Category Archives: Tech

App Strategy

On the subject of doing app planning & strategy, I recently came across this post from Rob Caraway: http://robcaraway.com/blog/index.php/2017/02/12/how-i-overcame-crippling-perfectionism-and-made-200k-on-the-saturated-app-store/

Parts of it really resonated with me. He says:

Our strategy was basically “Let’s brainstorm ideas and ship massive features and hope people want them”.

That has been my naive strategy so far. Acting as my own ideal user.

Then he talks about validating a MVP:

  • using “Traffic, as indicated by Google Trends”
  • a landing page to capture e-mails
  • building a prototype in a week
  • validating the demand for the prototype

This all seems standard or obvious when you look at it. But I can say that in reality, I have various app ideas that I think are worth making. When it comes to pick the next one, my current process might as well be rolling dice with bad odds. It’s 1000% obvious, but building a neat app with good UX in 2017 doesn’t count for much. Having a solid marketing strategy in a validated niche is significantly more important than building the best app ever.

I’m currently at a point where I’ve released 3 iOS apps. One of them has done decently and the other two are not. I have to make a decision between prioritizing developing new features for my current apps or creating a new app. For the sake of learning new iOS tools (like the camera), it’s probably better for me to work on a new app. Hopefully I can properly validate my idea before I spend months building it this time.

How to transfer photos to Apple TV (4th gen) and use photos as screensaver

Here is a quick guide for saving photos on your 4th generation Apple TV so that you can use them as a screensaver on your Apple TV (without constantly have your computer on for Home Sharing).

  1. On your computer, open iTunes and turn on Home Sharing
    1. File > Home Sharing
    2. If applicable, select ‘Choose Photos to Share with Apple TV…’
  2. On your Apple TV, select the ‘Computers’ app icon from the home screen
    1. In your Library, select Photos & choose your album
    2. Select ‘Set as Screensaver’ in the top right & select ‘Yes’
  3. You’re done

That hopefully wasn’t too complicated to do. I wanted to post this since it wasn’t clear to me from googling if you could save photos to your Apple TV (or you had to always stream via Home Sharing).

As for the Apple TV, it feels like Apple Watch territory. Something that is nice to have, but nowhere near necessary. Their app stores are still early and widespread developer support is uncertain.

Tip Solver launches

This week, my future-inspired tip calc, Tip Solver, launched on the App Store. Not only does it help you calculate you tip, it also helps you solve for how much you are really tipping.

3

As a tip calc, it’s easy to use and hopefully sleek/easy on the eyes. A key feature of this tip calculator is that it allows you to solve for your tip %. When you adjust the total or tip, you can see how much you actually tipped right away. This comes in handy when you pay $100 instead of $95, and so on.

While it’s customary to go from top to bottom when looking a receipt (for the items ordered, tax, tip, and total lines), I felt that it was better to invert the direction (to use a bottom to top approach). The reason being that your thumbs are often better able to reach the bottom (not the top) of the device. I wanted the most common action (setting the bill amount) to be in the easy to reach thumb zone.

Please check out my app if you have a moment. It’s free (with ads) and works on iPhones & iPads. If you have any feedback, you can let me know at rexfeng@gmail.com

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tip-solver-premier-gratuity/id1130814051

iOS Tip Calculators

I am in the midst of wrapping up a new iOS app. Wrapping up an app includes so many things that are oftentimes overlooked when it comes to developing a mobile application. From App Store screenshots, intro video, and description text, there is a lot of room to do it well (or poorly).

My new app is a tip calculator, which is by no means a new idea. The reasons I decided to build a tip calculator was that I wanted 1.) to implement modern usability improvements and 2.) have an app that is visually attractive.

Looking at the App Store, most calculator apps adopt a heavily skeuomorphic style. There is nothing wrong with skeuomorphism (in the context of aiding usability), but I wanted to build a tip calculator that is sleek and does not resemble a calculator.

Below are screenshots from the current top search results for “tip calculator” in the App Store. They are all probably decent apps that work, but I’m posting them as a reference of what the current state of tip calculator apps looks like.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 7.26.17 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 7.26.41 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 7.26.56 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 7.27.05 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 7.27.20 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 7.27.49 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 7.28.03 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 7.28.09 PM

LA Commute Visualization

This month, I chose to visualize LA commutes. The data is visualized & published here:  http://xta.github.io/la_commute/

la_commute_ss

For the starting locations, I chose a mix based on highly populated areas and places of interest to me. I wanted to get a good distribution throughout the greater LA area. I realize that most people wouldn’t commute nearly two hours a day, but the sad reality is that people do have these long or even longer commutes.

