Creating Augmented Reality iPhone app experiences – getting used to Apple’s ARKit

Recently as part of our internal innovation program which we call ‘WaveLabs’, the team explored Apple’s Augment Reality Framework, called ‘ARKit’. We reviewed the technology as well as tackling the challenges of designing Augmented Reality experiences.

Augmented Reality is a combination of real-world and computer-generated elements that can be used to bring a real-time interactive app experience to users. A view of the real world is enhanced or augmented with digital elements.

ARKit is a software toolkit released by Apple for iOS devices. This allows developers to design Augmented Reality experiences in iPhone apps, without the use of additional hardware.

ARKit Features

World Tracking

This is the key feature that Augmented Reality provides. Using camera images and inputs from the phones sensors ARKit will track the environment you are in. This allows an ARKit enabled app to accurately track the users position in a room, including the direction that are facing.

 

World Tracking – yellow dots indicate points ARKit is tracking.

Scene Understanding

As well as World Tracking ARKit also provides functionality to detect physical features in the world it sees. This is key to providing more advanced Augmented Reality experiences where the user can interact with the physical world via the app.

One of the key Scene Understanding features provided by ARKit is “horizontal plane detection”. This is a fancy way of saying ARKit can detect flat horizontal surfaces, such as a table-top or the floor. This allows us to place virtual objects in the world that appear to sit on real surfaces that appear in the world.

Scene Understanding – ARKit has detected a horizontal plane in the scene. We can use this information to create an interactive app.

Rendering

The final part of ARKit technology is support for rendering Augmented Reality scenes. This is provided by way of integrating with Apple’s existing 3D engine known as SceneKit. This allows developers to leverage existing technology & content to deliver Augmented Reality experiences.

Review of ARKit

In our experience, we found the World Tracking to be very accurate. We ran several experiments in our office and found it could track our environment without problem.

Our experiments consisted of placing markers in the Augmented Reality world, rotating, moving several meters and returning to the staring position. We observed that the markers were still in (or very close to) their original positions, indicating that ARKit was able to track our environment accurately.

We found the horizontal plane detection to be good, although it seems to only detect when you are within 1m of the target. The detected distance are ok too – checkout ARuler – an app based on ARKit that has some pretty cool measurement features.

There are of course limitations to ARKit. If the physical environment has low detail, for example a room of plain-white walls, ARKit won’t have any detail to lock on to and will result in degraded performance. Similarly, if the user violently moves or shakes the phone ARKit will get mixed up. We found best results when the user treated the device like a camera view finder to look around the Augmented Reality world.

All of this AR technology demands a fair amount of processing power and I expect it would drain your battery pretty quick.

From a developer point of view, we found the ARKit API’s to be easy to use and understand. It helps to have background in computer graphics as well as other iOS app frameworks.

Aligning to the real world

A key point to understand about Augmented Reality and ARKit is that tracking is relative; positions are measured in meters from the point where the user started the Augmented Reality app. Out-of-box ARKit does not align these positions to a common frame of reference e.g. GPS coordinates.

There are many Augmented Reality applications that would benefit from this type of alignment. This allows pre-populated content to be loaded in the correct position without user input. This can be achieved by combining ARKit with location tracking technologies.

Examples of location based technologies that could be integrated with ARKit to produce an expanded Augmented Reality experience:

  • GPS tracking – This can give you location to +/-10m in clear outdoor environment.
  • Phone’s built in compass – ARKit does have the ability to use this, however it’s accuracy is poor indoors.
  • Bluetooth beacons – also suitable for indoor environments. Beacons can operate in a ‘Ranging Mode’ to give the users location to 1-4m.
  • Aligning to a fixed point for reference – eg QR code. This is popular in other Augmented Reality solutions and is suited to indoor environments. This is the most accurate method however this requires the environment to be pre-calibrated and requires action by the user to perform the calibration.

The main issue is that most location tracking is far less accurate and consistent than ARKit’s World Tracking. This means that although we can roughly align to the real-world, it’s difficult to perfectly align pre-populated content without the user preforming a calibration or adjustment step.

One way this could be overcome is to gamify the calibration step so the user does not feel launching the Augmented Reality app is a chore. Otherwise with creative design and production small inaccuracy’s might not detract from the app experience. A few meters discrepancy in GPS coordinates might not matter if you are placing a label above a landmark several km away.

 

Wave Labs demo app – Here we are plotting landmarks that are visible from the office balcony. The app uses the compass to get fairly accurate alignment, however we did need to manually adjust the app by 1-2 degrees to have the labels accurately aligned to the buildings. In this case we aligned the crane, once this initial calibration is done all other labels a plotted correctly without need to adjust.

 

 

Wave Labs demo app – In this demo we placed labels on different parts of the office, provided we started the app from a fixed reference point the labels would be in the correct position from session to session.

