iPhone Users: Do you kill apps?

Hey iPhone users, we have a very simple and quick question:

 

Why we ask

We are currently working on iPhone app and we’ve noticed some issues regarding to PUSH notifications that are sent to apps which have been killed by the user manually. Therefore, we’d like to find out how many of you are actually killing your apps manually. Your feedback will have direct impact on how we integrate our PUSH notification mechanism in Swapit on the iPhone and iPad.

 

Have you tried Swapit yet? It’s free. You can get it from http://get.swapit.la

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Swapit iOS App Launched on the Apple App Store

swapit-blog_appleHello iPhone Users!

We’ve just launched our first public version of Swapit on iOS. You can go directly to the App Store or download it from there.

Swapit Download: http://get.swapit.la

It is currently possible to browse the whole Swapit catalog of items, interact with sellers and actually buy items from sellers. It’s not possible to post items yourself yet, but we will be adding that capability soon. Stay tuned!

As an avid reader of our blog, you’ve probably been aware of our Swapit iOS beta, which we’ve been running for a while. We believe in building native apps with a native look and feel for users. In very simple terms: iPhone users who open Swapit on their iPhone for the first time, need to feel right at home. Without any need for a tutorial or instructions, they need to be able to navigate Swapit in the way they are used to navigate other apps. The same counts for Android users who also need to feel right at home, when they’re launching Swapit. Therefore, our iOS app and our Android app look a bit different in terms of user interface. We’ve been discussing a lot about that internally (read To Tab A Bar Or Not To Tab A Bar – on iOS for more).

We’ve also had to overcome many requirements imposed by Apple during the approval process of Swapit. Check out Getting Swapit approved on the Apple App Store is not that easy, for example. While that was only a first taste of their feedback, we’ve had many more conversations with the Apple Review team, but in the end we managed to launch Swapit on the App Store. Here is how it looks like:

So again, if you’re an iPhone user, feel free to download Swapit today: http://get.swapit.la

Sprinting to Swapit for iPhone and iPad

As you might remember, we’ve started our race for launching on iOS in the middle of February by hiring Vito for that very task. It took us a couple of weeks to get up to speed and build the core foundation of Swapit on the iOS platform.

As you also might remember from my blog post over a year ago about Choosing a Platform for Swapit,  we’ve been building our backend infrastructure on top of the Google Cloud Platform. The great thing about that is, we are building Swapit for massive scale from the ground-up. Our current growth rate of 100% month-over-month over the past 2 quarters, we have so far seen zero impact on the performance of our backend platform. At the same time, out Total Cost of Ownership remain very low as well. So that was an outstanding choice of platform.

Going, Running, Sprinting to iOS

swapit-blog_leapNow, one of Swapit’s major road blocks to world domination is our missing presence on the iPhone. It’s not the only road block, but it’s a major one. When we raised our funding in December and again raised in February, one of the milestones we have attached to that funding was to bring Swapit to the iPhone and iPad as quickly as possible.

Just an hour ago, I submitted the Swapit beta 1.2 for iOS to Apple’s TestFlight. That is actually our 3rd beta, which we are testing with a very small group of testers right now. With each beta, we are increasing the number of beta testers for Swapit. In fact, we are building sprints every week that are being released to our beta testers. We a somewhat much leaner version of how sprints are defined in Scrum. Our goal is, to ship a new beta release each week, which we have been doing for the past 3 weeks already.

It is very challenging for developers to be able to deliver a working product release every week. Our team is doing their best to hold the schedule. It’s hard work, but it is definitely worth it! Having a working release of the whole app at pretty much any time during the development process, offers so many upsides: launching every week keeps our beta testers happy, they know we’re progressing and moving fast forward. At any time, we can fix a serious issue might arise in a release, which was launched a couple of days ago. So in the worst case scenario, users need to wait only a very short while to get their app fixed. At the same time, these rapid release cycles force us internally, to define small enough feature tasks that are doable within a day or two or at most a week.

Sprinting Around Corners and Cutting Short to Make the Goal

At the same time, we need to always keep our weekly release goal in mind. Even though, we might define small enough features and tasks to be completed within a week, sometimes some tasks and features suddenly turn up to be much more complex than anticipated. Therefore, we adjust the set of features and tasks for the next release in a very flexible way.

THE #1 GOAL IS TO SHIP!

There can only be one most important goal for any software / product development or basically any business related team, and that is to bloody ship your product. If you have the greatest product and never ship, who cares what it is? No one will ever use it, never ever will you be able to build a business out of that product. Almost everyone can build a product, some people might be able to finally ship and even fewer might be able to build a profitable business out of that.

