Tag Archives: Android

Honest Development

Through my years of development I have always strived to be an honest developer. I want my users to have a good experience. I want to build fun, new, exciting, polished apps. And I want to play by the rules…

But not everybody plays by the rules.

Animal Game

When I released Spot Animals a few months back I was very disappointed that I could not even find my app in the store by name.  Or by any other combination of search terms, no matter how much I scrolled down.  Trust me, after lots of development, nothing is worse.  Here’s me searching for it by name.

Originally called ‘Hidden Objects Animals’

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.51.02 PM

While searching for my app I came across a variety of other apps that were high in the ranks, but seemingly poorly built. I was on a quest to figure out why.  Admittedly, many of the apps were generally high quality, and had a lot of downloads to help them keep their high ranking.  After searching for a while I came across this app:

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.49.07 PM

Now, I’m not going say whether this app deserves its ranking or not, I didn’t download or play it. But as I was scouring their reviews I found a really disconcerting trend.  Let’s see how fast you can see the trend…

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.48.59 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.48.46 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.48.34 PM

I think I can sum up all the above with “Cute cute cute cute cute”. I found page after page of ratings that had exactly the same rating… some number of Cute’s and a high 4 or 5-star rating.

Now it is possible that there are simply a ton of people that just find this app unbearably cute.  But more than likely these were purchased reviews.  Almost none of the reviewers have thumbnails, and they all look awfully similar.  The chances of this being the case sounds particularly low to me.  This really got me wondering… How many apps simply cheat their way to the top?

Email

I’m not certain how many apps do this, but I assume it must be a lot. Since my apps are on the store I am required to provide a public facing email that users can contact me at. Sadly, about half of emails I get are advertisements. And of those there are two main categories. The first are advertising networks:  Our ads will make you way more money! But a close second is: We’ll get you more ratings/downloads.  Here is an example of one such email:

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 4.02.51 PM

 

Now, I’m not sure how well Google is able to crack down on this, but it actually sounds like an incredible difficult thing to do.  It is a short step from encouraging 100 of your friends to download your app, to paying a 100 of your friends to download and rate it 5-stars.  How does Google distinguish the difference between the two without seeing the money transfer?  I’m not really sure they can.

So if I’m receiving this many requests there must merit behind it.  Which makes me believe the number of apps using this method of deception isn’t small.

Temptation

So is it tempting to use this with my apps?  Of course!  There’s always that desire boost ones downloads and ratings, who wouldn’t want that?  And there’s always the question of: “If I get the ball rolling, how big could it become?”.

But I got into app development because it is fun.  And I refuse to let the illusion of grandeur dissuade me from doing what I love, and doing it in a way is honest and true to my values.  And of course the fear of getting my apps kicked off the store is always there too.

Anyway, I’m curious if anyone else has seen this kind of trend elsewhere, and what other developers feel about it.  Is there anything honest apps can do to combat it?

Note: Since it has been months since I originally released “Spot!”.  I wondered how it fares now.  The good news is, it is showing up just fine in the rankings, and interestingly enough the other app isn’t in that list anymore.  Who knows the magic behind the store ranking, but one thing is for sure, just because you have a certain rank (or don’t) doesn’t guarantee you’ll stay there.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 3.52.35 PM

Advertisements

Android Isn’t Left-Hand Friendly

While redesigning my app Goofy Glass, I came across this interesting finding.  Android isn’t left-hand friendly!  Now I’m not left-handed, so this has never been a problem for me.  But, I am colorblind so I can relate to the frustration of designs excluding a minority of us and essentially making it unusable for us.

So… What do I mean it isn’t left-handed friendly?

Being Friendly

1) Software home buttons stays right.

If you have a device with software buttons, try it.  You’ll notice, the software buttons always stay on the bottom or the right, depending if it in portrait or landscape.

This get particularly weird when using the Google Camera app.  That app does attempt to support left-handed use.  But this puts you weird position… you now are stuck using two hands in this orientation, where you would have been perfectly fine in the right-hand friendly version.

While it is nice to see Google does try to support it in some apps, the software buttons and the system in general do not.

 

2014-12-07 22.06.39

2) No easy way for develops to support it on their own. 

While Android as a whole does a marvelous job of designing for any device, they don’t make it easy to define a layout for landscape-left vs landscape-right. You can specify the based on size, density, language, and even orientation (portrait vs landscape)… but not which landscape version you are in.