Designing Augmented Reality iPhone app experiences

There are many considerations to take into account when designing Augmented Reality experiences. We have found ARKit’s World Tracking to be accurate and consistent. This is great for designing games and interactive experiences like IKEA Place that allows the user to interactively place virtual furniture in a room.

There are also exciting opportunities to combine Augmented Reality with location based technologies. This is suited to wider scale experiences such as virtual tours or identification of landmarks. There are some challenges in achieving this type of integration however if the limitations are taken into account they can be worked around creatively.


Eight steps: How to build an app

how to build an app

No two app developers build an app the same way, but there are a number of common steps that must be taken in order to turn an app from being nothing more than an idea into something that can be downloaded to a user’s mobile device.

Step one: It’s about the people!

“Our process always begins with thinking about the users first, not the technology,’’ says Guy Cooper, Wave Digital’s Managing Director. “At Wave we believe in ‘better lives’ technology. Technology that focuses on the needs and dreams of people and how we want to live our lives. Starting with people first, not technology for technology’s sake is how you successfully launch an app.”

As such, step one in Wave’s app development process is discovering who the end users are and how best they could derive value from a client’s proposed app idea.

“We research the customer base and actually talk to a client’s customers,’’ adds Guy. “We document insights and try to articulate the problem our client is trying to solve. Once we have a thorough understanding of the problem, we try to craft a solution around it.

“That’s when the real work starts!”

Step two: Think about your business goals

Once you know who you’re targeting and why, it is time to think about your business goals.

What does a successful app look like to you? What is your business trying to achieve by developing this app and what sort of return does your business need to get out of its investment in this app? Is it insights? Data? A new audience? More sales? More customers? This varies depending on the business and a business may have more than one goal.

Step three: Product goals, product concepts and roadmap

Now we understand the problem, the users and the business goals, we then pull together an idea for a product concept and a product roadmap. It is important to have a very clear idea of what the ‘product goals’ are, and how groups of product features might hang together to create a product that is useful to the end user.

It is critical in this stage to focus on product goals (not features). The product concept might come in visual or written form but it is not a product design (that comes later).

“The combination of steps one, two and three is incredibly powerful,’’ says Guy. “It provides a really clear path for the client and now that everyone is on the same page, you can start to bring all that information together visually.”

build an app

Step four: It’s time to get visual…

It is at this point – and only at this point – that Wave Digital starts talking about how a client thinks their app might look. However, stresses Guy, “it is crucial not to start at this point as so many people want to do.”

“Many inexperienced app developers jump right into an app’s design, but they need to take a few steps back because it is only once they understand the people who will be using the apps, the context of use and their client’s needs that you can truly start to even think about creating an innovative solution.”

The first visual designs are presented to the client at this stage.

Step five: The devil is in the detail

Towards the end of the design phase, a second layer of detail is added to the visual designs detailing how features are intended to work. This serves as the blueprint for all stakeholders during development and is crucial in ensuring all expectations are met for the remainder of the project.

Step six: bringing it to life

“This is where the sleeves are well and truly rolled up,’’ says Guy. “We’re bringing everything from the earlier discover and design stages together and coding it as an app.

“The early results of this phase are a basic, but working preliminary app. This is where actual users – and the client – gets to play with the first iteration of their app. We’ll iterate through several app releases over a 1-6 months process, however, this varies from app to app and client to client.”

Step seven: Testing, testing, testing…

“Testing is one of the scariest, but also most rewarding, phases of the app development process,’’ says Guy whose team have been know to testing new apps for weeks. “Because we’ve done so much research in the previous stages and, because we’ve included the client at every stage, it’s rare that we get any surprises here, so this phase is, primarily, about ensuring everything works as we all expect.”

Step eight: It’s launch time!

Once the testing phase is over and we’ve ironed out any issues or bugs, the big day arrives: it’s time to launch the app.

Depending on the complexity of the app, this could be a simple as hitting the ‘publish’ button on the app store to hours/days of pre-launch development activities.

“At this stage, there’s nothing more we can do, but cross our fingers and hope that all our hard work has paid off and that the users love what we’ve created”.

Once an app is in a user’s hands, there are, often, even with the most dedicated research, a few surprises.

“We might think something’s effective, but once it’s in the hands of a user, we might discover that they don’t use certain features the way we anticipated.

“This is where the product goals and roadmap are important so that we can learn from the real users and continually iterate and improve the product for them. At the end of the day it is about launching apps that actually improve people’s lives.”

We’d love to help you build your app, so if you’re ready to talk with us, you can contact us here.


Meet Wave Digital: Georgia Price-Bell

Georgia Price Bell UI/UX
What do you do at Wave Digital?

My role is as a Digital Designer specialising in UI/UX, so it’s a mixed role but, basically, it means I design many different things at Wave.

The first part, user interface design (UI) is what I spend the majority of my time doing. It involves creating the visual design for apps and websites.

Depending on the project, this can also include branding, illustration, interaction design, and motion design. User experience design (UX) is the other half which involves understanding the people who will be using the product, making sure it’s not just functional but that it’s intuitive, too.

