theSync: An Apple a Day Brings the Customers Our Way

A couple of weeks back, Samsung dazzled the world with its GS6 and GS6 Edge phones. These are probably Sammy’s sleekest and most attractive devices to date and the obvious styling cues from the House of Ive are easily seen. But will it be enough to dethrone you know who. This week on theSync, the Apple Strikes Back!

While I was on writing assignment, the little fruit company in Cupertino announced a golden MacBook that’s not called an Air that’s as thin as an iPad, an exclusive deal with HBO to deliver HBONow on Apple TV, and of course Apple’s new time piece available in three trim levels. The Apple Watch comes in at 349$ for the cheapest model and tops out at a whopping 10k for a blinged out solid gold model.

Apple captures the hearts and minds of fanboys and enemies alike because they invest a lot of time and effort into design and experience. Y’all already know this, and so does Samsung. It’s this combination of form and function that makes their products compelling. The Apple Watch can accept calls, send text messages, and pay for your groceries helping you look good while doing it. This is critical and every business owner and product developer should take note. In a world of lower barriers to entry, cheap electronics, and canned software aesthetics and experience will be the X-factors you’ll need to set your products apart. There are other phones, other streaming devices, and other smart watches, but none except for Apple plays to our wants and desires. Design is going to be key as we closes out the tens and roll into the 20s. Google has already announced changes to Android wear to make it more aesthetically pleasing and Tag Heuer has announced plans to craft their own smart watch.

Small business owners and product developers shouldn’t be poo-pooing Apple because they strive to make tech more human. Instead, Apple should be seen as a role model and example to push us to build products with better human experiences.

Let me know what you think about Apple’s leadership in human experience. Leave a comment on my site at willmapp3.com. You can also download theSync for Android in the Google Play store or subscribe to theSync using your Podcasts app on iOS.

I’ll be at ModevUX 2015 for the next couple of days if you’re at the Artisphere don’t forget to look me up.

Thanks for reading, and listening.

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theSync: 3 Key Takeaways from Google I/O

Your boy is back. I’d like to say that I had a well rested vacation but the natives were with us and I actually came back needing a vacation. Snubbed again by El Goog, its I/O conference was on while I was away. Not many new revelations and a notable omission of anything Glass related, here are 3 key takeaways from Google I/O.

1. We’ve Hit an Innovation Wall (for Smartphones)

Listeners of theSync will know that innovation is purely subjective. A lot of Android fanboys like to throw shade on Apple about how the little fruit company isn’t innovating anymore. Well, if we were take what’s come out of I/O as an indicator we’ve reached a limit. Other than notifications on the lock screen, a feature in iOS since 5, there wasn’t much to write home about in regard to smartphones.

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It didn’t stop El Goog from getting a lick in on Apple, but when you spend most of your energy talking watches, wearables, TVs, and cars, it’s readily apparent that the goods will be delivered in other places.

2. The Internet of Things is the Next Undiscovered Frontier

Android L, the concept of having a single unified compute architecture for phones, tablets, TVs, and watches is a flash of what Google thinks the next wave of profits and potential will come from. Rolling out a new Apple-esque, materials based user interface Google has finally given developers tools to build branded application experiences across multiple platforms. I welcome this, because I’m sick of having to develop apps that look like every other Android app in the play store.

3. Google is a Consumer Electronics Company

Between watches, Android Auto, Android Wear, and new BLE support Google is following in Apple’s footsteps and building out software that’s going to power the next generation of consumer electronics. Given that Android is in more than 85% of the world’s smartphones and that companies don’t like to innovate anything themselves, I can see how Android will become the OS of choice for the smart devices we’re bound to see.

I’d like to know what you think about Google I/O. Please share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Please subscribe to theSync via iTunes or download our app from Google Play.

Thanks for reading. And listening.

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theSync: The Lowdown on App Development, 7 Key Steps to App Business Success

Even though it’s 2014, everyone still wants to build the next killer app or game like Candy Crush, iShoot, or iFart.

