Simple activity notifications for your applications

As part of my work on Drinks4-You, I decided that I wanted to get an alert to my phone each time a user signs up. I’ve worked hard on the platform and the other members of the team have worked even harder on generating sales and promoting the platform, so getting a little alert each time we get a new customer is very exciting!

Rather than a vanilla email each time a user signs-up, I wanted something a little more dramatic. A signup is an important thing, so I wanted an alert to match the gravity of the situation. What better then the Inception “BWONG” noise?

I spend a few hours and created a simple iOS  that would display the notifications and play the cool noise!

I then began to wonder if other people might need something similar. I quick search revealed plenty of providers of Push notifications, but they required that you have your own app. A small company might not have any iOS expertise or cannot spare the to create an iOS app for just one thing.

From this, Heads Up was born.

Heads Up is a simple iOS app that lets you register for notifications from your own apps. Your app only has to send a PUT to our Heads Up API and your device (or devices – using a PIN code other people can get the same notifications e.g. members of a team) will receive the message and play a sound. It’s simple, but can be used to alert you of errors in your service, important user activity or for a bit of fun.

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You can sign up for the Heads Up mailing list if you want to be part of the beta test. I will be charging for the service eventually as I need to cover hosting and network charges, but until it launches officially, the beta will be completely free.

Sign up for the beta using TestFlight

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Time Boxing using DayPlanner

Since reading the excellent book Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup, I’ve been experimenting with the application of time boxing to help me work on several projects at the same time. Rob Walling suggests that every micropreneur can stay on top of multiple different projects by practicing time boxing. This means spending a fixed amount of time on each project so that you spread your time around evenly.

I have five projects on the go at this time:

To help me juggle all these with out getting caught up in just one, I’ve been spending some time building a simple application which I’m calling DayPlanner. DayPlanner allows me to view my week ahead and to block out my time across multiple different projects.

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I’ve made this little application public and am currently in the process of testing whether or not anyone else would like to use it as I think it could be a very useful tool to fellow micropreneurs and freelancers.

I have a list of features that I would like to add such as time summaries, 3rd party calendar integration, time tracking and mobile support.

If you’re looking for a tool to help you manage your time boxing then look no further! You can sign up here:

http://dayplanner.azurewebsites.net

Give it a try and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below, contacting me directly using tomas@tomasmcguinness.com or by using the feedback link on the site.

Thanks!

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Planning my day – creating a new tool

I’ve just started freelancing in the middle of July and I’m currently juggling a few different clients in addition to working on my own personal projects.

Within a week I ran into two problems!

The first was that of managing my time efficiently. Normally I would use Harvest for time tracking, but I found that I need to block out my time in advance so that I split my time between my clients and my own personal projects without neglecting anyone. I’ve read over and over again that planning your activities in advance helps you be more focused and effective.

The second one came in the shape of FreeAgent. I’ve had to switch over to FreeAgent on my accountant’s request and whilst it’s excellent (so far) it is a little lacking in the time tracking. You just enter your time after the fact. I’ve used Harvest for a long time and they have excellent time tracking, but it doesn’t make sense to use both applications.

I did some searching around and I couldn’t find anything that covered both of those problems, so I decided to make one. If you’re reading this and you know of any other apps that solves this, I’d be grateful if you could let me know!

Introducing DayPlanner

To get the ball rolling I create a very simple application based upon a standard wall planner. You can book out blocks of time and assign a titles to them.This is version 0.1, so there are lots of bugs and lots of missing features, but it’s a start. If you want to try it out, you can signup over at http://dayplanner.azurewebsites.net 

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What’s Next

I want to add a few things to this over the next few days and weeks.

  • Pull in appointments from real calendars. I use Outlook.com.
  • Add a (working!) time tracker and integrate with FreeAgent so that timesheets can be created.
  • Colour code the appointments and integrate with Trello.

What do you think?

If you’re a freelancer or just want to plan your time on a daily and weekly basis, I’d like to get your opinion. You can signup and kick the tires at http://dayplanner.azurewebsites.net – any feedback would be great.

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Roomr for Android

It has been a long time coming, but I’m pleased to announce v1.0 for Roomr for Android is now available to download from the Google Play Store.

This is very much a 1.0 release and is missing a few features that already exist in the iOS app, but I have plans to add those features over the coming weeks. I’m very new to Android programming, so I had to climb the learning curve before I could release anything. I’m sure this app will have a few bugs and I hope to get some good feedback from people over the coming week.

Here are are some screenshots of the app. It’s available on Android 4.0 and above.

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Big Plans

One of the biggest plans I have in mind for the Android version is to create a simple Status Plaque for an individual room. Cheap Android tables could be placed outside each meeting room giving immediate status information.

It would also enable people to place a booking on the room when they are standing outside.

Feedback

If you have any feedback about Roomr for Android, I’d love to hear it! Please leave a comment below, or email me at tomas@tomasmcguinness.com

Thanks

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Selling a Roomr–How I sold some Objective-C code.

Apologies for the terrible title!

I recently completed the sale of some iOS code that makes up my room booking app, Roomr (www.roomrapp.com) to a company in Belgium. A user on Twitter asked if I would write a short post on the sale and voila, here it is.