We at Swapit believe, with a lot of passion and a lot more of hard work, we will be able to see it through and keep growing Swapit to a revenue generating business with very attractive profit margins.

IMG_20160325_0946483

At The Swapit Office: Get A Fresh Free Coffee And Remember What Is Really Important!
The Sign Reads: “TO SHIP is the most important feature!”

Swapit on iOS so far

Our Swapit beta 1.2 release is the most feature rich release we’ve launched so far. It is now already possible to view all items nearby, view item details (incl. pictures in gallery, price, category, condition, viewing statistics, locations, title, description, likes, comments), share items, report items, search items, show featured and highlighted items. All items in the list also sport all the information you need: image, price, distance, name, seller’s photo, likes and category.

Next week’s release will definitely sport some more features in Swapit on iOS. We’re constantly increasing the number of our beta testers for iOS. For those, who have left their contact details and haven’t received a download link yet: We will get to you very soon. We’ve got quite a number of people interested and we’re on-boarding new beta testers FIFO style. So please stay tuned. You’ll hear from us very soon!

Got an iPhone and want to check out Swapit?
Put your name on the Swapit for iOS beta list!

 

swapit-team_mugshot_patrickAbout the Author
Patrick is the Co-Founder and CEO of Swapit Limited. He has over 11 years experience in mobile and business in Asia through various ventures across very different domains. You can find our more about Patrick and the Swapit team at: http://www.swapit.la/#team

To Tab A Bar Or Not To Tab A Bar – on iOS

swapit-blog_appleAs you might have guessed from our last blog post and the one before, we are already working on the iOS app of Swapit. Unlike many of our competitors, we decided not to use any of the cross-platform development tools out there, but to go real native and build the app for each platform from scratch. We believe, this is by far the best way to provide the stellar user experience everyone expects from Swapit – may it be on Android or iOS.

This approach does come with challenges, but also with opportunities. One of the great freedoms we have, when going native on each platform, is to create a custom user interface design that fits perfectly to the target platform. On Android for example, we did a deep dive into the Material Design Guidelines published by Google to ensure all Android users feel right at home when they’re opening the app.

For example, on Android we implemented the standard left side slide out navigation drawer as well as the “+” floating button to create new posts. Those concepts feel very natural to Android users and they feel right at home when they’re using Swapit.

Now, we did some tests by handing our Swapit Android app to some iPhone users. They immediately felt lost, didn’t know what to do and started clicking randomly around the screen, trying to find something useful to do. Especially the floating button at the bottom right corner was something rather unusual for them. So to us it was obvious that we need to cater much more to the standard user behavior of iPhone users in our iOS app.

Last Friday, we finished our very first internal beta of the Swapit iOS app. It can only list items nearby the user’s location and show details of each item. There is not much interaction possible in the app yet. So we started a very small internal beta test of about 10 friends and family folks who have iPhones. Just to see if the app starts up properly on different iPhone models, OS versions, network carriers, locations, indoors/outdoors. Conclusion thus far: it’s lookin’ good!

(Note: Everyone who signed up for our Swapit iOS Beta will get an email when the next version is ready. Stay tuned!)

The Tab Bar Discussion

Two days ago, we had a very heated discussion about the general structure of Swapit on iOS. I’d like to share some details because I feel it might give everyone some insight in our thought and decision making process.

The main question was: should we use a tab bar at the bottom of our standard list screen or should we not use it, but rather bring over the left side navigation pane, which we use in Swapit on Android. Such a tab bar is very common in many standard iOS apps. Just go and check the App Store, iTunes, Safari, Notes, etc. They all have a tab bar. Usually that’s being used to switch between tabs, but sometimes there are also some “actions” in there, which are not particularly switching tabs, but perform a certain action. For example: the Notes app has a “New Folder” action in that bar.

We a camp of people that was for a tab bar and one against it. I personally was against the tab bar, mainly because I feel having a tab bar constantly there, wastes screen real estate, which I’d prefer to use for displaying content. Think, cinematic feel of an app.

However, this is not about what I feel makes sense – in the end, I am not actually a real world iPhone user. Yet, given our experience and the feedback we collected from iPhone users trying to use our Android app, it was clear that we need to cater directly to those iPhone users – no matter what.

