The Knights Foundation Teddy Bear Appeal

What is the Teddy Bear Appeal? And what does it do?

The Teddy Bear Appeal raises funds for children within the community to have a family break in “The Knights Foundation Lodge”, absolutely free of charge.

It gives children with disabilities or terminal illness, along with their families, the opportunity to have some downtime in the luxurious 3 bedroom accommodation.

The lodge includes state of the art equipment and monitoring systems, all while in the centre of all of the parks amenities and close to the beach.

How can I support the Teddy Bear Appeal?

You can get involved with supporting #KFBearAppeal by creating a standing order for just £10 per month – the price of 2 costa coffee’s for the day!
This means your donation will put a child and family in the lodge for a day, equipped with all the entertainment passes and access to the park’s facilities.

What has the Teddy Bear Appeal achieved already?

It has currently got 62 donators which has raised £7440, this is constantly updating with the increase of supporters who join. You can follow the progress by downloading “The Knights Foundation Teddy Bear Appeal” App on Android and “KF Bear Appeal” on iOS.

We have helped contribute to this App by developing it for The Knights Foundation, and signed up to the Teddy Bear Appeal as we are passionate in supporting these families with holidays they so desperately need.

The App has also been sponsored by Paris Smith LLP, who have specialist lawyers who can help with any concerns or hopes you may have regarding the future of your child.

You can download the app and keep up to date by clicking a link below:-

Android

iOS

Leading the way at South Coast Business Awards

“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.”
— Andrew Carnegie, 19th-century business magnate and philanthropist.

As we cruised from Basingstoke to Southampton last Thursday night, heading for the South Coast Business Awards, the effervescence of a potential win overtook my mind.

Part of this year’s marketing plan has been to showcase our successes through business awards, it is a great way to meet new people, reconnect with old friends and update each other and most importantly bring the whole team together and show them that other people are impressed with their achievements.

Following our success at the Eagle Biz Surrey & Hampshire Awards in the category of “Digital Innovation” I felt we were all on a bit of a roll, submissions being shortlisted to finalist slots, interviews being requested as our story was clearly resonating with judging panels, it would be amazing if we could roll out of Southampton with another win under our belts.

We were finalists in two categories, “Best Use of Technology” & “Business leader of the year”, and all my eggs were in the former basket, I had studied the competition in my individual category and surely I was just there to make up the numbers.

Despite Liam’s best efforts we made it past the security check, who doesn’t put their Swiss Army knife into their tuxedo pocket? Right??

The surroundings of St Mary’s Stadium were sublime, the company exquisite, the atmosphere friendly, buzzing and excited. We had press photos on the pitch, squinting into the warm summer sunshine and then headed upstairs for dinner, bumping into friends from Paris Smith (more about them later) and The Knights Foundation on the way.

The first scientific proof that it was going to be a good night for us appeared on the table plan, Apps In The Sky – Table 13. Unlucky for some maybe, but 13 is my house number, 13 is Liam’s house number, Katie lives at number 4 so all we had to do there is figure out what 1 + 3 equals. It was written in the stars.

We were joined on the lucky table by Brymor Group whose own MD, Mark Dyer, was also in the category for Business Leader and their Chairman, Stephen Morton, nominated for the Entrepreneur Award.

Dinner was sublime, the after-dinner speaker Jez Rose (@thatjezrose ) was superb, his talk was funny, poignant, inspirational and educational, I have never been so enthralled listening to someone talk about bees but Jez runs the worlds first carbon-neutral bee farm and is making a positive impact on our world in many ways.

Did you know that UK tomato growers have to import 60,000 bees every year to get their plants pollinated as there aren’t enough bees in the UK!! And then once they have done their job the bees have to be destroyed – I was shocked and appalled with this. You can find out more here – www.beesforbusiness.com

We were then into the awards presentation, this is the bit where I desperately try not to zone out as I wait nervously for the categories we are listed in. Happy faces fill the room as people start to pick up awards and before we know it we are on to “Best Use of Technology” where we are pipped to the prize by Applied Driving Techniques who help deliver driver safety needs for companies. Congratulations folks!

The host rolled us through a few more awards and then it was here, “Business Leader” – the words emblazoned on a series of large screens around the room and my name there as a nominee – a little surreal. The category sponsor Peter Taylor of Paris Smith took to the stage and I am pretty sure I had an out of body experience as he read my name out as the winner as even I could see the total shock on my face. It was extra special to have Paris Smith as the category sponsor as we are currently working with them on a fantastic charity project for The Knights Foundation, please do take a look at our blog here.

