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!



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!


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!


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.