This puts developers in a strange position of needing to handle all of the effort themselves.  Assuming of course that their apps really need to change based on handedness at all, which admittedly isn’t very common.  But then again, I’m not left-handed, I’d be curious to see what other frustrations those who are have run into while using Android.

Can It Be Done?

Of course it can!  Simply listen to the accelerometer and use that to determine your layout instead of using layout specific folders (as is traditional in Android). But be prepared for a lot more work in code, and a little bit more of a mess with your layouts.

This is exactly what I ended up doing with Goofy Glass.  Since I was essentially creating a camera app similar in some regards to the build in Android camera.  It tricky to do, but it was a bunch of extra effort, of course a lot of that effort was simply redesigning the layouts to look the way they should and making sure that all the lists were reversed in left-hand mode.

2014-12-07 22.25.51

Anyway, I just thought it was interesting and a little disappointing, but overall probably not even important for most apps… as I doubt very few need to be specifically designed with that in mind.

Christmas Lights Synced to Radio

For years I have wanted to sync my Christmas lights to music.  Each year comes and goes without even a single blinking light on my house.  But no more…  this year I decided to finally sync my house to the radio station FM 100.3!

Last night we turned it on for our first end-to-end test run.  And here are the results.  What do you think?

For those who are a little more curious about how it works, I’ll be writing a much more detailed set of posts about it later.  But a quick view of the pipeline is as follows:

Radio -> Custom Audio Cable -> Android -> Frequency Magic -> Bluetooth -> Arduino -> 16 Channel Relay -> Christmas Lights

And there’s more to come.  A few strands of lights are still in transit.  And there’s a variety of tweaks I still plan to make.

Google Play No Longer Loves Indie Developers

Both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store were built on the backs of independent developers.  The platform was wonderful!  People could easily find exactly the apps they were looking for, and developers could finally reach out to niche markets.  The pay for developers was reasonable, and the cost for users was much cheaper than traditional software.  Life was great.

But not anymore.  Let me share a couple experiences…

unnamedOver two years ago I released my second app to the Play Store, Funny Voice Changer.  My first app, Palette Painter, had a really slow launch, after all it only supported Android 3.0 on launch day which had less than 1% of the market (though it supports 2.2+ now, and is still going strong).  I expected the same slow response with Funny Voice Changer, so I clicked Publish and went on vacation.  Boy was I wrong.

Funny Voice Changer exploded overnight.  It was getting thousands of downloads a day.  In fact, it was too many.  I wasn’t ready for the barrage of ratings, the bugs it encountered, and the emotional roller coaster that ensued.  I gave up on the app after just a couple of months, something I have regretted ever since.

unnamed1I have since learned about the importance of iteration, and finally decided to fix those two apps, and remove that regret from my shoulders.  Yesterday, I finally released the refreshed versions, Funny Voice Changer 2.0 and Scary Voice Changer 2.0.

So how is the launch going so far?  Try a little experiment for me, go to the play store and search for Funny Voice Changer or better yet, use the name exactly Funny Voice Changer 2.0.  Do you see it?  If you don’t, that’s because it is ranked #124 for the first, and #88 for the second.  That’s right you can’t even find your own apps by name anymore.  Note: You will see my Voice Changers from 2.5 years ago in the 1st and 4th places.  You won’t find my new voice changers.

You can’t even find your own apps by name anymore.

Perhaps this is a one time thing?  (Well two technically, since there are two voice changers)  But the same thing happened to me just a couple weeks ago.  I released a fun Hidden Animals game.  My son loves it, and I’m certain other kids would as well.  But the day of the launch I couldn’t find it.  Even searching by the exact name it didn’t show up at all, not in any page, in any search I tried.  I have since tweaked the name and description a bit and have gotten it to show up at about the same 100th place on the search, but not exactly a searchable spot.

unnamed2

So how are they ranking apps via search?  Nobody knows.  Which is probably for the best, otherwise people would game the system.  It is obvious that the title and description don’t help as much as they once did.  So perhaps there is a variety of good reasons they’ve done so, right?  After all,the goal is to provide people with the best apps possible.  So what factors could they be using to rank apps?

Here are a few ideas along with some comments:

– Ratings.  This actually seems like a fairly reasonable way to organize apps.  But I have my doubts that it actually has much of an effect.  After all my previous Funny Voice Changer is ranked #1 and it has a miserable 3.3 star rating.  But worse, even some 1-star apps are showing up higher than my new apps, and these are apps that people obviously don’t want.