The next few seconds were a blur, I remember uttering the words “no f**king way” and “wow” a number of times as I walked to the stage and I just about managed to pull myself together enough to say a few words, and they were really important words for me. “A business leader can only be recognised if he or she has a fantastic team to lead” and I certainly have that, an inspirational blend of skills and experience but all united by the common goal of self-improvement.

An award like this may appear on the surface to be recognition for an individual but it really is one for all the team to share and I am proud to be given the chance to lead them.

 

My one regret – we weren’t all there to celebrate together, but hey, you have to let people have holidays at some point right?

App Store Optimisation – Mobile App Marketing Tips

In December 2017 we wrote an article on app store optimisation. A lot has changed since then, particularly in the Google camp, and App Store Optimisation (ASO) techniques now follow entirely different patterns. Read on to find out what our CTO, Tom Colvin, has to say about it now…

“In the web world, any half-intelligent search engine optimisation consultant will tell you there’s no gaming the system any more. Your website will rise to the top of the search engine listings only if it’s actually the most useful match for the user’s query. The site has to be high quality and well respected. Well, the same applies to apps in the app store.

“In my view Google Play is the best app store on any platform because it naturally promotes the best quality apps to the top. Users get the best apps with very little searching, and the best app developers get rewarded for their efforts. But how specifically does Google measure the “quality” of an app?

“Right now, it’s all about retention. Google believes that if a user is still using an app after a month then they’ve had a good experience. So your app is rated – almost exclusively – on how many new users are still using it days/weeks later.

“It used to be about updates, ratings and reviews (inc responses to reviews). These things are no longer all that important. Sure, they’ll probably feature somewhere in Google’s formulae, but retention trumps them all. Even, perhaps counter-intuitively, star ratings.”

So, how do you improve retention?

Make it EASY to use

This is in many ways fundamentally obvious advice. But how to go about making software easy to use is a massive topic. Suffice to say a good UI/UX which makes it totally clear how to use the app will reduce drop-off in retention.

A common mis-step is to provide a couple of initial instructions on how to use the app. If your app needs instructions, you’ve designed it badly. If you really, really have to tell your users something then use tooltips or similar, but only at the point at which the information will help them.

 

Set the right EXPECTATION for first use

Users will give your app listing very little time; mostly looking at pictures (screenshots) rather than what you’ve written. They usually have a very specific task or experience in mind and will give your listing a very brief glance. If it suggests your app will meet their needs, then they’ll give it a go.

But if your app doesn’t immediately provide what the description tells them to expect then it’ll get uninstalled or never used again. (For the sake of retention figures, these two outcomes are equivalent).

 

Keep it FRESH

If your app is content-based, for example a level-based game rather than a utility, then keep adding new content. Users are more likely to revisit apps when they expect to see something new each time. You can visit the BBC News app 5 times a day and it’ll show something different every time; this drives reuse.

 

Improve USER EXPERIENCE on first use 

If you need users to sign up, ask as little as possible from them. If signing up is complex, or if it feels buggy or asks too many questions, your app will get dumped. Some of our most significant gains in ASO have been had through small tweaks, making processes more straightforward and removing complication in first use.

INVITE users back

Use push messaging to re-invite users back to your app. Keep push messages personal rather than generic – so for example if I’ve bought a product from you before, tell me when there’s a special offer on something that goes with it. Don’t tell me you’ve started stocking a new brand of cat food, because I haven’t got a cat.

 

Once Upon a Time: Becoming an Employee of the Year Finalist

One of our star team members, Liam Smith, has been nominated for the Eagle Biz Employee of the Year Award 2019 and made it into the final three! We sat down for a chat and asked him to tell us a bit more about how he got to where he is today…

The Liam Smith Story

When you look at this quiet, fairly unremarkable young man sitting before you, hunched over at his desk, head down, tapping away at his keyboard, pausing momentarily to check something then tapping away again, you could easily be fooled into thinking that he’s nothing special. This is where you’re wrong. Liam Smith, or Leebo as he’s known around the office, is our SECRET WEAPON.

Understated, but never underrated. Always pushing himself to do better, learn more, code faster, be the best at everything he turns his hand to. Leebo doesn’t shy away from the unknown, he tackles it head on, full throttle. Unsure of something – our CTO reports that Liam is a smart researcher, canny and adept at using all the tools available to him to find the information he needs to move on further in the game – that is the game of app development, where one false move could result in more than just an ego tumble.