UX creates a strong base for the UI, meaning every aspect of the experience I’m designing is centred around people.

What did you do before you joined Wave Digital?

Before I started working for Wave Digital, I was studying Communication Design at Monash University, and working as a freelance designer on a range of design outcomes in my spare time.

While at university, I shaped my degree so I could develop myself as a multidisciplinary designer, although I specialised in digital design through UX and motion design.

I also explored experience design through more traditional means such as publication design and illustration.

What do you like best about working at Wave Digital?

Everyone at Wave is extremely talented at what they do. They know how to work hard, but they also know how to enjoy themselves, the work, and each other.

One minute there’s a detailed conversation about how we can best utilise the latest technological advancements for our clients and the next moment we might be enjoying a team BBQ on the balcony.

Sometimes, our clients even join in!

What has been your favourite ‘job’ you’ve done while at Wave Digital?

So far my favourite project has been the iOS app we are creating for the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. It’s a project that brought out everyone on the team’s strongest skills, with detailed strategy workshops, an enormous focus on user experience design, testing new technologies, and contemporary visual design.

Personally, it’s given me the chance to work closely with a variety of users every step of the way. I strengthened my knowledge and skills in accessibility design, while also designing for new technologies that will be used by the development team.

We’ve built a strong relationship with the client, and are creating a product that will really help people.

What’s something fun we don’t know about you?

My hobbies have two modes: extreme and incredibly lazy.

There’s nothing I love more than watching films and TV series and getting incredibly invested in the production of it – reading essays, books, forums, and listening to podcasts on a variety of cinema and TV-based content.

However, on the more surprising side I’m a huge adrenalin junkie. Often going black water rafting, sky diving, canyoning, bungee jumping and riding world-record holding roller coasters.

UX Wave Digital

 


7 reasons you should trust Wave Digital to build your app

iphone app developer melbourne

What sets Wave Digital apart from other mobile app developers? Lots of things! Here are just 7 reasons you should choose Wave Digital to help bring your app idea to life:

Our no-nonsense approach

Yep, we’re happy to say it out loud: we have a 100% no-nonsense policy. We’re cognisant of the fact that most people who come to us, whether they’re a business or an individual, haven’t been through the process of building a bespoke app before, so we make the process as simple and as clear as possible for you.

We won’t overwhelm you with buzzwords and tech talk

We use plain language and we won’t confuse you by drowning you in buzzwords. Also, we will not try to make the process look and sound overly complex. Yes, it is complex and very technical, but that’s why you’re hiring us, because we’re the experts and we’re paid to handle the hard stuff! We take an educative approach and will hold your hand through every step in the process! Promise.

We take a people-first approach, not a technology-first approach

Of course, it is realistic that your budget will influence what you can build and how quickly, but it’s not the only consideration and, for us, it’s not necessarily the first. Woven into Wave’s DNA is the notion that everything we do should contribute to improving people’s lives through technology, so that’s where we’ll start, with a people-first approach.  The technology will always be the core of the solution, but people are at its heart, so we’ll start with your idea and how it can and will impact people’s lives and work from there.

You can actually meet and deal with our team

Every member of our team is located right here in Melbourne, Australia. So, you can visit our offices and actually meet our developers, product specialists and creatives. You won’t deal with one person but never see or hear from anyone else within the company because they’re all located in another country or in another time zone.

reasons to choose wave digital to build your app

Our staff are skilled and very experienced (and lots of fun, too!)

Our staff members (this will link to staff profiles eventually) have worked with some of the country’s biggest and best-known companies and start-ups and we’re really proud of the experience and expertise they bring to every project. We’ve worked on hundreds of mobile app projects in dozens of industries and we’ve worked with just about every technology out there. We also pride ourselves on behind ahead of the curve and are, often, playing with new technologies long before most people even hear about them.

We understand you’re the expert in your industry – not us

We know you have domain expertise in your industry and we have expertise in ours. We won’t try to make out that we know more than you do because we don’t. Though we always perform extensive research into any field we work in, we understand that you are the expert in your industry, so we will marry your expertise with our knowledge and experience in product development to create a mobile app solution that helps your business truly stand out within your industry.  

We are good at what we do so we only do that

Unlike competing agencies, we won’t offer you too many services or spread ourselves too thinly by claiming we do everything well. Our DNA is in digital product design and development and that’s what we stick to. We won’t try to sell you peripheral services that need in depth expertise in their own right (such as marketing or social media). Yes, we have plenty of expert partners in those areas, but we’re providing app expertise.

We’d love to help you build your app, so if you’re ready to talk with us, you can contact us here.


MedTech’s Got Talent: Are you Australia’s next MedTech rising star?

Medtech's Got Talent
Wave Digital is proud – and excited – to announce our affiliation with the 2017 National MedTech’s Got Talent accelerator program (MTGT).