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 11.28.46 AM

– True intent.  A user types in “Funny Voice Changer”, but is really interested in any voice recorder out there.  This has a grain of salt to it, we don’t always know exactly what we are looking for.  Though I believe people are generally pretty good at it… but if they are looking for a funny voice changer it doesn’t make much sense to show a face changer.  That having been said, there are a *lot* of voice changers, so I do applaud Google for trying to parse it into something reasonable (assuming the results are reasonable).

– Number downloads.  Once again it makes sense that if an app is downloaded a lot it must be loved.  Though I do argue this should be weighted by how well people *liked* the app after they downloaded it.  For instance, even though this app has 100,000 – 500,000 downloads, something tells me that if you download it, you won’t like it.  This method of course helps either apps that have been in the store for a long time (regardless of worth), and developers with large pockets who can advertise to get a lot of downloads quickly.

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 11.27.47 AM

– App awesomeness.  I think this is a great metric, but how do you calculate this?  The only way I can think would be how pleasing the screenshots, title, description, ect are.  I would love to believe that they’re doing crunching on these to calculate an awesome score, but seeing apps like this and this make me believe they aren’t.

– App life – I’ve heard some people say that uninstalls have a huge impact on your ranking.  That makes a fair bit of sense, and I hope it is something they are doing.  On the other side of things, not all lifecycles are the same.  While some apps like Facebook you may keep on for the long haul, there are apps that may be perfect for an occasion.  Mine are great for sleepovers, others are great for weddings, and others for travel.  But you still should be able to find those apps if you’re in the moment.

– External links/Google magic.  This seems the most reasonable idea.  But it also tends to benefit those with large pockets.  Do you want lots of reviews of your app?  Do you want press releases?  Then open up your checkbook, because nothing is free.  And that’s assuming  your SEO efforts even pay off, it is very likely they won’t.

I don’t know how their ranking algorithm works.  But it is clear to me that as an indie developer it is no longer worth it to invest my time into building creative apps for the Play Store.

I’d love to hear your experiences on deploying to the store.  Has it been the same for you?

Spot! Animals Released

I just recently launched the perfect game for kids and toddlers.  It is a hidden objects game like Where’s Waldo or Eye Spy.  It is a 100% free for a limited time.  Below are more details about the game.  Check it out, and let me know what you think.

iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/hidden-objects-spot!-animals/id859258283?ls=1&mt=8
Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.givewaygames.spot

Screenshot 2014.04.09 09.21.18Search for animals and hidden objects and this perfect game for kids and toddlers.  Match the cards along the bottom with the animals in the scene as you explore these beautiful landscapes with hidden animals.  Search in the zoo, prairie, ocean, and more to earn stickers.  With over 400 animals and items  to find in 10 beautiful levels your kids will enjoy playing Spot! Animals over and over again.

Even toddlers can play with a mode that doesn’t require any matching at all.  Tap any of the animals and be rewarded with a splash of color and sound.  My son loved it, and was the perfect little beta tester to make sure they game is perfect for toddlers, I’m sure your kids will love it too.

Screenshot 2014.04.09 09.21.30

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7vI-tA0Py0

Kickstarter is Live

After lots of work I am proud to finally announce that my Kickstarter has gone live.  I’ve been super impressed and grateful by the amount of support I’ve received so far.  Please help the good vibes keep rolling by sharing in any way possible.

interactive-bed

As the project goes on, I’ll be sure to bring updates and information about the process.  So check back soon for lots of news and goodies, but in the meantime go back the project!

Goodnight Lad Kickstarter

Android Superman

My work recently awarded me a t-shirt, it is a little tradition at HireVue that when somebody does has a great achievement they are recognized with a customized shirt.  Mine has a superman Android on the front, and on the back says:

12,000 Devices
30 Screen Sizes
8 OS Versions
No Problem

2014-03-04 20.19.31

2014-03-04 20.19.44

First of all, it is super great to be appreciated.  I know a shirt isn’t a big thing, but there is a certain geek cred that goes along with it.  HireVue appreciates their team members more than any other company I’ve worked for.  Not only do they do a fantastic job showing it, but they truly mean it when they show it.  I’ve worked for companies before where they ‘show’ you they appreciate you, but you don’t feel that appreciation from day to day, so you feel almost like they are trying to buy your love.

So what was the achievement?  Quite simply, I took an app with a 2.6 star rating, and bumped it up to a 4-star rating after working there for a few months.

Which was a huge relief!

