Category Archives: Lines of thought

Now you can import books in the My Picture Books app

Earlier this week I got an e-mail from Michel, who would like to use My Picture Books (MPB) in the class, but was missing an import feature. Also it was requested in the Google Play reviews.

Also, MPB is slowly gaining users, so more and more people would be helped by the feature.
mpb_stats_up_to_nov2016

Google changed the way stats are processed, so I can’t show a true lifetime chart. Currently not ‘installs by device’ but ‘installs on active devices‘ are used. Meaning users who opened the app in the last 30 days. For May 2, that number is 786.

So while I’m actually working on other things, like learning how to use FireBase, I thought I’d do this. I have a similar import feature for Idea Growr, so much of the code could be re-used. So in about 4 hours I had the update ready, and here it is:

MBP_main_import_export_01

Main menu now includes a settings icon. Where you can click a few dialogs to do an import. When importing the app looks at the names of the books to see if you might import a book you already have.

Screenshot_1493970454 Screenshot_1493970464 Screenshot_1493970469 Screenshot_1493970472 Screenshot_1493970478 Screenshot_1493970484

While I was looking at the MPB code, I found some room for improvement here and there, but I won’t let myself get distracted too much, since I feel that once I know how to use FireBase I’ll potentially be able to add online capabilities for all my apps.

So yes, it’s a bit strange that the export is on the main screen, but the import on the settings screen. But I’ll leave it like that for now :).

Like the update? Or if you have other feedback, let me know.

Download the free android app here.

Making Android Studio easier for new developers

As someone who is quite new to software development, I sometimes want to rant about how some parts of development should not be part of my job as a developer. It feels like more experienced developers have sort of accepted that some parts suck, while clearly a lot of developers are doing stuff by hand that computers are much better suited at.

I’m talking about how ProGuard is used in Android Studio. ProGuard is a tool that you use to make your Android file you put on Google Play. The effect of running ProGuard is that your file will become smaller and less easy read for potential hackers. A great thing, but it’s very easy to make a mistake and create all sorts of (hidden) bugs.

So I wrote down my rant as constructively as possible in a feature request for Android Studio, asking to implement a simple interface to ProGuard, or better yet, make it invisible and just take care of making my app file as small and un-hackable as possible.

I’m in no way saying ProGuard isn’t well made or doesn’t do a great job. I actually had the chance to talk with Eric Lafortune, one of the core developers for ProGuard, two years ago. He is a very friendly and smart Belgian guy who clearly knows what he’s doing. It’s just that in my view ProGuard should just work, meaning that I need a layer on top of ProGuard giving an easy to use interface and do background analysis on the code so ProGuard can be set up correctly automatically. Not something I expect Eric to do, but I would like to see Google invest in with it’s Android Studio team.

Here I go again ranting along, so I’ll leave it at this :) and if you want to read more, you can read the feature request over here.

Side projects progress in 2014

I’ve been working on a number of projects in 2014. All of them are Android apps.

I’ll give you a quick update on how the apps have been doing in 2014 and at the bottom tell you about the projects I’d like to work on in 2015.

Idea Growr

With Idea Growr you can quickly write down ideas and add notes to them. The provided question sets help you take on different perspectives and grow your ideas. My goal for 2014 was to add online accounts to the app. That effort failed. What I did do is make lot’s of long term plans and wireframes.

So what happens to an app if you don’t do much development on it? It stops growing. I also didn’t do much promotion and there are some interface issues I should tackle. Still, there are about 11 thousand people who have the app on their device.

My Picture Books
With this app you can use your own pictures and sounds to create your own picture books.

I started this project in September and it went live in November. It’s now slowly growing.

MPBStats2014

Yes, we are only talking about 39 users at the moment. What’s interesting is that when compared to my other two apps, My Picture Books users are less likely do remove the app from their device so far.

stats2014

It’s too early to tell, but that could mean the users really value the app.

Personal Life Trackr

This app let’s you set goals on a specific date for your ‘future self’. You can also measure yourself on any moment on a scale of 5. I created this app after Idea Growr, and it is the app that has gotten the least amount of love from me so far.

In November I had launched My Picture Books and had a greater understanding of working with libraries and Android studio. So I thought it was time for an update. I made some interface changes, but for me the most important part was migration the database. In the new database I use the ActiveAndroid library and this makes it easier to maker future updates and I expect less bugs.

PLT Update Compare

Growth stats:

PLT_stats_2014

Just like with Idea Growr; if you hardly do any improvements, the number of users stop growing. It now has about 2.600 device installs.

Lessons learned

In the first half of 2014 I lost a lot of time trying to get Idea Growr collaborations working. When I started to work on My Picture Books it was more fun again and I was learning a lot of new things again. So I guess the main lesson is that I must keep coding in 2015 and build new things people value.

  • Technology
    • Working with libraries like Active Android makes creating an app a lot simpler.
    • I now have fully switched to Android Studio.
    • I have gained experience in storing and retrieving files and working with audio.
  • Process
    • Collaborating on a pet project with someone is hard. Since no money is involved, they don’t have the same commitment as I do. If their day job is demanding more time, I can’t really argue with that.
    • It’s still fun. I used to play all these sim games like Sim City, Civilization, Transport Tycoon, Football manager games, etc. Creating apps is just like that, but it effects real people.

Plans for 2015

As far as non-day-job plans go, here are the things I like to do in 2015:

  • A app that makes use of an online platform like Parse. It provides a relatively simple way to implement a cloud back-end. Plan A is an app that helps you keep track of what meals you like and what to eat for dinner today.
  • Make a first version of the Sugar Salt Fat concept. In the far future it could be combined with the dinner selection app.
  • Add online accounts to Idea Growr. Plan A is realizing this with a new collaboration with a good friend. Plan B is to use a platform like Parse.
  • Improve on My Picture Books. It depends on the feedback I’ll get and how much time I’ll have, what improvements I’ll make. It would be interesting to sell children books from publishers via the app.
  • Improve on Personal Life Trackr. At the very least I should improve how the notifications work.
  • Add in app purchases in one of my apps and learn how willing users are to pay for features.
  • A simple app that uses Google’s new Material Design. Plan A is a simple audio recorder app.
  • Make a simple web app that uses the same cloud back-end as an app, like Parse.  Plan A being a minimalistic mix of Twitter and LinkedIn.

So there are enough plans for 2015. All are a combination of two goals: create tools people value and learn new skills so I can create even better tools.

Option A or B for the promo image on Google Play, what do you think?

I made two options for the promotional feature grahpic on Google Play for My Picture Books. It’s the graphic that is shown at the top of the app page in the Google Play app.

Option A

MPB AOption B

MPB BWhat do you think?

The thought behind both graphics is that I wanted to visualise how the app works in simple manner. I first created option A, I think it’s nice that the book sort of pops out. Then I created option B, that seems more balanced and easier on the eye.