In its third year, MTGT identifies high-potential MedTech concepts from start-ups across the country and fosters them from, often, just early-stage ideas through to working concepts that can be used in hospitals, universities and research institutes the world over.

MedTech start-ups will vie for $160,000 in cash prizes and priceless critical professional support in the areas of marketing, development, commercialisation and technology from some of the country’s leaders in each field.

Wave Digital is this year’s MTGT technology partner, which means we’ll work with early-stage entrepreneurs to help them validate and bring to life their MedTech ideas and innovations.

“We’re honoured to be chosen as one of the 2017 MTGT technology partners,’’ says Wave Digital’s MD Guy Cooper. “We have more than 15 years helping entrepreneurs and businesses, including a number of MedTech clients, to create successful digital products and, this year, we get to share this extensive experience in digital product strategy, design and development with some of Australia’s most promising MedTech talent.”

“MedTech is the intersection of traditional medical devices and technology,‘’ adds Cooper, “and it is one of the most significant and meaningful areas of research on the planet at the moment because it helps better – and sometimes extend – human lives and the quality of our lives. What could be more important?”

MTGT, which is managed by MedTech incubator STC Australia, previously ran only in Victoria but this year the prestigious entrepreneurship program goes national. It is already Australia’s largest MedTech start-up competition.
So, how does it work?

“There are a few stages,’’ says Cooper whose passion for health can be traced back to his time as an Army Reserve medic and, later, as personal trainer and practitioner. “But applications, which are open to the public, close on August 25.”

** UPDATE: Due to overwhelming demand MTGT has extended the application deadline until 5pm on Friday, September 01, 2017.

“We’ll then cull the entries down to a handful based on the ideas, viability and technology, before it goes to a rapid-fire round where the finalists pitch their innovations to us and four or five other partners,’’ says Cooper.

After that, “we’ll choose who we want to work with and mentor them into the next phase of the process where there will be another culling of applicants leaving us with a final shortlist of five potentials.”

These five candidates will each receive $20,000 in funding and, after a few more months of mentoring from various partners, including ourselves as technology partners, “they’ll pitch their ideas again,’’ says Cooper, “but this time it will be for real cash to real investors within the MedTech space.”

Applications for the 2017 National round are now open and will close on August 25. For more information, visit http://medtechchallenge.com/

 


How much does it cost to build an app?

cost to build an app

How much does it cost to build an app? A more easily answerable question might be how long is a piece of string? Why? Because there is no one way to build an app. Some methods are better than others and some methods are costlier than others.

The key is knowing which process best suits your concept – and your budget.

“The fact is, you can build an app for pretty much any budget, from $30,000 to $300,000,’’ says Guy Cooper, Managing Director of award-winning app development agency Wave Digital. “It really does depend, among other things, on what you are trying to achieve, who you are trusting to build your app and what tools and processes they are using to do so.”

“There are also several factors that will influence the overall cost of building an app,’’ he adds. “Think of it like buying a car. You can buy a bare bones car that gets you from A to B, but doesn’t have power windows or air conditioning. It works, but the experience is underwhelming.

“Or you can buy the top-of-the-line model that has all the bells and whistles. It makes driving easier, sometimes safer and it’s always a pleasure. Then, of course, there’s the middle-of-the-range model that offers a bit of both worlds.”

It’s the same with developing an app. You can build a bare-bones app that does the basics and doesn’t pay too much attention to design or usability, or you can spend a little more money and time and effort and build an app that does everything you want – and well!

“Realistically, for apps that are a core part of a business, a realistic app budget is about $50,000 – $100,000 for a good quality product that goes through a thorough process,’’ says Guy. “The key for first-time software developers, however, is knowing that you will need to extend your budget beyond version one, so you shouldn’t spend it all up front.

“For example, if you have an app budget of, say, $150,000, then spend $100,000 on the first version and spend $50,000 on iterations, but also remember that there are other costs that go into building an app that many people don’t consider, things like the legals and marketing.”

Guy’s team of designers, programmers and product specialists build about 30-50 apps per year and, typically, client budgets range from $50,000 to $200,000. Between them, they’ve worked on 100s of mobile apps, websites and software and, with a combined 100+ years’ industry experience, these are the six things they say most influence the cost of building an app:

How much does it cost to build an app?


How many platforms is it being built for?

This will hugely influence how much your app will cost to build. Are you intending to build on both iOS and Android platforms? Perhaps you’d also like a web app, which is a third platform.

“Every time you add a new platform,’’ says Guy, “that will, typically, increase the cost because, though you may be able to re-use certain elements, such as leveraging existing graphics or basic code libraries, typically, the best way to build robust, and user friendly apps is to build from scratch for each platform.

“This will ensure users get the optimal experience and that your coders can really bring out the best features of each platform because each platform uses its own technology.”

For example, iOS apps are built using Objective C or Swift, while Android apps are built using Java. All languages are different and they have their own rules that must be adhered to and you can’t do that by writing once and deploying to three different environments.