Long long ago Liam came to us, a wizard’s apprentice with a lot of untapped potential, searching for an opportunity to shine.  He immediately took to our office of nerf wars and nerds, quickly becoming an integral part of our family. Described by some as quirky and tenacious, Liam’s infectious enthusiasm is fuelled by all things technological, fantastical and the occasional McFlurry (crunchie please!).

Read on to find out more about the mage behind the rainbow keyboard… 

How did it all begin?
“When I was younger, I did a bit of programming at school and found I enjoyed it, especially the balance of creativity and problem-solving. I had a dream of doing video-gaming, and that is still a some-day goal of mine.
Following school, I spent a couple of years at college, studying IT Software. Then 3 years ago, I found myself working in my local supermarket, fed up and frustrated. I kept thinking back to my gaming ambitions, but I realised that I needed to further my skills to get potential employers to give me a chance. After a long conversation with my Dad one night, I researched apprenticeships online, found out the information I needed – funding, options, how to apply and went for it; everything else just followed on from there.”

How do you end up working for Apps In The Sky?
Apps In The Sky (AITS) was the first company I clicked on, and they gave me what I needed – the confidence to believe in myself again and the opportunity to learn and grow.
It was challenging work to begin with. Starting out on the Android development team, I pushed myself relentlessly to master the commercial software languages, the stuff that wasn’t covered in my college classes. I think I’ve proved myself a hard worker, and now I’m learning how to become a specialist in iOS development too.”

 


What challenges did you encounter?

There were periods when it was really tough; I found it tricky learning how to manage my time and develop the discipline required to balance college assignments with real-life apps that I was working on. Fortunately AITS were fantastic, supporting me to complete my apprenticeship with flying colours and pushing me to succeed at something I love.”

 

So what now? 
“Being part of the AITS team is brilliant. I feel like I have come a long way in such a short space of time. I’ve also written a few computer games, 2D platform and puzzle games, and AITS have given me encouragement all the way. I love coming to work now – the sense of achievement, and skill required. The fact that every day brings something different is what keeps me motivated and hungry to learn more.”

Expos – Why We Bother…

Next week, we are heading to SME 2019 in Farnborough, which got us thinking about why we like going to expos, why expos matter, why they’re a fantastic platform for business activity….


Everything is mobile-influenced. We live in a mobile-first world.

Technology is rapidly advancing. Attending exhibitions is more than just a way to find new leads. We can experience for ourselves the hottest and most innovative devices, be on the front-line for pioneering demonstrations, and discover what the latest gadgets are.

Last year we came away with the usual pens, coasters and assorted treats, plus 3D printed plastic models of our best-looking (😉) team members – how cool is that?!


Check out some other reasons we go to expos……

 

To Make Friends
Walk in with an open mind, a happy face and inquisitive self. Your fellow exhibitors are under the same pressure as you to deliver an ROI. Say hello! Have a chat, share a joke. Give them a wave and impart your challenges, visions and passions – who knows where the journey will lead? Their best client might be your ideal prospect.

 

To Encourage Ideas
At exhibitions we talk with like-minded people, value contrasting opinions, partake in energetic discussions. We make the most of this opportunity to meet a diverse group of companies and individuals, forging new connections, which often lead us to discover exciting new concepts!

 

To Showcase Fun-Tech
We like to create a reason for attendees to come and talk to us – stop, take a look, have a chat, grab their attention and have some fun in the process. We love having a thought-provoking talking point to enhance our company visibility, something that demonstrates our impressive manufacturing App skills……

And we created a robot to do just that – he’s called Uncle Bob.

Uncle Bob isn’t much of a conversationalist, but he’s a natural show-off and demands attention. He’s a robotic arm with his own personality – come along and find us at Southern Manufacturing Exhibition 2019 (Stand L195) and see if you can bend him to your will!

 

To Sell Ourselves
Unlike many businesses we don’t rely on selling a physical product. At an exhibition, we can showcase our expertise to a primed audience of motivated individuals. We want them to believe in our team; our awesome coders and talented development crew.

An Expo gives us exposure and helps establish our place on the tech-scene. Our solutions are unique; the applications we create are bespoke. We make app dreams a reality.

 

So there are just a few of our favourite reasons we attend exhibitions
What are yours?


Don’t forget to come and check us out at SME19 – 5th, 6th & 7th February 2019, at the Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre, Farnborough. Stand L195.

Introducing Uncle Bob…

What is Uncle Bob?

