App Development: Market Considerations

The start of the new year tends to be filled with resolutions, and perhaps one of yours is to build that app you’ve been contemplating for so long. App development has exploded over the past several years, so if you have a great idea, it is tempting to rush headlong into a project. Before diving into the technical details, though, we encourage you to spend time clearly defining the opportunity, and reflecting it against existing solutions. This is necessary whether your target user is an internal team or a consumer external to your company. It’s even true for gaming apps, as differentiation is always valuable.

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InspiringApps Wins a Prestigious Tabby Award

We’re excited to share that the retail merchandising app we created for SmartWool was named the 2015 winner of the Tabby Award /Business in the iPad App: Data Access & Collection category! We are thrilled to join ranks with other companies who have been in the winners circle like Citrix, SAP, Morningstar, RosettaStone, and Adobe.

The Tabby Award /Business is the only global competition that recognizes the top enterprise and business apps in the industry. Apps are evaluated on numerous criteria, including overall business value, user experience, design, innovation, tablet optimization, and performance. As a company that strives to demonstrate best practices in leveraging technology, we are honored that other industry leaders recognize our commitment to excellence.

An international panel of 24 judges reviewed over 150 apps before selecting the winners. With more than 300,000 business apps collectively available on Android and iOS devices, winners are positioned in the top 0.01% of all apps. “The lineup of apps this year was incredibly impressive,” noted judging panel chair Carson Conant, CEO of Mediafly. “The slate of apps this year brought the perfect mix of business utility and the clean interfaces that you see in the best consumer apps.”

The SmartWool app leverages the extensive experience we have in helping organizations of all sizes to collect, access, and successfully employ business-critical data. This expertise was recognized by the judging panel, who stated, “We immediately recognized the value of the SmartWool FSR app for streamlining field data collection, decreasing reporting time, and improving store service. We found the app to be highly intuitive with clear dashboards and reporting.”

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As you may recall, a sales presentation app that we developed in conjunction with Gulfstream Aerospace was also one of two finalists for a different Tabby Award.  In this case, we must tip our hat to Adobe for winning the iPad App: Marketing & Presentation category. Congratulations!

The Tabby Awards: Honoring the Best in App Development

We are so excited and humbled to have our work commended by The Tabby Awards! The Tabby Awards /Business is the only worldwide competition designed to honor the best mobile apps for businesses and professionals. 

Over 150 apps were evaluated this year and just 40 iPad-optimized apps were selected as nominees for the final round. Submissions are judged on a number of factors, including user experience, innovation, design, performance and reliability, and the business value that they add to an organization. Only those that excel in multiple categories move forward. Nominees and winners are selected by an international panel of independent app experts.

An app we developed for Gulfstream Aerospace was nominated in the Marketing and Presentation category. Gulfstream is renown for creating and delivering the world’s finest aviation experience, and they wanted this client touchpoint to reflect their commitment to excellence. Built as a sophisticated mobile education tool, the app showcases the aesthetics of the jet’s interior and exterior, explains Gulfstream’s technological advances, shares critical performance characteristics, and introduces the company’s award-winning customer support. 

gulfstream_app

Another app, developed for leading outdoor brand SmartWool, is a contender in the Data Access & Collection category. The app is used by SmartWool’s field sales reps to improve their effectiveness at retail merchandising.  Merchandising plays a critical role in the sell-through of products, but is time-consuming and error prone. Reps are able to use the app to quickly capture and share information about point-of-sale (POS) signage, displays, and stock levels. In addition to cutting reporting time in half, the app helps them to service accounts more quickly.

smartwool_app

While different in their function, both apps are valuable sales enablement tools that are making a difference to those who use them.

Learn more about these projects and others by visiting our Clients page.

Mobile Apps 101 with Google

Need to learn some basics about app development and whether it makes sense for your company? Our CEO will be speaking with the Google Small Business Community on Wednesday, June 17 at 2:00 MDT.  Google has numerous community forums, and this one was created to help small businesses get the help they need to succeed on the web by connecting with experts and each other. They provide ongoing training, compelling discussions, and insider tips.

The group describes the upcoming event this way: “The average smartphone user has 33 apps installed on their device. Should your business be their next download? During our June #Mobile #OfficeHours, we’ll be discussing the differences between mobile websites and mobile apps, and the potential value a mobile app could bring to your small business. Join us as we speak with Brad Weber from InspiringApps, a mobile app developer for small businesses.”

We’re looking forward to the discussion around the topics that arise during this hour and encourage you to join in. Check out the event here.

Now available: InspiringBusiness – March 2014

We recently published the latest issue of our InspiringBusiness newsletter, where we discussed how we optimized server-app data sync for the iPad, our work with the N-FORS project and introduced the education plan for ePCR for iPad, one of our products.

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive InspiringBusiness in your email.

iOS7: Because being a developer isn’t hard enough already

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For this week’s Lunch and Learn, software engineer Will Helling gave us an overview of the changes he’s discovered as he works to make our ePCR for iPad app compatible with iOS6 and the forthcoming iOS7.

Here are some of the highlights of his presentation:

Design – while the presentation was largely about changes from a developer’s perspective, it’s impossible to talk about iOS7 without mentioning Apple’s radical design changes.

Although they’ve kept their main color scheme (white, blue, grey and black,) Apple decided to allow whitespace to dominate the new design. We noticed that this helps make the content “pop,” compared to the overwhelming frames created by the various toolbars in iOS6.