This same advice applies to the graphics. Are you happy using graphic elements designed for, say, iOS on an Android device? They’re entirely different technologies and users are accustomed to vastly different ways of doing things and they respond to different visual norms. For example, iOS apps have to utilise a ‘back’ button whereas on Android phones the device itself includes a back button so you shouldn’t necessarily need one built into the interface.

How many screens does your app require?

Is your app a simple one-to-five-screen affair or is it a complex program that will require multiple screens and some serious logic? Some apps have dozens of screens, each of which needs to be designed visually,then programmed and usually have to interface with a backend from which it will call data and/or business logic.

build app cost

What about design?

How bespoke is your apps design going to be? Are there animations (which always add to the overall cost) and how expensive will they be to create and implement?

What about user interface (UI) design and user experience (UX)? Do you need any research into your design done or are you just implementing whatever you think your customers want/need?

“The more bespoke the design,’’ says Guy, “the higher the costs will be because it’s not just about a nice look. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes to bring you that seemingly simple and effortless design!”

Have you thought about security?

We’ve already seen the Windows world brought to its knees by the WannaCry attacks earlier this year and it’s almost inevitable that apps will be hackers’ next targets. So, you must consider security when it comes to building any new app.

“Security encompasses more than just whether or not your app can be hacked,” says Guy. “It also includes things like the security of your users’ app data and the security of your code, as well as security in the transmission and storage of data.

“These are crucial considerations and, if your app developer doesn’t discuss these topics with you – or can’t answer your questions around security find someone who can and will! Attempting to cut corners when it comes to app security is a terrible idea that can end up costing you a lot more than you think you may have saved by ignoring the issue of app security when designing your app.”

Does your app need some sort of backend?

Will you need to change things in your app? For example, does data need to be added or do you need to manage content or access reports / analytics..  

If so, you’ll need some sort of backend where an Admin can go in and change data or permissions dynamically without having to modify the app’s actual code (and, therefore, hire someone to do it). A backend is, essentially, a whole other app that needs to be built from scratch and, though it will be more cost-effective in the long run, in the short term, it will add, probably significantly, to the initial cost of developing your app.

When considering the need for a backend, you should also think about scalability, which controls functions such as how many people can be using the app at one time? What about user management or user authentication?

And what about the features?

We’ve talked about, potentially, needing a backend, but even if you don’t need a backend, every feature in your app needs to be programmed, so think about what your app will be doing. Does it need in-app purchases, perhaps a little social media or real time chat? Then there’s image and video processing, push notifications and smartwatch support?

The number of features – and the complexity of those features, will influence the final cost of developing your app idea.

“Perhaps your app developer needs to liaise with another developer to overcome complex integrations,’’ adds Guy, “or you’re implementing bespoke designs on every screen in the app or using features in a way that has not been attempted before. The list is, quite literally, endless and limited only by your imagination and, of course, your budget.”  

Interested in building an app for your business? You can contact us here.

 


3 lessons every app developer learns (eventually)…

lessons for app developers
With more than
5 million apps available across Apple and Google’s app stores globally, you’d expect there wouldn’t be too many lessons to be learned around the building an app. However, there are always lessons to be had and, based on what we – and our fellow app developers – are asked most every day, here are three things every first-time app developer should know but, usually, doesn’t…

That if you build an app, you’re probably not going to get rich quick!

While Uber and Facebook are actual billion-dollar ideas, such apps are few and far between. Yes, your idea may well be the next SnapChat or Instagram (and we certainly hope it is), but million and billion-dollar apps, no matter how simple, require a lot of work.

“Most people can’t see the countless hours of development time and, in some cases, millions of dollars that have gone into building the world’s biggest and best-known apps,’’ says Guy Cooper, Wave Digital’s Managing Director.

“And, that’s the thing: Developing a successful app is about more than just an idea, it’s more about  the implementation of that idea and the other unseen work that goes into making a successful app successful. It is, often, more about all the work you don’t see than the app you do see!”

“Most overnight successes are anything but,’’ adds Guy. “Many of them have years, if not decades, of work behind them, so, be sure to keep that in mind when you’re thinking of turning your brilliant idea into an app.”

That you can just jump in and build your app… without any research

“I think one of the biggest mistakes first-time app developers make is that they don’t do any research with potential customers before approaching an app developer,’’ says Guy, who has overseen the building of hundreds apps since he took over Melbourne-based Wave Digital in 2013.

“It’s not a terrible thing because so many first-time app developers are so passionate about their idea, they truly believe everyone else will be, but that isn’t always the case and, by doing a little research, they can find that out before they spend any money.”

Of course, adds Guy, any app development agency can help first-timers with the research phase of their app development, but it is best if clients do some market research before approaching an app developer.

“It doesn’t have to be a survey of 1000 people, but even knowing the basic numbers within your industry or what problem your app idea will solve will help. You should also ask yourself if someone else has already solved the same problem and who is having the problem you think your app will solve.