To give you some background, my app Roomr is a simple iOS app that connects up to Microsoft Exchange and allows you to view the status of meeting rooms. In addition, you can see a room’s full daily calendar and also book meeting rooms. All from your iPhone. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the only app of it’s kind.

Despite it’s uniqueness, sales have been very slow, topping around 25 a month. I’m putting this down to a few factors, but they are outside the scope of this post!

Around mid-April, I got an email from a developer in Sweden asking if I would be interesting in selling the source code of Roomr as they had an in-house project to develop an app with some similar functionality. They stated that I’d retain ownership of the code and would be able to continue developing upon it and Roomr itself would remain in the store. This seemed like a good proposition.

I just needed to put a price on my code.

I reached out to Twitter for some help and got lots of answers and suggestions. The common thread running through the responses was that the sale would be worth about 20%-30% of the total development effort. So if I spend 100 hours writing the software, I could charge for about 30 of those hours. This made some sense when I considered that I had no documentation etc.

I agreed to the sale, but my client needed to get approval before we could continue.

Time passed, as it does, when another email arrived in my inbox from a company in Belgium offering to purchase the code for Roomr and even offered a price. This price, I’m pleased to say, matched what I had quoted the Swedish developer, so having some validation there was nice. We discussed terms and they matched the previous offer i.e. I’d retain ownership and could continue to develop and sell Roomr.

I agreed to the sale and began looking into software escrow as I assumed my buyer would want some contractual guarantees as well as safeguards to their money.

The buyer didn’t seem interested in that and offers to wire me the money in exchange for the code to be sent via email. I was surprised by this. Perhaps I’m getting too cynical, but it was nice to be trusted like that. I agreed that once the money was received, I’d transfer the code. I sent them an invoice and my bank details and one day later the money arrived in my account. I promptly zipped up and emailed the code over. A second email swiftly followed as I had neglected to include a 3rd party library causing compilation failures.

And that was it. The transaction was completed with all parties being happy. I managed to recoup some of the time I spent developing Roomr and I hopefully saved my buyer time understanding Objective-C driven SOAP calls to Microsoft Exchange!

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Introducing Commuter Pal

Commuter Pal is a new iOS app that is aiming to take a different approach to a Londoner’s commute than other existing London Underground iOS apps.

THE PROBLEM

Most of the current iOS apps that provide information for the London Underground are all pretty much the same. They have a status board, departure information, route planning and the a map of the tube. I’m not saying that these apps aren’t useful. In fact, some of them are really useful and I’ve relied upon one of them in particular for years. My problem with these apps is that they provide too much information.

The reality is that most commuters in London follow a pretty consistent route. In the morning they enter the network at one station, use the same two or three lines and exist the network at another location. In the evening they perform the same journey in reverse. I’d be willing to wager that this pattern applies to > 90% of London’s commuters.

MY TAKE

Rather than overload the user with information about the entire London underground network, Commuter Pal aims to provide them only with information relevant to their commute. In addition to just the line information, Commuter Pal will also give you the status of the stations you use. Here is an example.

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Only the information pertinent to the route you take is shown. The button in the bottom right will let you reverse your route, so you can see the status for your journey home.

Swiping a cell to the right will give you more detailed status information about the line or station in question.

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I’m also planning on adding departure information to the app, which can be access by swiping to the left. This will give you the departure times of the next trains from your chosen station.

I also want to add detailed push notifications of delays, as well as including buses, overground and National Rail trains into your journey.

The app is in beta at the moment, but I’m looking for more people to test it out. If you’re interested in taking a look, please visit http://commuterpal.cloudapp.net or sign up here http://tflig.ht/vTaR0n

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Negative comment for Roomr and improving sales!

In the last few weeks I’ve decided to dust off my Roomr app code and start working on a small update to it. Whilst I’m writing some new code, I decided I best start trying to drive some sales of the app, which haven’t been very strong.

To try and boost downloads, I decided to rework the marketing site (www.roomrapp.com), simplifying it beyond all recognition and just concentrating on the main features with some simple screenshots. No need to be clever. I think the app has some useful features and with a simple site explaining those features, things should improve in the sales department.

In addition to revamping the sales site, I signed up for Distimo, a site which gives you lots of metrics and statistics for your app, including sales information, ratings and rankings.

Whilst reviewing this data, I came across a negative comment that a user left.

“So I have to know the name of a list of rooms before I can see… any rooms? How does this make sense?”

As the Apple AppStore gives me no-way to reply to a user’s comment, I thought I might try and address it here.

Yes, you do need to specify the list of rooms to my app. However, if you’re using Exchange 2010, you can use a Room List, which will download a list of rooms automatically. I’m sorry that the process is so manual, but the Exchange Web Services provided by Microsoft, don’t give me a way to automatically access this information.

I know the user that left that comment will probably never read this, but it’s the best I can do. I will add this information to the FAQ on www.roomrapp.com so that nobody else runs into this problem.

On a more positive note, reworking the marketing site has resulted in a 6 day stretch of downloads (totalling 7!), but the longest stretch to date.

I think this app is something that people most likely find useful because there were almost 400 sessions in the past month, so people are definitely using it.

I’ve got to figure out if the downloads from the App Store are being driven from my improved marketing site or because of some other reason.  In the last month I’ve had fewer visits on average than other months, but more sales, so it’s hard to see a correlation!

Also, I’d like to make a shout-out to the Swedish people as they are my best customers!

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