The Give and Take of New Features: WWDC ’15

Every WWDC brings unexpected changes, and this year is no different. While I’m excited about many of the new announcements this year, I quickly realized that one of my favorite Loose Leaf features will breath its last with the launch of iOS 9 later this month: swipe from the edge to turn the page.

Up through iOS 8, you can quickly peek through pages by swiping two fingers from the left or right edge of the screen. In iOS 9 however, that same swipe from the edge will bring up the new split-screen multi-tasking view instead! I can’t even count the weeks I spent developing and testing that custom bezel-gesture, so it’s particularly sad for me to see it go. Even more – I’m discouraged that custom bezel-gestures are entirely out-of-scope for app developers from here on out – iOS system gestures now cover the top/bottom/left/right bezels.

There are plenty of my fellow note/sketch apps in the store who’ve also lost their page-turn gestures, so now the rush is on to fill in the new gaps in our UI. Luckily there’s plenty of other gestures in Loose Leaf to switch between pages – pinching to list view or simply turning the pages with two fingers, but the peek is gone, and I’ll miss it.

An Open Source Guide for Launching Your Indie App

Since launching Loose Leaf 5 months ago, I’ve learned a lot about how to get an app in front of its target audience, and everything I’ve learned would’ve been exponentially more powerful if I’d known it pre-launch instead of post-launch. That’s exactly why I’ve written and open sourced the App Launch Guide for indie devs.

This guide is perfect for developers who’ll be working on both the marketing and development of their apps, with the goal of helping make sure nothing is missed in the run up to launch. And while I’ve learned a lot about marketing, I certainly don’t know everything, so I’ve opened this guide into the public domain and posted to Github so that the indie dev community can iterate on this foundation for a more organized launch plan for all of us.

This guide goes through:

  1. List of valuable resources and books
  2. Narrowing all your app ideas into The One
  3. Validating the idea by finding initial interested audience
  4. Choosing a revenue model for the app
  5. Defining a Minimum Viable Product
  6. Align marketing milestones with development milestones

Nearly every item in this guide has been written about at length elsewhere – the real purpose of this guide is to bring all of these ideas together into a single timeline. It’s very easy to start tangible product development much earlier than the less tangible marketing plan. This guide helps align the marketing timeline with the development timeline, so that you’re only spending valuable development time after proving traction with your audience.

Read and contribute to the App Launch Guide on Github.

The 2 Week Open Source Live Stream App Experiment

I’ve just recently completed an interesting experiment: coding an iOS game in only 2 weeks, open sourcing 100% of the code, and doing 100% of the development on live stream. The result: Spare Parts – a silly 2D physics game where you can build crazy contraptions. The videos below might give you an idea for the app:

Why on earth would I do this?

Loose Leaf took me over 2 years to build, and the vast majority of that development was closed off from feedback – I didn’t start showing my work until well into the 2nd year of development. If I had it to do over again, this is the biggest thing I’d change – early feedback is incredibly important.

So I wanted to try something different and build an app extremely quickly: I gave myself just 2 weeks to build an app from scratch and submit it to the App Store. I also wanted to build the app completely in the open – a contrast to Loose Leaf’s closed process. I thought it’d be fun to have 100% of the code be open source from day 1, and to also have 100% of the code built on stream.

It could be fun for viewers to participate in feature decisions, and might serve as an interesting “This is what mobile development is really like” for developers thinking about working in mobile.

So how’d it go?

Surprisingly well! I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d be able to ship something respectable in just 2 weeks, but I think the v1.0 turned out well. Across the 17 streams, there was just 24 hours of development throughout the 2 weeks, and our version 1.0 was feature complete! The best part – all of the testers who’ve given feedback have really enjoyed the app – it’s the first game I’ve ever made, and I’m glad it turned out to be a fun one 🙂

The stream has also brought a fair amount of attention to the project. CNN Money recently wrote about livecoding.tv – the site where I’ve streamed the development – and included some quotes and a photo from yours truly! ITWorld also wrote up an article about the project which was very fun to see. For such a short app experiment, it’s already brought in some considerable attention!

What did I learn?

When I started Loose Leaf development three years ago, I believed that the value was in the code I was writing. I’ve learned that’s very rarely the case – the real value is in the community you build around your project. During those 2 years of development, I missed the biggest opportunity, which was to build and bring a community with me during that dev process.

As I continue to work on Loose Leaf, Spare Parts, Remotely, and other apps – yes, I’ll be coding – but more importantly I’ll be focused on encouraging the community around each of these apps. I’ve been so used to coding in my own silo until everything is perfect – it’s been eye opening to learn how to include others in the development process, even when nothing is built, polished, or even decided.

What’s next?

I’m going to continue work on Spare Parts, including keeping 100% of the code open source and on stream. Feel free to follow along at the site or the YouTube channel or on Twitter.

I’m also going to find ways to continue to open up Loose Leaf’s development process and keep adding to its growing open source contributions.

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