I was invited to speak at Johns Hopkins tonight for the university’s NSBE chapter. In case you’re not in Baltimore or coming to my talk, I’m sharing 7 key concepts that can help you build a successful app business.

1. Research the Market

There are a lot of flashlight apps, music players, and social media aggregators in the App Stores. That’s not to say that your flashlight app, music player, or aggregator can’t do the job better, but there are a lot of ideas that haven’t been implemented or some executions that are just piss poor. Before embarking on your App Store journey do some preliminary research and figure out what hasn’t been done, or what could be done a whole lot better.

2. Nail Down the Idea

Once you’ve figured out what you’re going to build. Refine, refine, and refine your idea until you can explain to would-be downloaders what IT is in one easily understood sentence. Smartphones have small screens, and just throwing a bunch of features in a screen dost not a good app make.

3. Model & Improve

There really is nothing new under the sun. Facebook was a combination of good old fashioned stalking and the Internet. Twitter is antiquated text messaging technologies combined with the Internet. (Source, James Altucher) Your idea probably exists in a couple of different ways. Model what works in previous executions and improve upon those concepts. You’ll be successful if you will.

4. Use the Right Tools

Most people I speak with want to build iOS apps, because EVERYONE knows that Android people don’t want to buy jack squat. Make sure you are using the right SDKs, add-on components, and tools for the right platform. If you’re building for all platforms at once, make sure you know how to use the tools before wasting your time.

5. Start with UX

Users are fickle all ready. Don’t give them a reason to throw your app away. Focus on building a solid user experience before you write a single line of code. Your users will thank you, and so will your bank account.

6. Develop a Promotion Strategy and Tactics

The 1 billion dollars, that’s billion with a ‘b’, that Apple has paid out to developers since the start of the App Store is enticing to many a would-be-app-developer. This means everyone and their grandmama are releasing apps. Knowing what the word is, who you’re going to speak it to, and how you will get it out will help your app rise above the noise. Do this before you write a single line of code. There is something worse than a crappy app. It’s an app no one uses.

7. Release Often

You won’t think it, but users read app description pages and notice little details. Many users will pass over stale apps to download the latest shiny thing. Release your app often. Fix bugs, tighten the UI, implement a retaining strategy. Just make sure your app’s freshness date isn’t too far in the past.

How do I know these steps work? Because I’ve failed in the app business before.

Please share your ideas and tips for app success in the comments. You can download this podcast and back episodes in iTunes. Or if you like download and listen to theSync using our Android app in Google Play. Be a friend and share this awesomeness with your friends.

I’m Will Mapp, thanks for listening, and reading.

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theSync: 5 Fantastic Phablets That Won’t Fit in Your Pocket

Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t like phablets, but there are lots of people that like them. Phablets are mostly an Android phenomenon, but with rumors circulating that Apple’s iPhone 6 will be a larger than normal sized device it’s high time that we covered this on theSync.

This week, 5 Fantastic Phablets That Won’t Fit in Your Pocket.

1. Nokia 1520

Y’all know I like Windows Phone, and the Nokia 1520 is no exception. The 1520 can only fit securely in your back jeans pocket but has a rigidly firm body and like all Nokia’s the best camera in the category. I’ve had a chance to play with this device, and its size is off putting, but you won’t go wrong with it.

2. Samsung Galaxy Note

I can’t verify this, but I think Sammy started this whole oversized phone/tablet craze. The Galaxy Note can have phone sex with all other Samsung devices, comes with a stylus in some configurations, and have whole lines of leather pouches, cases, and accessories designed to fit it.

3. HTC One Max

If you’re looking for super size and don’t want to go with a Finnish made device, then pick up the HTC One Max. This device is way too big to be used as a phone, and you’ll look ludicrous standing in the Metro Station holding it against your ear. But, you’ll get HTC’s Sense, beautifully engineered craftsmanship, and bragging rights.

