Installing a test app using Google Play

Google Play has an awesome Alpha testing system, allowing you to download pre-release versions of apps when their developer invites you. However the invite system can be confusing.

So, this is how you install an app as a private alpha testing user.

Firstly, your app developer should have given you a link like https://play.google.com/apps/testing/com.appsinthesky.colourifico. Go to that page.

  • If you get the “App not available” message like the below, then you’ve got the link wrong or your developer hasn’t enabled testing correctly.
    Google Play app not available for alpha testing
  • If you get the “App not available for this account” message as below, then the account you’re signed in with isn’t on the private testers list. More on this below.
    Google Play app not available for this account
  • If you’re asked to sign in, then sign in with your address as it appears in the private testers list.

A word on accounts. Google requires you to visit the link having logged in as one of the accounts in the private testers list. This is the cause of most of the issues we’ve experienced with this system. If you have multiple Google accounts, you’ll have to switch to the correct one using Google’s standard view switcher button (top right):

Google View Switcher button

(hit the rightmost of these buttons).

Finally you should get the “Become a tester” screen. Hit the blue button, and you’ll get a link to the Play Store to download the app.

Google Play successful test invite screen

 

My top 5 apps to use on holiday

It’s that time of year where the sun is out and the temperature is up! Well, maybe not HERE, but it is somewhere else and the great British public get getting ready and anxious to go on a summer holiday.

I love this time of year. It feels like all the hard work over the past year has paid off and you can finally relax and not have a care in the world. Of course, this is all what we hope for anyways. Thankfully there are some wonderful apps on the market that are there to make your trip as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. They may not be able to help with that delayed flight or lost luggage, but they’re worth checking out if you want to maximise your hard-earned time away.

1. Trip Advisor – This is definitely my favourite. The best thing about this app is that it updates every two weeks, so you can be sure that your information is up-to-date and sometimes new features, as it is quickly becoming a “one-stop” holiday planning app. You can download city guides to use offline, including maps (tends to be the most popular destinations for now). There are also guides tailored for specific trips, such as a for a romantic getaway, a trip with the family or a quick three-day weekend. Of course, there is always the feature where you can read the reviews the public have left on accommodation, restaurants, places of interests and activities. Another great feature? A new city-inspired soundtrack for your destination – guaranteed to get you excited for the trip!

Screenshot_2016-07-05-16-22-47

 

2. Google Translate – With over 100 languages to choose from, this app will definitely be something you want to have when you visit a country whose first language may not be yours. There are many different ways to translate: You can type or write it out, speak, or even use the camera to look at text. Google Translate is very helpful and I would definitely keep it handy just in case. You can download a language too to use offline!

Screenshot_2016-07-07-11-19-08

3. Skyscanner – This one is before your actually holiday, but worth the mention. If you are not booking a package, Skyscanner is a must when finding the best deal in airfare. You can also set up alerts to let you know when your desired route is going up or down in price. If you’re looking for a last minute weekend deal, I think this is great because airlines may suddenly put down prices to fill up the seats.

4. TripCase – This app is perfect for having all of your bookings and trip information together in one spot. You can share your trip easily with others who may be travelling with you. Once you enter all of the details, TripCase can keep an eye on delays for you and give you a 10-day weather forecast. If you don’t want to spend the time entering every little detail, you can email them your itinerary to upload the information for you!

Screenshot_2016-07-07-11-48-10

5. XE – Your go-to currency converter! Of course you want to get some currency before you go on holiday but this is a handy guide to see if any of those extra purchases to bring back home are a good deal.

These apps are all designed to make sure you can get the most out of your holiday, whether you want to get away to put your feet up and soak in some sun, or explore the cultural sites, or both! Whatever you get up to this summer definitely take advantage of these free apps to make your holiday as enjoyable as possible.

 

Minimum Viable Product

Working with many diverse and different startups is one of the real pleasures of what we do, and it gives us insight into what succeeds and what fails. Naturally there are no guaranteed routes to success, but the ones that make it big always, without fail, get their Minimum Viable Product (MVP) right.

So, what’s an MVP?

Put simply it is the smallest set of features needed to test your new product in the marketplace.

Let’s say you have an idea for a product. You know that it’ll cost £100,000 to build and take to market. Naturally, you want to know if it’s worth remortgaging your life for. The idea of the MVP is to, as cheaply and quickly as possible, determine whether it’s worth the risk. The questions you need to ask are the most basic ones: Do people need your product? How much will they pay for it? And so, your entire focus in developing the first stage of that product is to answer those questions. If you spend a penny more, or a minute longer, creating something more than is needed to answer that, then you’re just wasting money.