I almost didn’t switch jobs because of the rating.  I knew people there, and each of them absolutely loved their job.  We were in talks for multiple months before I finally took the dive.  But every time I looked into their company I saw a lackluster 2.6 star rating, and the number of downloads only in the 10,000 – 50,000 category.  I knew I would be in charge of a bad product, with less customers than most my other apps.  I wasn’t impressed.

In fact the only thing that got me over my apprehension was the freedom they were giving me to start a new Android app for managers.  But first before I could, I had to fix their candidate app.  I finally decided I was up to the challenge, and I’m very glad that I did.

So how did I take a 2.6 star app and turn it around?  Honestly there were only two things:

1. Quality

Android is a tricky beast.  It is even more difficult once you start dealing with audio and video.  There are tons of devices, and many little issues here and there.  It isn’t easy to get it right on all the devices, no matter what anyone will tell you.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t get it right.  There are a lot of really well supported apps, and a log of really great developers out there.  It just means you have to put extra care and effort into getting it right.

I spent the first two months at HireVue really hammering on the app on as many devices I could find.  I noticed a lot of strange procedures, and rewrote a lot of the code that did the video, network, and recording.  I spent time making sure everything was threadsafe, and wrote a number of automated tests that simulated some really bizarre usage.  Most importantly I didn’t stop looking until I could verify that there was absolutely no way we could fix certain issues (usually by pouring through Android’s open source code to verify the problem was there).

In short, I fixed the issues so we were confident we could run on the majority of devices on the market.

2. Ratings

I believe most people love the HireVue process.  But the ratings were really poor because of two reasons.

First, a candidate with a poor experience was super likely to let us know with a bad rating, we had ruined their interview and quite possibly their potential to get a job.  This is a big deal!  Of course, most of that was addressed with the quality.

Second, assuming a candidate had a great experience they were already exhausted.  An interview takes a lot of energy, and the last thing you want to do is then go rate the app you used to take it.  Beyond this, we already had a survey at the end, so we could judge our candidate experience, this made it further unlikely for candidates to rate as they gave their feedback once.  I had a imple idea.  What if we made the last survey question a call to rate.  A simple question: “Would you like to rate this app?”  Since they were already in survey mode, they were much more likely to give good feedback.

Both worked like a charm, our bad ratings nearly stopped, and our good ratings started coming in more frequently.

And now I can move on to build an amazing manager app from scratch.

Report finds iOS apps riskier than Android apps!

I recently read this article that states that iOS apps are riskier than Android apps.  I make a point of not trusting news articles…  I’m an Android developer, so I like hearing Android doing well.  And it would be easy to just rejoice that Android is awesome, but instead I decided to look a little deeper.

First, the PCWorld article itself But let’s face it, Android @ 83% vs iOS @ 91% hardly makes me feel good.  It is akin to saying, all your data is stolen 9 out of 10 times on iOS but only 8 out of 10 times on Android.  So… you’re telling me all my data is stolen?  Great.

Second, what does ‘risky’ even mean?  So I decided to pull down the report and take a look myself.  Here were the things they considered risky…

  • Location Tracking
  • Access Address Book
  • Access Calendar
  • Single Sign-On (via social network)
  • Identify User (UDID)
  • In-App Purchases
  • Ad Networks

Really? These are the scary ‘risky’ behavior you are basing things off of?  Some I would consider the price of wanting a free app (in-app purchases, ads).  While others may be considered features, depending on the app function (location, address, calendar, single sign-on).

My conclusion?  More FUD, carry on, there’s nothing to see here.

Goodnight Lad (Animations)

Note: The Kickstart for this has begun, you can find the site here:

I just received the final version of the animations I’ve been waiting on.  They turned out awesome; I am really excited about them.  I still have a ton of items on my to-do list before I’ll be ready to start my campaign, but I couldn’t help be share as this all comes together.  I’d love to hear what you think.

For reference, here are the pages without animation.

page15 page16

1 Million Goofy Downloads

1m_DownloadsGoofyBooth passed 1 Million downloads today!  It is one of the apps I am most proud of, and super excited that it passed 1 Million in under a year and a half.

Below are some interesting notes about Goofy Glass:

– Rating = 4.18.  My highest free app.
– Biggest Country = Russia, 70% of my users are Russian.
– Total Version Updates = 14.  Bug fixes, new features, and more support.  With more in the pipe.
– Original release date: Sept 8th, 2012.

Check it out on the play store:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.givewaygames.goofyglass