4. LG G2

LG has come a long way in the quality department. The G2 is better made than some of LG’s older devices and of course includes one of their beautiful screens. The G2 doesn’t feel as unwieldy as other big Android devices, but it will fit in a standard chino jeans pocket.

5. Samsung Galaxy Mega

Unfortunately, I’ve never held the Mega, so I can’t comment on its build quality, but it’s made by Samsung so it can’t be too far behind the GS and Note. I seriously can’t comprehend why anyone would want a 6.3 inch phone screen, but if it floats your boat. So be it.

Seriously, I’ve come under the impression that most Android users have bad eye sight. That’s the only reason why these super large phones are in high demand. We’ve spent decade miniaturizing electronics only to flush all that hard work down the toilet.

Please share your favorite oversized phones with us on my site at innovationisin.me.

I’m Will Mapp, thanks for listening and you’ve been synced.

theSync: The Moto G, a Pleasantly Powerful Android Phone for Everyone

‘ve spent megabytes talking about and reviewing flagship phones. But there are plenty of inexpensive devices that are worthwhile. We’ve been working on some tablet based Android projects lately and we needed to adapt these applications for smart phones as well. All this time, we’ve been testing our software on Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 devices thinking that the tablet would be the default platform. Our customer informed us that we will need to build our app for phone as well so I needed to pick up a cheap device.

Now, all of y’all know I’m not a Android OS phone fan. I’ve written at length about it here. I wanted to get the HTC One or Moto X, but my CFO declined my request. So I hiked up my britches and discovered the Moto G sitting on a shelf at Verizon.

This week on theSync, we talk about on those devices the Moto G.

The Moto G is the attractive but chubbier cousin to the Moto X. It’s screen is slightly smaller with a larger pixel density than the X which gives the G the illusion of having a finer screen. Also, the screen isn’t AMOLED, but regular old LCD which makes a little cheaper.

You can plainly see the more svelte Moto X on the left vs. the Moto G on the right.  Their both beautiful though.

You can plainly see the more svelte Moto X on the left vs. the Moto G on the right. Their both beautiful though.

Its camera is decent, but not the whopping 10 MP shooter its cousin possesses. The Moto G makes up for its lack of camera by giving the user a quad core processor.

With 8 gigabytes of storage and clocking in at $99 retail before a prepaid plan, the Moto G is a true value proposition. For people that think 8 gigabytes of space is enough, the Moto G is half the price of the Moto X off contract with power and capability that delivers.

I’d love to know what other cheap Android phones are worthwhile.

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

This episode of theSync and others are available on iTunes. Please subscribe to theSync using your Podcast app or iTunes.

I’m Will Mapp, thanks for listening and you’ve been synced.

theSync: Rollin’ with the NDK (and Everybody Say!)

I know it seems like it’s all Android every day around here, but don’t fret will be back on Apple’s Johnson in time enough for their September 10th announcement. One of our projects involves porting a large chunk of useful legacy code from Windows to Android. Lord knows the toolset for Android is primitive enough, but debugging is like taking a walk in the Paleolithic era.

If you have the guts to boldly go where No Man has Gone Before follow these simple steps to make your NDK experience worthwhile.

This week on theSync, the critical steps to get you rollin with the NDK.

1. Stick to an NDK Build

Decide on an SDK version and stay there. Once you get the ADT installed it’s hard to keep your toolsets intact if you’re constantly updating. On our project, we’re using a bespoke build of the Crystax NDK. If you need wide character (wchar) support you’re not going to find it in the factory available build of the Android NDK. If wchar_t support isn’t a deal breaker for you, don’t go aftermarket and stick with the build available from Android’s site. There’s isn’t enough extra in Crystax to justify using it beyond wide char support. That is unless you’re using something like Boost, another custom library that we built for Android.

2. Get Cygwin

Download and install Cygwin if you’re on Windows. You’re going to need it to generate the GDB server and device description that’s used to link the Android Debugger with the compiled processor-dependent code. If you’re on Mac or Linux, you already have everything you need. Our brothers on Windows are the only ones suffering this slight.