For the destinations, I chose three popular, work-concentrated areas (Santa Monica, Century City, and Downtown Los Angeles). I realize that many people do not work in these 3 locations, but these locations help visualize a horizontal slice across central LA.

My workflow was running a local Ruby script multiple times a day throughout the past few weeks. I have both morning & evening commute data, but I think morning commutes are more interesting. I may be wrong, but I’m assuming that morning commutes are more consistent (people leave for work around 7 to 8am, and they leave work anywhere from 3 to 9pm).

Once I had the data, I loaded my csv file(s) into Google Sheets. With Google Sheets, I did basic sorting and aggregating of the commute times. I output my data in a specific format so that I could easily consume it with my JS code.

Loading the data into Leaflet.js markers wasn’t too bad. The hardest part was styling & displaying the commute data properly. Originally, I wanted to draw labelled lines between the different locations to the destination, but labelling lines appears to be really difficult with web map libraries. I also didn’t want to hide all the data behind a tooltip that had to be clicked.

Overall, I’m pleased with my basic workflow and the power of Leaflet.js. Collecting traffic data was the most difficult part.

Mapping library used is Leaflet.js. Map & map data are from OpenStreetMap contributors. Map tiles are from CartoDB.

iTunes Payments Dropdown Tip

A quick tip about iTunes Payments and Financial Reports in iTunes Connect.

I was trying to reconcile from iAd Revenue to iTunes Payments. It looked like there were amounts missing in the Payments page. It took me a long time to realize this, but there is a dropdown to switch between your organization payment accounts. I probably have multiple payment accounts in iTunes Connect due to updating my address.

If you have multiple iTunes Connect agreements or accounts, you may want to check for a dropdown on the Summary page. I hope this helps someone out there trying to understand this part of iTunes Connect better.

itc_pmts

Optimizing for stable tools that don’t create perpetual work

Time is an incredibly important asset.

I come from a Ruby on Rails background. The progress of Rails updates & JS frameworks has been amazing & constant. Each new Rails patch brings with it some work to stay current. It’s not Rails’s fault since there are always new features or security issues that arise. Having a well maintained framework, such as Rails, is a huge boon for the community.

With any programmer tool, you generally want to be on the current stable release (for a variety of reasons including security & bug fixes). The issue is that upgrading to the latest stable version creates a never ending stream of (hopefully small) work.

Even if you went without a framework (Rails, Django, etc.), your server is running on a suite of tools. You’ll need to keep your OS (even LTS) and most likely nginx up to date.

Perhaps you want to outsource server maintenance, so you’re using Heroku. You’ll have to keep your configs compliant with the Heroku deployment framework & best practices.

What I’m getting at is that there are so many incredible tools available to developers today. Oftentimes, these tools are free and constantly get better & faster over time.

I’m wondering if there is, or if it would be possible to create developer tools that are optimized for API stability. No more figuring how to do things the framework-way every several months. Setup once, use forever. When you’re able to minimize the present value amount of time spent maintaining a tool, you’re freeing your future self to work on higher value tasks.

Maptime Movement

I’ve attended Maptime in both NYC & LA. Each location seems to make the event their own. If you’re interested in maps, you should definitely check out a local Maptime event.

maptime

In NYC, we worked on different mapping challenges (subway maps, D3.js, etc.). In LA, we went over using git & Github.

True Business

I recently read The Box by Marc Levinson.

Marc brings out this excellent insight about Malcom McLean, a pioneer in containerization (using Shipping Container to modularize transport & avoid break bulk):

Malcom McLean’s real contribution to the development of containerization, in my view, had to do not with a metal box or a ship, but with a managerial insight. McLean understood that transport companies’ true business was moving freight rather than operating ships or trains.

As the excerpt says, a shipper’s business is about transporting goods and not operating ships. I’d like to draw a parallel to web development. Developers need to know how to build & maintain websites, but the true business side of web development is about providing services to visitors.

Gogo Inflight Internet Prices – US Airways

Posting this since I wanted to know roughly how much you would save by buying wifi BEFORE your flight (or inflight). And I didn’t find a good source for this while searching.

Buying in advance Prices

preflight_v2

Buying inflight Prices

inflight_v2

The difference

1 Hour – $5 preflight vs $8 inflight

All day – $16 preflight vs $22.95 inflight

Also, here’s some more US Airways / American Airlines inflight prices:

inflight_extras_v2