Metro10 is the first Android App that I have been involved in from concept to release in the Google Play store. It was designed, developed, tested and deployed in the first three months of 2014. We spent the entire process learning and here are details of 10 things that we learnt as part of the process.
1 – To begin the pen is mightier than the keyboard
Starting with a paper and a pen is a great way to iterate quickly through ideas. Sketches are one of the easiest forms of communication at this stage. There lofi form means you are usually more comfortable with changing them.
2 – Keep the concept simple
We went through many stages of adding complexity to Metro10 but we always came back to the simplest implementation. With the lack of space on a mobile screen and wide audience we intended to go for this was what kept redefining our approach.
3 – Rapid Prototyping is your friend
We managed to get a version on a phone within 3 days that had our initial concept on it. This helped us put it in front of a much wider set of people very early in the process. It didn’t run off feeds, ran out memory quickly and had random image sizes but was key to getting a wider set of people giving us feedback on our concept.
4 – Guerrilla usability testing is a great way to get early feedback
As we had a prototype early I just started going up to people and giving it to them without any instructions. Watching their frustrations and listening to the questions they asked provided amazing feedback to help shape our product.
5 – Image resource management on Android is not straight forward
We probably spent close to half the time on the app stopping out of memory errors due to cropping and displaying of images. By making sure you manually clear the copy of the image that is attached to the image view we managed to fix this.
6 – Do as much processing as you can on the server
We ended up using the WordPress image resizer to resize all of our images to the specific screen size before they got to the device. This helped speed up processing and ensured we only downloaded the image size we needed.
7 – 7″ tablets are actually treated as large phones
Android treats 7″ tablets as very large phones rather than small tablets. This can mean your app needs some adjustment to look good on the larger screen.
8 – Google Play Store Alpha and Beta Communities are the best use for Google+
Google allow you to set up a community on Google+ which will give pre-release access to members. This was a great way to get feedback and manage the roll out of the app. It really made this part of the process a pleasure.
9 – Unit testing and front end automation for repeatable testing
We used both JUnit tests and front end automation to quickly get feedback on every change. We moved away from the Android unit tests due to speed issues with the emulator. We managed to integrate those and the front end framework with our CI environment though the management of emulators again provided some interesting challenges.
10 – There is no substitute for using real devices in testing
Emulators provided a great way for us to get started quickly but using a mouse to control features proved tricky. We also saw different behaviour on emulators and real devices over the time period.
The best way to learn something is by doing it, by starting with a set of constraints and a focus on simplicity and I am very happy with the results we got with Metro10. We have now passed 500 downloads, are maintaining over 100 daily active users and still have over a four star rating.