Once you have Cygwin installed, add to your system’s PATH environment variable the fully qualified path to your NDK build’s SDK folder. When Cygwin starts, this path will be exported. Next, add your NDK build’s toolchain subdirectory to your system path. We will need this path added to run the ndk-debug command.

3. Only Debug on a Real Device

Plug in your device, you should only debug android apps if you have a device. DO NOT EVEN ATTEMPT TO USE THE EMULATOR. The emulator is notoriously slow and you will suffer through the debugging experience. Android devices are cheap; so, if you are venturing into Android development do yourself and get a device. Once you have the device we need to setup.

  • Open up a shell and change directories to your project path
  • Next, execute the ndk-debug tool, this will drop the device description and ABI
  • Now you’re really ready to debug

4. Debug a Native Android Application

Back-in-the-day, a year ago, you would need to create a custom debug configuration that would spool off the ndk-debug task, load the server file, and magically hook into Eclipse. Enough game devs lobbied Google to add native debugging to Eclipse. Go ahead and set a breakpoint. Because Eclipse sucks, right-click your project, cross your fingers, and select Debug As >> Native Android Application. In the so called modern era, Eclipse will create a new Debug Configuration for your project automatically, the internals will traverse your project tree and find the debug description and ABI configuration. It takes a moment, but when the server kicks in and your break point is triggered, Eclipse will automatically throw you into the Debug perspective.

5. Email Google and Cuss Them Out

I’ve kept my feelings to myself for a long time, but I can’t stand it anymore. I’ve been writing software professionally since 1994. I’ve written software for satellite, telecom, data processing, and mobile systems. I’ve used a number of platforms, written software for a number of targets, and used numerous IDEs from Visual C++ 1.52 to Visual Age to JBuilder to XCode to Studio and now Eclipse. And I have to say, the Eclipse development experience is the worst experience I’ve had since Borland Pascal. It’s hard for me to bestow the same level of respect to Android as other platforms I’ve worked on because the software writing experience is so poor. I have the ADT installed on Mac OS X and Windows machines for development, and I’ve had Eclipse zero out files, I still don’t understand why I can’t terminate applications from the debugger, watches are slow as molasses, and it’s generally unstable. I’ve had marathon coding sessions in Eclipse only to find out that logcat no longer works or copy/paste operations happen in the wrong files. Our project is comprised of C++ and Java and there are times when the NDK build is successful, but the C++ Indexer detects include errors preventing a debug session to start. Seriously Google, with all of your billions and talent, you can’t put together a scratch team and build an IDE worthy of the platform? Yeah, I get it, an IntelliJ IDE is coming out soon, but I can’t help but think that you may drop this platform like a hot potato if you won’t dedicate resources to creating a solid experience for your developers. I’ll say it here, the best development experience is Visual Studio, and yeah, no one uses Windows Phone, but at least Microsoft cares enough about their developers to give them the tools to succeed.

Email Google and tell them that if they really believe in the Android OS to support their developers with a properly architected and modern toolset respective of their company’s status.

Enough ranting.

I’d like to hear about your experiences working with the Android NDK. Please add in tips and tricks in the comments.

Thanks for listening, and reading. You’ve been synced.

theSync: 5 Great Back to School Apps

I feel bad for kids these days. Back in the day, we didn’t start school until the day after Labor Day. Now, they’re missing out on 2 weeks of vacation with a mid-August start.

This week on theSync, 5 Back-to-School apps to keep your kids sharp

1. My Gradebook

My Gradebook is a fully customizable app that tracks your dedicated student’s grades and assignments with the ability to sync your data with DropBox. It’s a great tool for students that want to keep on top of their schedule of activities in addition to their grades. My Gradebook is a value at 99 cents.