“You just might find that the problem you’re trying to solve isn’t one that’s big enough to warrant the time, effort and money that will go into developing your idea,’’ says Guy, “or that someone else has already solved it, but, hopefully, this initial research will actually show that the problem is big enough – and you’ll be the first to try to solve it!”

That the first version of your app has to be perfect

No, really, it doesn’t. The first version of most app won’t ever be the final version.

“App development is iterative,’’ says Guy, “there is never a straight line to a solution.

There are learnings to be had along the way so you should approach your app development from a long-term perspective and with the knowledge that you will learn as you go along and improvements will need to be made, especially once your app is in the hands of real users.”

Some apps take months to gain traction, while others may take years and, sadly, there are plenty that never will.

“It’s a long process,’’ says Guy “and app development is not suited to anyone who expects immediate results or an overnight success. It’s really important to be realistic about your timeframes and your expectations.”

Interested in building an app for your business? You can contact us here.


Booming: Australia’s ‘app economy’ outdoes Europe’s

App developer. It’s a job title that, even a decade ago, didn’t exist, yet, today, app developers – and myriad roles associated with bringing an app to market – are among the most in-demand by companies in just about every industry.

And Australia is no exception. More than 113,000 people are estimated to be working in our exploding ‘app economy’ and, says Guy Cooper, Managing Director of Melbourne app development agency Wave Digital, “it’s not unreasonable to expect that to double over the next few years.”  

app economy australia


A new research report by the Progressive Policy Institute
, shows that the figure of 113,000 is up 11 per cent since 2014, which means app-related employment in Australia makes up .9 per cent of all jobs. In Europe, that figure is .8 per cent, while in the United States, app-related employment (dubbed ‘app intensity’) is responsible for about 1.1 per cent of all employment.

According to the July 2017 report, entitled The Rise of the Australian App Economy, the ‘app economy’ is made up, mainly, of roles related to designing, developing, maintaining or supporting mobile app development, but it also includes allied roles such as those in finance and marketing, which support these core app economy jobs.

“New South Wales leads Australia’s app economy with 56,100 of all related jobs,’’ says Guy, whose own business has tripled its team in three years, “but here in Victoria we come in second and are responsible for 29,000 app-related roles.”

According to the report, next in is Queensland with 14,000; Western Australia with 4,400; the ACT with 5,200 jobs; South Australia with 1,600 roles, Tasmania with 1,300 and, finally, the NT with 400 of all app-related roles in the country.

“Most of these workers are employed by app development agencies such as Wave Digital,’’ says Guy who, 10 years ago was working as a Chartered Accountant and wouldn’t have imagined that, a decade on, he’d be running one of Australia’s most successful app development agencies. “The PPI’s report also shows that many of these app economy workers are employed by software or media companies as well as financial and retail companies and non-profits.

“But I think the list is a lot longer because I doubt there are too many companies that haven’t had a discussion – or at least thought about – creating an app for their own business or their industry or their customers.

“Every single day we have people from business of all sizes, from small one-person businesses to gigantic government departments, contact us about how mobile apps can help them or their customers because, as the market matures, they are all seeing an even stronger demand from consumers for better quality apps,” he says.

There is, he adds, an even greater demand for improved design and better user experiences as well as a focus on human-centred design processes as customers become more sophisticated and demand great experiences that truly enhance their lives and genuinely save them time, effort and money.

“Building such intuitive apps can only be done by a great, well-rounded team and that can only come from hiring great people who ‘get’ that building an app is about more than just cobbling together features that a client wants,’’ says Guy who says, when hiring, he and his team look for well-rounded people with a little life experience, not just those who fit the job description on paper.

“It’s about creating something that makes life better, whether you’re a company wanting to streamline your business processes or a small business needing to increase engagement amongst your customers.

“There’s no such thing as just building an app these days. You have to build experiences.”

Interested in building an app for your business? You can contact us here.


10 terms you need to know before developing an app

Technology is an industry that loves its buzzwords. And when it comes to app development, you could easily reel off 50 without stopping for breath, but there’s a huge difference between the terms and concepts you can know, and those you actually need to know before starting down the journey of building an app.

Here are 10 essentials:

 

End user

This term is the crucial one, because with no end user – the person at the end of the chain who actually uses your app, there is no need for your app, no one to download it and, thus, no measure of success and engagement.

But it’s not enough to just have faith and hope someone will like your app enough to download it.

As a starting point, you must identify who your end user/s are, what solution you want to provide them with and, therefore, what functionality you need the app to achieve. And it could even be that there is more than one kind of end user, especially given the nature of modern audience segmentation.

For  example, if you were creating an app for clinicians in a hospital, questions to ask in identifying the user or groups of users would include:

  •        Is this app just for one department or many departments?
  •        Is it for all staff or just medical staff?
  •        Will access to the app be equal for all?
  •        Will levels of access depend on seniority? For example, will junior doctors use it in the same way as their superiors?

