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Stories Behind the Apps

Powerslyde Profiles – Stories Behind The Apps: Dots

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Hey Steven – tell us about your app! Dots is a simple puzzle game with a heavy focus on the look and feel of the game.  We wanted to create something beautiful and interactive.

It's the #1 game in 21 countries and a top 5 iphone app in 30 countries.  Due to the popularity of Dots, I’d say you’ve accomplished that!  Was this a team project? Dots launched as a one person project and has expanded to a seven person team after our unexpected growth.

How does Dots differ from other puzzle games in the app stores?  Dots harkens back to classic board games, accessible to everyone, with a clean, simple aesthetic and gameplay that attracts players of all types.

mzl.zywgzfrgThe icon is simple yet quite striking.  Tell me about it.  We drew inspiration from fine art world.  Particularly an artist named Yayoi Kusama.  Kusama's work shows that beautiful things can be fun and playful.  I wanted to take that approach and apply it to a mobile game.

What process and/or people inspired or assisted you in creating the app?  Cocos2d and the resources readily available on the web were integral to creating Dots.  Other than that, it was just a bit of hard work and a lot of luck.

What lessons did you learn building your app?  Before starting the project, I had never done any game development.  So, being able to go from zero to development solely based on the Cocos2d communities offerings was really great. Dots-is-probably-the-most-addictive-game-of-2013-Since-this-awesome-app-was-released-millions-are-spending-hours-connecting-dots-trying-to-out-score-their-friends.

What went right and wrong with the development and release?   Developing for iOS only at the beginning helped keep the project scope manageable.  However, shortly after releasing Dots we had people on Android asking for it, so were racing to get it developed.  We found a great company called Apportable that helped convert our code into native Android code.  It worked out, but in retrospect, I would have had a clearer plan in place to move to Android.

What were you and the team doing before you created Dots?  Interestingly enough, none of us were in games.  All of the team came from other fields (animation, web development).  We're still learning a lot, but enjoying the chance to give it a try.

Time to share what your favorite guilty pleasure apps are.  We love Letterpress and AngryBirds!  Also Tetris!

Hey you!  Wanna be featured like our friends at Dots? Be sure to check out www.powerslyde.com/developers.

 

Powerslyde Profiles – Stories Behind The Apps: Mustbin

 

Mustbin logo Use

Tis the season!  I can tell by the wide-eyed look on the faces of folks in the mall that the holidays have ruthlessly arrived.  Every year I find myself trapped in an elevator, held against my will, by the gripping 5 octaves of Mariah Carey.  Yet this year you won’t see the panic on my face.  I'm zen under pressure thanks to my new secret shopping weapon – the Mustbin app.  Who knew that simply taking a photo with your smartphone and placing files in a "bin" could change the way you shop or function in life? Misplaced credit card?  No problem.  Pin number refresher? Yes, please.  Santa and crying kid photo shared with in-laws?  You bet.  Plus the step-by-step guides make it easy to set up and start uploading to 1GB of free storage.  Everything I need to stay sane is now securely captured and organized with military grade encryption.  Mustbin's VP of Engineering, Satyender Mahajan, gives me the scoop on how Mustbin became the must-have app of the year.       

Mustbin 2 Fer

Hey Saty, you've been keeping busy! Exciting times indeed. $4.5M in Series A funding and positive reviews right out of the gate from Tech Crunch, Fortune, Lifehacker, and Mac Life.  Tell us about the app that everyone is raving about.  Mustbin is a free iOS app that allows you to utilize your iPhone to capture information in your life that would be convenient to have stored securely in the cloud.  Whether it’s your kid’s social security number or a picture of them, we intend to help you store your most vital information and treasured moments in a single, secure and organized place. 

We have high-end security architecture that encrypts data at rest, in transit, and in the cloud.  Our security goal is to make sure your data stays YOUR data. 

Satyender Mahajan, VP of Engineering

Satyender Mahajan, VP of Engineering

Who is on the Mustbin team? Brian Shin is the founder. I head up Engineering. Algert Sula is our Senior Designer. Krishna Agarwala is our Administrative Assistant. Carl Shimer and Scott Prusinoski are our Software Architects.  Michael Sollami and Nate Mackey are our Senior Software Engineers.

Mustbin IconYou nailed the app icon.  It looks like both a bin and a safe! Tell us more about the design and UI.  Algert was focused on creating branding that emphasized documents, security, and of course a “bin.”  This culminated in our app icon. I agree.  I think we nailed it. 