On top of that very simple discussion came contextual discussions about the general workflow and where, from a contextual point of view, it will make sense to put certain modules of content in Swapit. Let me give you a quick overview of the top level user interface elements that are accessible right from the main screen in the Swapit Android today:

  1. My User Profile (left navigation drawer)
  2. Swapits Nearby (left navigation drawer)
  3. Inbox (left navigation drawer)
  4. Settings (left navigation drawer)
  5. Invite Friends (left navigation drawer)
  6. Write a Review (left navigation drawer)
  7. Stats (left navigation drawer)
  8. Website (left navigation drawer)
  9. Blog (left navigation drawer)
  10. About (left navigation drawer)
  11. Map (top toolbar, right)
  12. Search (top toolbar, right)
  13. Filters (top toolbar, right)
  14. Post Item (bottom right floating button)

Obviously, it would not be possible to move all such elements into a tab bar on iOS. Adding a left navigation drawer like on Android might be a solution, but it is not standard iOS design — even though some popular apps on iOS have that. To make Swapit’s feel for iOS users as native as possible, we decided to integrate a tab bar at the bottom. It still bugs me personally that we are wasting that screen real estate for this, but if it results in a higher user engagement in the end, then it was the right move.

Now the next question was about what to put into that tab bar and how to order it. Contextually seen, the tab bar’s purpose is to allow the user to switch between tabs. Usually, those are content-related tabs. For example, on the Apple App Store you can switch between Featured Apps, Top Charts of Apps, Categories of Apps, Search of Apps, Updates of Apps. It’s obvious, those tabs switch between viewing apps in a different way or it just orders apps differently.

For Swapit, we want to make sure our users have quick access to the content of the app. Thus, we put all important content-related tabs in the first 4 elements of the tab bar:

  1. Swapits Nearby (left)
  2. My User Profile (center-left)
  3. Sell/Post Item (center)
  4. Search (center-right)

This is how a quick sketch of that looks like:

IMG_20160314_1322531_cropped

Assuming the majority of our users are right-handed, we needed to make sure that the tabs we want the users to use most, are reachable with their thumb when holding the phone in their right hand. One very important goal of Swapit is to encourage people to post their items quickly — in under 30 seconds. That includes finding that “Sell/Post Item” action right away. Therefore, we put that in the center of the tab bar. In this case “Sell/Post Item” is actually a bit of a deviation from the content-related purpose of switching tabs. However, it is essential to have this action right here in the middle to make it as obvious as possible to users on how to post items.

The three other directly accessible tabs here, are essential tab-switches between different ways of viewing items on Swapit. The standard tab that will open when the app starts is the most left “Nearby” tab. You can easily open up your own profile, which also lists your own items. The search field is within a 1-click reach as well. Additional content-related tab switches as well as other functions (About, Website, Blog, etc.) are then accessible through the “More” tab at the bottom right corner.

2016-03-15_android_filtersNow we needed to cover two other important functions:

  1. Inbox
  2. Filters

Filters. We offer very sophisticated filters in Swapit, so you can easily find what you are looking for. As you can see from the Android screen shot (on the right), that’s a rather complex and busy panel, which we might be able to improve/simplify a bit, but in the end it will always have a lot of options. Therefore, we need to reserve a whole panel for our filters on iOS as well. So similarly to Android, the filters panel will be accessible through the top right corner of the top toolbar.

Inbox. The Inbox on the other hand is – from a contextual point of view – very different to most other screens on Swapit. It’s a communication center which combines all notifications you receive through Swapit. May it be comments to items, new item notifications, interested buyers or most importantly chat messages. Furthermore, it is important to know, that the main entry point of users to the inbox is not expected to be through the Swapit app itself. Generally, people enter the inbox through a notification they receive in their Notification Center. So from a navigational point of view, it is absolutely fine to put the inbox at top left corner, like shown in the sketch above. If you would be accessing it a lot from within Swapit’s navigation, it might be cumbersome to reach the Inbox, but in our case that should not happen too often.

Conclusion

After a two hours of a discussion involving pretty much everyone, we settled for the above main structure of Swapit on Android. It is very important to create a clear path for this early on. You don’t want to waste time designing something that people won’t use. Personally, I still prefer Android’s Material Design more because it offers us more screen real estate. Our discussion got heated, emotional and brought out everyone’s passion for Swapit’s success. Yet, in the end we found a solution, that I believe works best for iOS users.

Are you an iOS user? What do you think? Does our reasoning make sense to you?

 

Do you have an Android phone and want to try Swapit? Download it from: http://get.swapit.la

Do you have an iPhone and want to test our Swapit beta? Join the Swapit iOS beta here: Get Yourself on the List Today!

