is what will drive an Android app or iPhone app to success.

If the mobile app works, the reward could be millions of dollars, even hundreds of millions. Its a big risk, but the potential rewards are life changing.

That is what keeps us all in the game.

If you have an app idea, and would like to bounce ideas off someone, to get it ready for development, please contact Apps Nursery

Contact Eric at eworrall1@gmail.com if you would like more information about mobile apps, iPhone apps or Android apps.

Announcing Apps Nursery – Mobile Apps Made Easy

Apps Nursery is an exciting initiative by Desirable Apps and Statuam to help people with a great idea for an iPhone, iPad or Android app to progress their idea into a working mobile app. The idea is to break development of the phone app into small, affordable steps.

For more information about this exciting innovation in app development, please see the AppsNursery website.

Can my Mobile Phone Mine Bitcoins?

Can my mobile phone mine bitcoins? The answer is yes and no.

Let me explain.

It might not surprise you that, like the rest of the world, I’ve caught a dose of Bitcoin fever. Bitcoins are a fabulously valuable digital currency which until a year or two ago almost everyone ignored – it was the province of geeks playing a game of imagining that a chunk of digital data which only they understood had some kind of real world value.

You could boast to fellow geeks about your hoard of Bitcoins, and your legendary Bitcoin mining rig, but you couldn’t use them to buy a pizza.

This all changed, when Chinese entrepreneurs discovered they could use Bitcoins to circumvent China’s strict currency controls.

With hindsight of course, it is all so obvious, at least to techies like me – we should have all been mining for our own hoard of Bitcoins, back when it was easy, waiting for that brighter future, when Bitcoins suddenly became valuable.

Because now it is too late – or is it?

The answer to that question really depends on whether Bitcoins become more valuable in the future – a question which could best be answered at some time in the future by exercising hindsight ;-).

So assuming you want to jump on the train, now that everyone wants a seat, what is the best way to mine Bitcoins?

In theory any computer can mine Bitcoins. But the difficulty of practical Bitcoin mining long ago surpassed normal hardware, and normal software programming techniques.

Techie bit…

Why is it all so hard? The reason is that Bitcoin mining involves “proof of work”.

What is “proof of work”? Proof of work is proof that you have put in a large amount of effort, to guess a number which, when used in a calculation, produces a result within a preset range. The calculation is a “hash” function – it takes a block of data (Bitcoin transactions to date), combines this block with your guessed number, and produces an output number. If the output number falls within a preset range of possible values, congratulations, you are now the proud owner of some new Bitcoins.

The catch is performing the calculation in a practical sense takes a lot of computing power – the calculation is easy, but unless you are incredibly lucky, you will need to process billions, possibly trillions of guesses to find an output number within the preset range of permitted values. Worse, the difficulty of mining Bitcoins is adjusted with time, so that the combined computing power of everyone attempting to mine Bitcoins produces a new batch of Bitcoins every 10 minutes.

Think about it – gigantic university computers, large industrial rigs, boffins tinkering in labs, the combined effort of all those machines can produce a new batch of coins every 10 minutes. Considering what percentage of this colossal global effort is represented by your mining rig puts everything into perspective.

And winner takes all – only the computing rig which wins the contest to solve the math problem gets the new coins (OK there are ways to share the risk and reward, but lets not get too complicated…).

It wasn’t always so difficult. Back in the old days, when hardly anyone cared about bitcoins, you could mine bitcoins with an ordinary computer – allowing the production of bitcoins every 10 minutes, when hardly anyone cared enough to bother mining, meant the target for minting new bitcoins was really easy – so anyone geeky enough to set up the software could hit the target with minimal computing power. This is why you nowdays hear stories of people frantically searching for their old hard disk, with its multi million dollar stash of bitcoins.

 

So in principle I could develop an iPhone app or Android app which could produce some Bitcoins. The mobile phone Bitcoin mining app would be very slow compared to specialised Bitcoin mining systems, but you could get lucky. In theory you run mining software say while the phone is plugged into the charger, and occasionally strike some Bitcoins.

Having said that, the odds of getting it right with a mobile phone are impractically small – you could run the mobile phone continuously, for years, without ever seeing a Bitcoin. A bit like buying lottery tickets.

What do you do if you want to join the Bitcoin rush?

The limiting factors of Bitcoin mining are equipment cost and electricity cost. Forget microprocessors or anything you are likely to find inside the case of an off the shelf computer – practical Bitcoin mining now requires specialised hardware accelerated Bitcoin mining cards.

But at the same time you need a normal computer to manage the communication between the specialised mining cards and the the Internet. The catch is, ordinary computers chew up a lot of power – and the computer has to be switched on, all the time you are mining for Bitcoins.

That is when this little beauty caught my eye – a low powered general purpose computer, with detailed instructions designed for non techies to follow, which works with a bunch of off the shelf hardware accelerated mining cards.

And here are the hardware cards mentioned in the Bitcoin tutorial.

Is it worth doing? My fingers are twitching. The analysis I have read says at current prices it isn’t worth doing, even with the super cheap rig I described – you won’t make your money back. But who would have believed a year ago that Bitcoins would hit a value of $700+ each? The cautious investor in me says that what goes up must come down – but if Bitcoins increase again, and reach a value of say $7000 each, or $70,000 each, I shall be kicking myself if I didn’t build or buy a mining rig.

Maybe I shall start small – perhaps I shall develop that Bitcoin mining mobile phone app after all.