The UX was heavily influenced by Apple core concepts of clarity, depth, and deference.  I talk more about this in our own blog post.  We believe in powerful, minimalist UI that enables the experience instead of dominating it.  Your content should dominate the experience!  And we defer to your content as much as possible.

What tools did you use for creating the app?  Mainly Xcode, git and AWS.

What lessons did you learn building this app?  Building software is hard.  Having great tools is very helpful.  Having used Xcode for quite a while, I’ve seen it go through some interesting transitions.  Xcode 5 has made a lot of progress and I commend Apple for doing it’s very best to deliver developers awesome tools.  We especially like the new basic profiling tools that are built right in.  Very helpful.

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What went right and wrong with the development and release?  One of the most difficult things an engineering team will face is shipping a product. Shipping a 1.0 is the hardest by far. It’s so easy to find reasons why your product isn’t ready yet. “We can’t ship because it doesn’t have feature X or feature Y.” But when you look at the big picture, product development is iterative and you really have to come up with a set of requirements for a 1.0 that is viable and achievable. Sometimes that just means saying no to some features and prioritizing others. I joke that I’m “Chief No Officer” at Mustbin. But seriously for every hundred nos, there’s a yes that makes total sense.

Steve Jobs once said “Real artists ship.” And I couldn’t have put it better myself. This is the guy who shipped iOS (then iPhone OS) 1.0 without Copy/Paste! But when Apple finally came around to doing Copy/Paste, they nailed it. 

Brian Shin, Founder of Mustbin

Brian Shin, Founder of Mustbin

We have the same philosophy. We have brilliant, very creative people here that come up with amazing ideas every day. All of those ideas are welcome and are encouraged to be captured in our backlog. We then review our priority regularly and focus on the set of features that makes sense and deliver them (in 2 week sprints).

We ship, sometimes not everything we want, but we ship!

I'm having flashbacks of Mark Zukerberg’s famous photo reminder to “Stay focused. Keep shipping.” While it's exciting to actually ship the product, it's the constant refinement of features and product iterations that make the journey so unpredictable and often rewarding.  How is the team holding up post launch?  Good.  Our team is awesome.  We all came from varied backgrounds, some startups, some consulting, and some big companies.  I feel fortunate. It’s an inspiring group to be around.  

Besides Mustbin, what are some of your other favorite apps? I like Apple apps a lot. I use the iOS 7 camera app daily.  I love the simplicity and free texting of the Messages app which helps me stay connected with my wife and my son.  Calendar and Reminders keep me sane.  The Remote app for our Apple TV is the best for movies and Netflix (which I love to watch with my 2 year old son.)

For third party apps, Twitter is basic but gets the job done.  Facebook’s design is OK but I mainly use it to help me stay in touch with family and friends that I normally wouldn’t be able to regularly communicate with.  Instagram has awesome UI (even though I’m no longer an active user).  Finally Uber is a well-built app with inspiring UX and UI.  Love that simple minimalist design.

Saty, congrats again on the successful launch!  This won't be the last that we hear of Mustbin.  Personally, it's become a staple app for my phone. Keep us posted for when you launch on iPad and Android.

Hey you!  Wanna be featured like our friends at Mustbin? Be sure to check out www.powerslyde.com/developers.

Powerslyde Profiles – Stories Behind The Apps: Game It Forward’s Quingo

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November is a month where we often reflect on what we're most thankful for – typically family, good health and happiness.  Aside from this, I’m also thankful to have be a part of the games industry since 1999 working across console, mobile, tabletop, and web at various Indie and Fortune 500 game companies. The excitement of being on the forefront of technology and entertainment seems to be a common theme among game industry folk.  We’re not in it just for the fun and games but also because what we do matters.  For instance, Child’s Play has raised almost 20 million dollars since 2003 from the kindness of gamers and game industry vets everywhere.  There are other great charities such as Extra LifeGamers Helping Gamers and of course, Game It Forward.  I had a chance to chat with my long time friend and co-founder of Game It Forward, Brandon Bozzi, on the power of play and giving back.

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Hey Brandon – tell us about your app! Quingo is a free trivia game with a bingo twist where you support your favorite causes just by playing. It runs on iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.  Quingo is fun to play solo, with a friend or significant other, or with the whole family. 