Of course, these are just a few of the questions you would ask in this case, but they do illustrate a point – that before anything else, you must identify clearly who – individuals and groups – will be the target audience for your app because that will tell you specifically who you are writing features for and how to best create a great user experience (UX) that will ensure ongoing engagement.

User experience (UX)

Abbreviated down to UX, user experience simply refers to how a user feels during and after using your company’s app. Does your app meet their needs? Is using your app a positive/happy experience for them?

Delivering a successful UX extends far beyond how your app looks (see User Interface below) or ticking off a checklist of features for development. It sets the context for how someone might use your app in their day-to-day life. UX is, quite literally, used to describe the user’s experience with your app.

And the best way to explain it is with an example, in this case a partnership Wave Digital has in development with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. The centre’s management first identified the need for an app that would allow patients to record consultations on their cancer journey, and then upload them to the hospital. So, the actual design and construction of that function was something that could have been done immediately. But it wasn’t, because the UX needed to be developed in such a way that the app would be downloaded/adopted and used by patients and then used on an ongoing basis … meaning it was about making sure it was end-user friendly and easy to use.

So, here, the UX research focus was on finding identifying the intended audience for the app, finding out what sort of emotional reaction someone would have after using the app – to make sure it was positive,  on talking to outpatients, looking at what stage of the cancer journey the app would be most useful – as in diagnosis time or later on – identifying at what point in time patients would use it, how they would find out about it, and what would make it something they would come back to.

In short, it needed to be much more than just a recording button because, let’s face it, most phones already have those. So, the key to UX is to make the app useful to the user (ie meeting their need), easy to use, to design it so the end user will feel comfortable with the technology on an ongoing basis and, of course, to ensure they are engaged enough to come back.

app developer terminology

User interface (UI)

This term, which is also shortened in the tech space – this time to UI – runs in complement to UX and describes how the app’s elements look on a screen and how they function, all with the aim of improving the UX.

So, style wise, it can get down to details as specific as whether you want rounded or bevilled corners on a button, and whether or not it has a shadow. As for the function, it’s about prioritising ease of use, which means, for example, not putting a delete button where people would intuitively expect to find the ‘OK’ command.

In short, UI is about marrying form and function to ensure it contributes to an engaging user experience.  As the saying goes: User interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s just not that good.”

 Operating system (OS)

An operating system is the underlying basic software that enables all the apps and interfaces on your device to runs/upports a device’s functions. And for the vast majority of people, this means either Android (as used by Samsung devices, for example) or iOSs (as used by Apple devices).

There are alternatives, such as Windows or Blackberry phones, but as these are a smaller percentage of the market and they’re not really relevant to most businesses as the cost of developing for an additional platform usually outweighs the benefits. unless they have the scale of Telstra and the associated need for wider inclusivity.

But, in terms of which one to choose, the investment decision can come down to unique factors. For example, Apple – which is by far the more popular with clinicians in hospitals,  for its security credentials, for example – has a closed system with only a certain number of devices that have ever been produced (for example the iPhone 4, and 5 and 6).  So, that offers an advantage in, say, building and rolling out an app for employees to use – for example, workers in the field – because an iOS app doesn’t have to account for as many different types of devices during development as an Android one, which would have to accommodate a lot more screen sizes and devices.

But a lot of the time, a business is still going to have to develop apps for both operating systems to create growth and engagement with the widest possible customer base. So, that’s where a staged development can come in, by starting with one platform, ironing out all the issues and bugs first, and then moving on to the other.

Wireframes

A wireframe is, basically, an app blueprint that physically represents the framework on which it’s built without all the detail you might expect of the final product.

Here’s a picture of what a typical wireframe might look like:

app wireframes

It’s incredibly useful in the design process because it allows you to determine the information hierarchy to allow for the best possible ease of navigation and engagement.

API

API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API simply enables two or more different pieces of software to talk to each other. For example, your app might need to integrate Google Maps functionality. Developers of your app would use the Google Maps API and associated documentation to facilitate this integration. So whenever you want your app to integrate data from other systems the first question your developers will ask you is: “does that system have an API we can use?”  

Hybrid app

When developing an app you have a choice to write in the specific language prescribed for each operating system or to write a Hybrid app. Writing a Hybrid app which combines elements of native languages and web languages/technologies. So here, for example, you may write something in web technology but then ‘wrap it’ with some native functionality.

You might also have a map view menu that’s written in web technology, but you then wrap it the menu and buttons in the respective native technologies so it looks like a normal iPhone or Android menu as people are used to. So, here’s it about writing a little bit of code that lets you write once and then deploy in a way that you can still take full advantage of each operating system’s unique capabilities.

Writing a Hybrid app will usually  save you money but will also impact the design and user experience and your developer should be able to discuss the implications of these decisions early on in the process.