What does an MVP look like?

Well, it depends on the product. Usually it’s a cut-down version with the simplest feature set needed to demonstrate it. It doesn’t actually even have to work: so long as you’re showing enough to demo what it could do, then that’s all you need. People can answer whether they’d use it or not.

To take one extreme, your MVP could even be just a picture on a piece of paper. Again, if it’s enough to show what the product does so that people can answer whether or not they’d use it, then it’s a completely valid MVP.

So where do people go wrong?

The most common wrong way to go about it is to think “what is the minimum set of features I need for the product to be usable?”. The difference is subtle but can literally be the difference between life and death of your new business.

You don’t need to create a usable product to test whether it’ll work in the marketplace. This can be a difficult thing to practice if, like us, you come from a world where user experience (UX) is everything. Indeed, the final product must provide a perfect UX – but the MVP explicitly must not. You almost never need configuration options, demos, user assistants, super-scalable back-ends for millions of users, or good graphic design. You don’t even need a good user interface. Obviously all of these things must come later – but they are superfluous, even a distraction, for the MVP.

One startup we worked with insisted that their MVP must run on 6 platforms: Android, iOS, Windows, OS X, Linux and web. This was enormously inefficient and, needless to say, they ran out of money, meaning that a potentially great product never got to market. All they needed to do was demo it on one platform, and a positive reception to this would have given their investors confidence to take it wider.

So, to conclude, build only what is necessary and cost-effective to test your product in the marketplace. That is your MVP: anything else is unnecessary. Don’t think of your MVP as a working product; instead, it’s the first step towards working out whether you should take an idea further.

Launching a successful app: what you need to think about, but most people don’t

We’ve helped many new ideas find funding and grow into profitable businesses through our Incubator sessions (www.appsinthesky.com/incubator). These are the areas we find most often need our guidance; the most common things people need to think about, but don’t.

Selecting launch features

Almost every startup gets this wrong. If you’re seeking investment for an idea, your minimum viable product (MVP) is one that has only those features necessary to test the market. Include only what you need to show a user how it could one day work. Once you receive positive affirmation, you can expand it to a fully working product.

If you’re already funded, or self-funding, then you need to carefully consider what one single key value the user will get and provide no more than this. Superfluity here will cost time and money, and can also distract the user from what you actually want them to do.

What is your product?

The “product” is what you earn money on. In practice this can become obfuscated – but commercial success is dependent on a clear understanding of it.

Say your app is a game which is free to play but supported by adverts. Your “product” is not then the game, but rather the adverts, because you get paid whenever someone clicks on one. And the game must therefore be designed to maximise the number of clicks you’ll get – eg by making the ads relevant and very visible, but not annoying (because that will lose users, causing fewer clicks).

What does the app do?

You get 20 seconds or less to explain what your app does, or it gets removed. Don’t assume people will have studied your store listing, either.

Avoid anything that’s a barrier to getting started. No menu screens – get them started by making the decision for them. If setup is needed, work out what is the absolute minimum information you need and guide the user through entering it. Apps which start with a “nothing to see here” screen and expect users to work it out themselves won’t be successful. Games which don’t explain the rules, or require users to read the rules in one go, also won’t work.

How will people find it?

The app stores are well frequented but their search functionality is terrible. Unless people search for almost exactly your app’s title, you won’t be found. There are tricks to optimise your listing (similar to SEO), but as a strategy for finding users it will seem naive to an investor.

What kind of person would be most likely to use your app? Really try to get into the head of your user. What websites do they read, who do they follow on Twitter, what will they Google to find you? Carefully targeted content marketing can be really effective. PR is another effective means, though often expensive.

 

These are the most common conversations we have with customers during our incubator sessions, and therefore in our experience the areas that people most need to consider when creating an app business. A knowledgeable investor (ie, the type you want to attract) will expect you to get these things completely right.

The Big Self Driving Car Pile-up (Apparently)

Well honestly, Google, what did you expect?

Rightly proud of their self-driving cars, which have been roaming the US unleashed for over half a decade now, Google recently released the following boast: In 1.7  million miles, our cars have only been involved in 11 minor accidents. That’s an incredibly impressive stat. The cars have been journeying all over the US, racking up miles and miles, every day for 6 years. In all that time there have been no serious accidents and no minor ones caused by the cars themselves. The 11 minor accidents consist of, eg, people running into the back of the Google car whilst waiting at a light.