 

Welcome Vito Lee to the Swapit Team

IMG_3580You’ve probably already met the Swapit Team before. We are a small bunch of enthusiastic mobile app guys who want to revolutionize the way people deal with pre-loved items.

Pretty much a month ago, we have brought on Vito to our Swapit Team. He has 1.5 years experience in building mobile apps in different fields like remote controlling smart home appliances or connecting to different kinds of hardware devices from a mobile app (iOS/Android) using Bluetooth.

The recruiting process was pretty straight forward for us. We did actually have 4 candidates who were shortlisted and we chose to go for Vito in the end. We all felt he was the best fit for us in terms of skill set and character fit.

So here it is again: Welcome to our team Vito!

Why did we hire now?

As you might know, we raised some funding in December and again in February. About a year ago when I started to lay out a plan for Swapit in terms of product development and business development, it was clear that we will require funding to grow at the pace we need to. During that time, I came across this term:

“Alignment of Capital to Milestones”

For us to be able to raise funding, we needed a clear path forward – a clear set of milestones we align with the capital we want to raise. One major part of our business is to capture as much market share as possible. In the end Swapit is a trading platform and it will only be as successful as many users we have, and as much as we engage those users. While we feel very passionate about our high engagement rates, we do know that we require a large pool of active users for our marketplace to self-sustain. Read my piece on marketplace liquidity if you want to know more about that. At the same time, we had Swapit only available for Android devices. While we consciously choose to support only Android at the start, we always knew we had to push Swapit out to iPhones and iPads too.

So the funding we raised is aligned to two very important milestones:

  1. Bring Swapit to iPhone and iPad
  2. Increase Market Share to (still secret number) of Users

In order to achieve the first goal, we needed to hire a skilled developer to help us get to that point. We feel very comfortable with our choice thus far and we absolutely certain, we will launch a new Swapit beta on the App Store soon.

 

Stay tuned for our upcoming Swapit on iOS! Get yourself on the Swapit iOS beta list if you’re interested.

Want to try Swapit today? Download it for your Android device from: http://get.swapit.la

Choosing a platform for Swapit

Right after we had the idea behind swapit, we had to decide which platform we go for. Such a decision can not be made in a jiffy because it has rather deep ranging consequences.

Hong Kong is 238% Mobile

swapit-blog_238-mobileIn order to choose the right app and right platform we need to back up a bit. In my earlier post about the idea behind swapit I mentioned that there are quite some Facebook groups out there, in which trading similar to what we do in swapit, is being practiced. As such trades happen in real life, swapit is being created as a very localized application. Hong Kong being our ground zero for swapit, we have to look at the mobile landscape to ensure we choose the right platform. With mobile phone penetration of 238.4% as of October 2014 (source ofca.gov.hk) and a population of 7.2 million as of mid-2014 (source censtatd.gov.hk) the market of consumers carrying smartphones is large enough for us to start out.

Android is King

swapit-blog_android-3For better or worse, many markets all over the world look rather similar: #1 mobile operating system is Android, #2 is Apple, #3 is Windows Phone and #4 is BlackBerry. While we at S4BB Limited have a 10+ year experience in developing for BlackBerry, we also have quite some experience in iOS, but more so in Android. Take a look at our great Battery Watch app for example. We could have created swapit for BlackBerry 10 and I am pretty sure app development would have been cut to half the time we require for Android app development, but there are just not enough consumers who use BlackBerry 10 devices out there. So the choice in the end was rather easy: go for Android as an operating system first. Most likely iOS will follow after that and other platforms will be considered too, at a later stage.

Backend for the Wicked

swapit-blog_app-engineHaving the operating system locked down to Android for the first version of the mobile app, we now had to look at how to build our backend. We obviously need to some pretty basic information like: user account data, item sales information (images, description, price, location), and so on. It’s a pretty straight forward set of data broken down to a bunch of strings, digits, geolocations and raw bits & bytes. It’s not rocket science, but it is important to choose the right backend system to ensure scalability, flexibilityease of use for development and most importantly cost-efficiency.

Using Android on the mobile app (=client) side, the most obvious choice was to look at the Google Cloud Platform. We really liked what we saw from a pricing perspective and what really surprised us was the (more-or-less) seamless integration into the new Android Studio. Google’s now de-facto standard IDE for Android development.

To sum it up: we went for Android as mobile app platform and the Google Cloud Platform to run the backend side of things. If you have any tips, tricks or things to warn us about our choices, please feel free to leave a comment here.

Read more about swapit on swapitblogit.wordpress.com.