Often a staged approach to the investment is recommended. For example, you may start with a hybrid app for your MVP and then using downloads, engagement, usage analytics as justification for additional investment in a Native version of the app(s).  This is the approach we took with VicRoads’ VicTraffic app which started as a Hybrid app and then more recently was completely redesigned natively based on user feedback.

Analytics

In the world of app development incorporating Analytics into your app is essential to allow you to track what features users use – or don’t use. The Apple and Google Play app stores provide high level analytics eg total number of app downloads but they don’t provide any detailed usage data and this is something you will have to specifically ask your developers to incorporate in your app (this is a non-functional requirement – see below).

This detailed analytics data provides a quantifiable metric, which along with other quantitative and qualitative data will help you to make decisions on which features to add, improve or remove and therefore helps you plan and adjust your product roadmap and associated investment.

In a news app, for example, analytics could be used to determine what kind of story is most popular with visitors, at which point the writers could then be focused to deliver more content related to the audience interests.

Reskinning

Not nearly as painful as it sounds, reskinning simply refers to a change in the appearance of an app that creates a new look and feel without affecting the nuts and bolts operations going on beneath the ‘skin’ that users see and interact with.

However, don’t underestimate the work that may be required to ‘reskin’ your app and, invariably, when the design is being altered functionality will also be affected – how much or how little is up to you and your developer should be able to talk you through the impact of any design decisions on development risks, time and cost.

Non-functional requirements

When you start out on the journey to build an app you usually have a good idea of the ‘features’ you would like to be included in the app. Features, or Functional requirements, are the components/interfaces of the app the user interacts with. However, what a lot of people don’t realise is that decisions with regards to content management, security, scalability, analytics etc all need to be made and will affect development.

For example, does your app need to accommodate for thousands or tens of thousands of users using it simultaneously? The answer to this question will affect decisions in how to architect the solution, transfer of data, length of an End User session, design of the API etc   

Interested in building an app for your business? You can contact us here.

 


2017 snapshot: Australians. We really, really love our apps

Australians love apps. We really, really love apps and, it seems, we love them more than users in most other countries.

According to the latest data from App Annie, which specialises in app market data and insights, Australians use, on average, 36 different apps per month. That’s six more apps than the global average of 30 apps per months.

We also don’t seem to mind cramming our phones chock full of mobile app, about 100 apps per device on average. That means you’ll find about 10 more apps on an Aussie’s mobile device than you will on an American or European’s device.

“Australians, in general, are pretty open to trying new things if they think it’s going to improve their life,’’ says Guy Cooper, Managing Director of award-winning mobile app developer Wave Digital.

“We’re always willing to give things a go and we’re very trusting when it comes to apps that might aid us in our day-to-day lives, especially when it comes to things like health, finances and productivity as well as our favourite utility apps.”

Australian app usageOne of the most popular utility apps developed by Wave Digital is VicTraffic, VicRoads’ suite of real-time traffic apps.

Guy’s comments are backed by the App Annie data, which shows utilities (which includes web browser Safari on iOS devices or Google on Android) make-up the globe’s most popular mobile app category, however, that largely has to do with the fact that so many come pre-installed on those devices.

After utilities, predictably, users tend to download a suite of social media and communication apps, and, on average, of these apps, Australians use about 10 of them throughout a typical day.

The company’s research also showed that, though we are willing to try new things, when it comes to music, navigation, finance and travel, we find something we like and rarely try anything else.

But there are significant differences between iPhone and Android users, too. It seems, Android users tend to have more games on their phones (at least two) and fewer social media apps, while iOS users prefer utilities (about six on each device), social media apps (at least five) and more productivity and photo/video apps (about four per device).

productivity apps are hugely popular in AustraliaProductivity apps and utilities that track finances, accounts and spending, such as Agentplus, which we for the real estate industry are hugely popular, not just in Australia, but globally

Given Australia’s higher-than-normal usage of mobile apps, it’s not surprising to see that our time spent using apps is up significantly. App Annie’s report says that, year-on-year, we’ve gone from using apps for almost 100 minutes per day in the first quarter of 2015 to a whopping 130 minutes per day in the first quarter of 2017.

But, though these usage figures put us, roughly, on par with American users, we’re actually still significantly behind our Indonesian neighbours who clocked an astounding 220 minutes+ in Q1 of 2017. That’s more than four hours’ mobile app usage per day!

“These figures are equally scary and exciting at the same time,’’ says Guy, a trained Chartered Accountant, whose favourite apps include accounting app Xero and, of course, his personal banking app. “It’s a little scary that we’re so dependent on our phones and that we’re spending quite a significant percentage of our day on them, after all, perhaps that time could be better spent interacting with the people and the world around us.

“But,’’ he adds, “ironically, on the flip side, technology – and the apps using them – offer a huge and exciting opportunity to improve our lives and impact us in such a positive way. They save us time, money and effort which, in turn, frees us up for those important things… like interacting with the people and the world around us!”

Interested in building an app for your business? You can contact us here.