However, that’s not how the media were ever going to report it. “Google acknowledges its self-driving cars had 11 minor accidents” says the Guardian. The Telegraph’s by-line reads “Google reveals number of crashes its self-driving cars have suffered in the US, raising fears over the safety of the technology“, when in fact quite the opposite is true.

Self-driving cars are a really exciting new technology; one of those rare things that truly have the opportunity to revolutionise how we live. The technology is showing real promise as it matures. But as with anything new there will always be detractors – and this kind of headline doesn’t help.

Windows RT is dead – and that’s good for freedom

Windows RT – the cut-down, half-fat, limited, unloved version of the world’s most famous operating system – is officially dead. Microsoft tweeted us to confirm:

That it was in terminal decline is of no surprise to anyone, though manufacturers do like to string these things out. It quickly became apparent that people weren’t going to buy RT unless there were apps for it, and developers weren’t going to write apps for it unless people started buying it. Ultimately neither side broke the cycle. It’s perhaps telling that in the entire history of Apps In The Sky, we’ve never once been asked to create an app for Windows RT.

The death of RT is a victory – perhaps incidentally, but a victory nonetheless – for freedom. RT represented Microsoft’s first forays into closed-system computing. That is, RT was intentionally locked down so that it could only run software that had been pre-approved, screened and censored by Microsoft. This set a potentially dangerous precedent, because it gave a single commercial organisation the complete power of veto over everything you might want to do with your computer. If you wanted an RT app we would have had to first check against Microsoft’s rules that what you wanted was OK by them, even if you were the only person who was going to use it.

The technology also had the potential to permit more sinister, draconian policies. What if Microsoft started rejecting apps which were beneficial to consumers, but against their own commercial interests? There would be nothing you could do, for example, if they one day banned Chrome/Firefox and forced everyone to use Internet Explorer.
That consumers have overwhelmingly voted against it, even where not for this reason, is an important step. We hope Microsoft will learn from this experience. Don’t believe the haters: Windows is a truly great operating system, and Windows 10 in particular looks superb. We hope it will forever maintain its openness and the right of the consumer to choose what they want to do with their computer. The future is surely bright.

5 Things To Look For in a Mobile App Developer

Mobile app development is a tricky, tricky thing. Some of our competitors get it right, but (and we’re not just saying this) many of them do not. There are a lot of poorly-developed apps around. We thought it would help to put together a list of what you should look for in an app developer.

To declare the elephant in the room: obviously, we’re app developers ourselves. If you need someone to develop an app for you, we’d love to help. But if you want to go elsewhere, that’s fine too. We’re writing this just to help you identify the good guys from the not-so-good guys.

1. Find someone who really understands the platforms

Each app store publishes a long list of dos and don’ts for apps. These are the rules for the platform, and they are very comprehensive. Here are the rules for Google Play, Apple iTunes, the Windows Store.

Some of them are hard-and-fast (such as not being allowed to use in-app payments for real-world goods), and some of them are guidelines (such as how the app responds to user interaction).

There are some rules that, if broken, your app will be immediately rejected. Conversely there are some guidelines which, carefully and sparingly, should be broken otherwise your app just won’t stand out from the crowd. A good app developer

2. …and be able to tell you what each platform’s users expect

For example, both Android and Apple users expect to be able to share content (eg: post a link for what they’re looking at onto Facebook, or send a picture to a friend on WhatsApp), but the Android share icon looks like this: and the Apple one looks like this:. Put the wrong icon in, and users won’t know what it means, so your content won’t get shared.

As another example, Apple users expect their affirmative Next/OK button to appear in the top right hand corner of the screen. Android users expect it at the bottom. Put it in the wrong place and your users will probably find it, eventually, but the app will feel slightly odd and alienating to them.

If your app developer designs your app to look and feel exactly the same on each platform, it will feel wrong to your users, and potentially give an impression of poor quality. A good app developer will talk you through all the platform differences relevant to your app.

3. Someone who will post the app to the stores

Posting an app to the app stores is a complex business. There’s a lot of information to provide, a lot of hoops to jump through and, unfortunately, a lot of red tape to work against.

A specialist app developer will have done this a thousand times before and know exactly what to expect. For example they will know the sizes of all the screenshots needed, and they will know which export declarations to sign if your app uses encryption. They will also be able to advise on writing a good app description which is attractive to users.

4. …and who will manage the relationship with the stores for you

The app stores can be very demanding – particularly Apple.