View control overrides

In iOS7, view controls are automatically set to fullscreen, covering the status bar. However, iOS6 does not have this feature, leaving an awkward gap between the status bar and the view. To ensure compatibility with both operating systems, Will had to use a command that would force fullscreen in iOS6:


Flurry 

iOS7 requires developers using Flurry to update to the most recent version, 4.2.3 – apps not using this version may experience “irrevocable data integrity issues.” Since providing the best tools based on our users demands is a core function of ePCR for iPad, updating this feature was absolutely necessary. In order to update, Will had to download the new SDK and make sure to include Apple’s security framework and ad support framework. And… voila! Flurry is compatible with iOS7.

Libraries

Will also ran into some backend issues with libraries. iOS7 links to the new XML library… but the old XSLT library is incompatible with the new XML library, and the new XSLT library is incompatible with the old XML library. This required Will to do a manual universal compile of LibXML.

iOS7 will be available to consumers sometime next month, but with some users slow to adopt to a new OS, we’ve emphasized making sure ePCR for iPad works on both systems. As these new changes roll out, we also plan to introduce some new features, like a “night mode” that will be easier on users’ eyes at night.

We have a weekly Lunch and Learn where team members share different aspects of their work. Have a topic you’d like to know more about? Let us know in the comments!

Online. Offline. Either. Both.

Last week, Dropbox announced it will be releasing a data sync API for developers to use in their apps. This TechCrunch article about the announcement got our wheels turning on the topic of data synchronization and why it’s such an important part of what we do here at InspiringApps. The need for mobile app data sync is common and significant. You don’t stop working when you lose a network connection – neither should your apps. With our AppSync technology, we’ve got your back.

A lack of connection shouldn’t affect someone’s ability to use an app. At its most basic level, AppSync allows you to use an app offline and syncs automatically as soon as a network connection is available.

As mentioned in the article, supporting data synchronization is a big undertaking, difficult to get right, and beyond the reach of most small shops. We’re proud to have made a big investment in AppSync over several years to support it and continue to improve it in our apps. In fact, AppSync is present in all of our products, as well as many of our client projects.

Naturally, a growing need means there are now several data synchronization solutions on the market. However, most we’ve seen are limited in two important ways when compared to AppSync: support for multiple users and data filtering.

Many solutions are only built to help a single user share data across their own personal devices. For example, the article talks about remembering your current page when reading a book on multiple devices. That is true for Apple’s iCloud, and it sounds like it may be true for Dropbox, too. While individuals can benefit from this type of sync, it isn’t very helpful for business apps, which have several users who need access to synchronized data within the app.

There are a few data sync solutions that do support the synchronization of data across multiple users. With these solutions, though, all users typically get all of the same data. There are many apps, especially simple ones without a lot of data, where synchronizing all of the data to all users is perfectly acceptable. However, organizations often need to filter data among their users. AppSync is capable of that type of data filtering to reduce the amount of data transferred to most mobile users– sometimes dramatically less data.

In many mobile apps we build for sales organizations, sales reps only need to see (and sync) data related to their assigned accounts. Sales managers need to see all of the data related to all of the reps they supervise, and regional managers need to see all of the data related to all of the reps who report to all of the managers in their region. The user experience for an individual rep will be greatly hampered if the app has to retrieve loads of data from the server that they will never see in the app’s interface (because they don’t have access to it). Instead, AppSync can deliver only the data they need, greatly reducing sync times and local data storage requirements for most users.

In-app data synchronization is a feature growing in popularity, with tech giants like Dropbox and Apple throwing their hats in the ring. But these new solutions still lack essential features like support for multiple users and data filtering. We’ve put a lot of work into AppSync to ensure that it supports the way in which you work– with your mobile workforce in a disconnected world.

To learn more about AppSync’s features, check out the newest edition of InspiringBusiness.

Interested in working with us? Contact info@inspiringapps.com.

My Open Source Contributions (or GitHub is Awesome)

I love open source projects and I love github. The github platform for easily and efficiently working in a distributed group in an asynchronous manner is second to none. Lately I’ve found myself submitting more pull requests than I’ve ever done and I’ve found the experience really awesome.

The thing I’ve liked most about using pull requests is that I’m free to mess up. When contributing to an open source project that other people look at, I’m afraid of looking stupid to everyone else, especially if my code is immediately merged into the codebase. I don’t want to be the guy that breaks the application for everyone else. Pull requests give me a safety net for people to review my contribution, give me feedback, and give me a chance to make corrections or improvements. I’m eager to get feedback because it most likely means I’ll learn something that I didn’t know and I’ll be a better developer because of it. And worst case scenario – my code breaks everything – it was just as much the fault of the pull request reviewer as it was mine (which is no excuse to make the same mistake twice though), which allows me to not stress that everything needs to be absolutely perfect before submitting. That’s the great thing about open source code – someone can do the first 80% of the work and then someone else can swoop in and help with the last 20%.

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Right Tool for the Job

It has been said that when you have only a hammer, you see every problem as a nail. At InspiringApps, we enjoy the variety that comes from having lots of tools in our collective toolbox. We build mobile web apps. We build native mobile apps. When we build native apps, sometimes we do so with Objective-C and Java. Other times, we use a cross-platform framework that allows us to build the same app for multiple platforms using a single code base. Today I’m going to talk about one of those cross-platform frameworks.

Titanium is a mobile development framework from Appcelerator. On the surface, Titanium app developers write the code in JavaScript for all platforms. That is the business logic. It is the code that defines the user interface and the user’s interaction with it. It defines all of the behavior for the app.

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Documentation Challenges

I have found there are a number of challenges to writing thorough documentation, and I’d like to discuss those here.

The following is not intended to be exhaustive or complete in anyway. While these ideas would likely apply to all forms of documentation, I’ll keep this to my personal experiences.

Additionally, the following may not be applicable or correct for all projects. Rather, this is really just the musings of a developer who wrestles with (in a good way) creating documentation that will be useful to others.
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