 

smart robot arm. By smart, we mean he can be controlled using an app on the latest smartphones and tablets.

 

More technically…

Uncle Bob’s “brain” is an Arduino programmable board connected to 5 servos. The servos move different joints in the arm: one for the base to swing left/right, 3 along the arm, and one to open/close the claw. The Arduino’s serial port What’s Uncle Bob?

is connected to a Bluetooth module, so Uncle Bob can be controlled either by USB or Bluetooth.

The app is written natively for Android and iOS – as only truly native apps can give us the quality of experience (speed and latency) that is needed. It connects via Bluetooth to Uncle Bob and sends commands to move the arm.

 

And in future?

 

Smart apps have a lot of potential beyond what Uncle Bob demonstrates. We could:

  • Add notifications to the app – for example to tell you when the arm has performed a certain action.
  • Add in-app payments – so you can get the arm to vend something, say, on payment.
  • Increased marketing for your business.
  • Communication with customers can be increased.

 

Why did we make Uncle Bob?

 

We’re exhibiting at Southern Manufacturing & Electronics 2018 and wanted to demonstrate how easily we can convert a device to a smart device. We’re not experts in robotics, or even electronics generally, and Uncle Bob is not particularly ground-breaking. What really is exciting, by contrast, is the app which directs it. We’re hoping that people can make the leap between their own much more accomplished devices, and the benefits of making them smart.

 

Why make a smart device?

 

We’re sure that similar technologies can be put to greater effect than picking sweets out of a box, and we’d love to be involved with all manufacturing businesses. Everything in today’s world is without a question, mobile. Everything is hugely influenced and enhanced by mobile technology. Have you got an idea that you want to apply to your business? Give us a call on 01256 274108, or come and visit us at SME18 at Stand L190! Come and see Uncle Bob in action!

 

What benefits would an App make to your business other than a smart device?

 

Having an App can help you with many different things across your business, you could have an app to help with the following:

 

  • Timesheets – allowing employees to log in and log out.
  • Work Orders – allowing employees to request repairs and fixes.
  • Production line tracking
  • Creating and managing workflow and tasks with ease.

Watch our video on Uncle Bob below!

 

 

App Store Optimisation – what works, what doesn’t

We read a lot of recommendations for App Store Optimisation. Some, in our experience, are valid – but many are not.

Obviously the most effective promotion comes from outside channels – advertising, social media, PR, etc. But how can you get app stores to rank you more highly and promote your app over others?

Keep posting new releases

App stores like new, fresh content. Newer apps will start to supersede your app if it hasn’t been updated for months. Rather than 2 or 3 large updates a year, release little and often. Try for once a week. It’s completely fine to post a new version with nothing more than a few wording or graphics tweaks. Apple and Google respect the fact that your app is in regular development.

As a bonus, your users get notified when your app updates. This acts as a little advert, and drives usage.

Solicit feedback

Ask your users for reviews. Give them a couple of days’ usage before asking – the ones still using it after that time are the ones who like it, so you’ll get higher marks.

Respond to reviews

Respond to every review. Both Google and Apple allow you to do this, and they’ll boost you up when they notice you’re interacting with your community. It’s all about customer experience.

Your first month really matters

App stores form first impressions pretty quickly. If after a month or so your app hasn’t been well received, your listing will be buried. We’ve been brought in to rescue apps in this state – and it’s a near impossible task. Keep on top of your app in the early days. When you get negative feedback, react quickly and fix problems urgently. Respond to your critics. Regularly post new releases.

Create an app video

Whether you like it or not, app stores promote apps with videos above those without. A simple screen recording showing your app in use is all you need. No need for fancy effects or editing.

Tweak your description and keywords

As with search engine optimisation on the web, keep tweaking your app’s description and keywords. Try also changing the category. Google allows you to simultaneously test two versions of your listing to see which users respond to best.

Don’t bother creating a web page

I keep hearing people advise others to create a web page for their app. This is worthless advice. There is no correlation between having a web page describing your app, and your ranking in app store searches. There are sometimes other reasons why you might want to create a landing page – for example as the target of an advertising campaign – but don’t think that it will make your app more visible in the app stores. It won’t.

Don’t add fake reviews

Don’t get all your mates to review your app. It looks a bit sad when an app gets 20 five-star reviews days after launch, then nothing more for weeks. App store spot it from a mile off, Google / Apple will demote you, and your mum wouldn’t be impressed either.

Ditto services which offer to post hundreds of reviews. Avoid.

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.