App store rules change all the time, and it can affect your store listing. When rules changes, you will receive a technical description of the updates your app requires. A good app developer should receive these notifications on your behalf, and explain what needs to be done to keep your app live. Without this your app could be removed from the store.

Sometimes (though rarely) an app is removed from the app store without warning. Your app developer should be able to find out why this has happened and what the solution is.

5. They should be able to make the most of push notifications

When managed properly, push notifications are fantastic – they are a great way of sending highly-targeted messages to individuals or groups of users. They can be very effective at engaging users and providing calls-t0-action without being intrusive.

Your developer should also be able to advise how to use push notifications for maximum effect. Sending too many, or saying the wrong thing, for example, will be a turn off to your users.

Push notifications require a particular, relatively complex, back-end system. A good developer will have created this for their clients, and it should allow you to send targeted messages to single users, and broadcasts to everyone.

 

Bring more mobile users, and make them stick around

About 42% of visitors to your website will be using mobile devices. A growing proportion of users (currently around 15%) don’t even have laptops or desktops to fall back to.

The immediate danger to organisations, therefore, is that their site may not be suitable for this large proportion of users. If there is too much effort involved in using your site – for example if elements are too fiddly to tap, or pages require a lot of panning and zooming to read, then this proportion of your audience will leave you for someone else.

Unfortunately, most websites developed over 24 months ago, and even some more modern ones, do not properly cater for mobile users. Look at each page on your website with your smartphone, and if all you see is a tiny copy of the same page you see on your laptop/desktop, then there are significant improvements  which can be made. A site which requires constant pinch zooming and panning is too much effort to work with, and won’t keep its visitors.

A responsive site is one which smartly rearranges itself to fit the device it’s being viewed on. For example, it will display text in three columns on a laptop, two on a tablet and one on a phone. On small touch-driven devices it will ensure that buttons and links are large enough to hit accurately with a finger. And the navigation will be laid out to fit the device.

Take a look at Apps In The Sky’s website for example. On a desktop PC it looks like this:

Apps In The Sky website, from a desktop PC

On a phone it looks like this:

Apps In The Sky website on a phone

Note how the navigation is moved into a pull-down menu on the top right, to prevent it from being too small to tap. The text has been moved into one thin column so it fits naturally on a phone screen. And importantly, notice how nothing has been removed – every piece of information, option and functionality remains. (This compares to the old fashioned “mobile” sites, which were just a cut-down version of the main site, and generally had people reaching for the “view full site” button).

So a responsive site is a bare minimum for practically any organisation. If you don’t already have one, then creating one will provide more visitors, whose better experience means they will stay for longer. It is a great, and relatively simple, way to improve business.

However a website, even a well crafted responsive one, still suffers many problems common to all websites. For example, perhaps obviously, no website is of any use when your internet connection is poor – a situation common to most mobile users on the move. And a website can only provide generic information: it knows very little about its visitors, so its messaging is necessarily generic rather than highly-targeted. These problems can be solved with a dedicated app… the subject of next week’s blog!

Which platforms should I target: iOS, Android, …?

Android, iOS, Windows Phone… what makes most commercial sense, and which audience is best for my app? We are often asked this question at Apps In The Sky.

Time was it had an easy answer. You released an app for Apple iOS first and others later if at all. Apple had the most users, the largest app store and – arguably – the best system.

Then Android upset that. Since about 2009 its rise has been meteoric and now it has the most users by far – 7 times as many as iOS, which is the next largest. So surely the question once again has an easy answer?

Well… no. As with all questions of marketing it depends on your audience, and Android and iOS users are very different.

  • iOS users pay more. Possibly due to the expense of developing and publishing to the Apple App Store, and possibly due to the fact that it’s smaller altogether, it has much fewer free titles available than Android. Generally therefore Apple users are more resigned to paying for extra functionality.
  • Android users are a much wider base. The sheer range of devices available, from entry-level to top end, make it almost universally suitable. It is used by all kinds of people from CEOs to your gran.
  • iOS users are generally more tech-savvy. All of Apple’s products are at the most expensive end of their markets, and generally the people who spend more on phones/tablets are the people who know more about them.

There are other differences too, and the market split is quite interesting. We have published a whitepaper with more information.

But if you want our quick answer: wait, and release both together. Usually our customers have invested significant marketing resource in that first big “splash”, and just makes sense that your message can apply to your whole audience.

To read more, see our whitepaper: Which Platform?