2. The Cozi Family Organizer

There’s a mountain of homework, after school practices, recitals, plays, and a crap load of kiddie parties coming up. Cozi helps you make sense of it all and sync with all your iDevice carrying family members. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m so busy, the kids are just running around in circles. If you have a busy family and your kids are participating in lots of activities, Cozi is the right app for you.

3. Kick Your Studies into Overdrive

Books are hella expensive, and most college students would rather invest in pizza than hardcopy. Download the Overdrive Media Console and get access to over 18,000 audiobooks and even more textbooks, novels, and papers that can be checked out from your public library. That’s right! This means you have access to materials at virtually no cost. Just remember to check them back in or you’ll be fined.

4. Studious for Android

Listen, I was once in college, and I know that Syllabus day can make or break this semester’s social plans. The key to being a good student and a socialite is getting in control of your schedule. Download Studious for your Android device to lock in project due dates, test schedules, and the 3 weekly parties you’ll attend.

5. Pocket for Android

The amount of research today’s third grader has to conduct is Earth shattering. Get Pocket to organize your research, marshal your thoughts, and building upon your discoveries. Now you can carry videos, articles, web pages, documents, texts, and pictures with you, everywhere in your pocket.

Kids are already back, so I’d love to know how you’re incorporating digital into your back-to-school plans.

Please share your ideas in the comments.

I’m Will Mapp, thanks for listening and you’ve been synced.

theSync: 5 Ways to Differentiate Your Android App

Hi y’all!

Summer is almost over; and, honestly, I’m looking forward to a break. We’ve been building a lot of Android apps this summer and it’s no wonder. El Goog’s electronic hero now accounts for 80 percent of handsets sold on Earth. Why and how Android phones command such a great market share is immaterial, but what is unfortunate is that 90 percent of Android apps basically look the same. On our end, we’ve been pushing Google’s style guidelines to the max and given their spartan UX and UI recommendations there’s little room for individual style shine through if you’re following the docs to the nth degree.

In a world of 1 million apps, you have to differentiate in order to succeed. This week on theSync, 5 ways to make your Android app standout.

1. Use Color…Seriously

Holo Light and Holo Dark seem cool at first, but even 50 Shades of Gray reads like a Pulitzer prize winning essay on first glance. Our world is colorful, don’t go crazy, but add a splash to break up the monotony. There are dozens of ways to spruce up the color palette of your app. Simply adding colorful icons, a different TextView color, or coloring the borders will do you wonders.

2. Animate, for Emotion

Y’all Android lovers like to toast Apple Haterade for the whole magical experience, but there’s a reason why Apple fans are such loyal and money spending customers. It’s because Apple apps react. I know the SDK doesn’t make transitions as easy as iOS, but choose critical points in your app to show action when a function is executed. You may not think so, but small bounces, disappearing acts, and cuts add when used strategically.

3. Do the Unexpected

Don’t lie, you know the most interesting apps are on iOS. It was the iPhone that made us question what was actually possible with mobile computing. Instead of hating on Apple’s OS and their legions, take a cue from them and one up. When planning your app, look at your features and take your ideas to the next level. Get challenging. I don’t need another remote, or Twitter aggregator. Help me make toast with my phone and change my life.

4. Add Custom Sound

Find new grooves on Audio Jungle and other free website to give your app a voice. Again, don’t go crazy, but a few carefully chosen sounds will make a difference. Our iPhone app, Snapperific, uses shutter clicks, flash bulb pops, and an old school photo booth sound at various points of execution. These three sound effects are well received help make Snapperific stand out in Photo and Video.

5. 10% Polish

I gotcha, you have to fight Eclipse; and then, you have to fight the layout managers, but take the extra time to nudge your controls that extra 3 pixels. The last 10% percent is the hardest part of the development process. This last bit of adjustments can make your app stand out or make it just, ‘meh. Smoothen out those content loads, add deep linking, and make it easy for people to get in touch with you. Your users will thank you handsomely.

I’d love to know how you’re making your Android apps standout. Please share your ideas here in the comments.

Thanks for reading, and listening. You’ve been synced.