Brandon BOzzi, co-founder of Game It Forward

Brandon Bozzi, co-founder of Game It Forward

Quingo combines trivia and bingo making it unique in the mobile space. The fact that you get to support charities while you play is another exciting differentiation from other games. In Quingo, players have to find five correct answers hidden among twenty incorrect answers for each question, as the clock is ticking. Some of the wrong answers are there to trip players up, other are there to make them laugh. If players get five correct answers in a row they score a Quingo earning bonus points from them and their charity. The more points players earn for the charity they select the more money Game It Forward donates to that charity. The money comes in from ads and in-game purchases.

Players worldwide spend 3 billion hours a week playing games. If those games donated just one penny an hour, we’d raise $30 million a week for people in need.  Game It Forward helps make that happen by producing free-to-play games where money generated from ad and in-game purchases is donated to charities such as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center,KivaPAWSSeattle Children’sSplash and The Martinez Foundation.

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Tell us about the team behind Quingo.  Morgan Belford and I are the co-founders of Game It Forward. Morgan is the technical genius and I’m the game guru. 

Quingo App Icon

Quingo App Icon

The app icon feels spot on with the game – it’s a bold and bright concept.  Tell us more about the design and UI.  We want the user interface to be welcoming and fun. Trivia can be intimidating so we want our UI to help communicate that Quingo is a more friendly kind of trivia. We also don't want the UI to be overly complex – trying to get the information and feel across with as few images and words as possible is ideal. As far as the app icon goes, we want it to be memorable and a little exciting. Once we had the Quingo logo done, it was a quick jump from there to using the starred "o" from the logo as the icon. Also, many great mobile games feature animation and sound. We wanted to take that to the next level, by enhancing the core game play with compelling animations and sound, so even when a player gets a question that's hard for them, they're still having fun just by interacting with the game. 

What tools did you use for creating the app?  We had many people contribute their time to help make Quingo a reality – from sound designers, to UI artists, to writers. We even had help from our charity partners.  In general, the Seattle gaming and startup communities are very supportive.  For development tools, we mostly use the usual suspects: 

– UI/UX: Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Audacity, iStockAudio, and Edge 

– Client Side: XCode, TextMate, Github and TestFlight

– Server Side: Heroku, Rails, RubyMine, Postgres, New Relic, Google Analytics, Flurry, and Kiip 

– Content Creation and Production: Google docs, Dropbox, Gmail, Skype, Pivotal Tracker, and GChat  

We also took advantage of the HUB co-working space, and of course the Starbucks chain of startup meeting rooms.  And let's not forget our Indiegogo backers who got the ball rolling!

Quingo supports Kiva to help alleviate poverty.

Quingo supports Kiva to help alleviate poverty.

What lessons did you learn building this app? Sound design is hard and important, and even just gathering stock audio is very painstaking. Writing Quingo questions is a lot of fun and also a lot of work. Charitable organizations have begun embracing the positive power of games in a big way, and were very excited to help us get the word out about Quingo. On the technical side, we mostly used proven tools, but still find it amazing how quickly and cheaply one can deploy a robust service on platforms like Heroku and AWS.  These kinds of services are real game-changes for startups of all kinds. And for mobile startups, tools like TestFlight are invaluable.

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What went right and wrong with the development and release?  My favorite thing is to watch people play the game. They have a great time, they're challenged, they want to play again, and they dig the charity aspect. With that in mind I think we got the core game play right. Something we did wrong is not giving ourselves enough time between when we submitted and when we were wanting to release. There were complications and stress, and we almost missed our launch date. On the technical side, things went mostly right, though Morgan had a few harrowing weeks (okay, months) learning Heroku, Ruby, and Rails.  Also, although relying partially on the kindness of others for some of the audio and graphics work was wonderful, it made for an unpredictable schedule, and design-wise a somewhat less consistent user experience than we would have liked.

Quingo

What was life like before you and Morgan created Quingo?  I’ve spent the last 13 years working in games. From helping to design the worlds and cards of Magic: the Gathering and other tabletop games, to working as a designer and producer on casual and hardcore digital games. When I’m not working on games, I’m playing them or connecting with my community… pretty much just trying to optimize my happiness.

Morgan Belford, co-founder Game It Forward

Morgan Belford, co-founder Game It Forward

Morgan's first claim to fame was helping to create the PivotTable in Excel, and more recently he's crafted a number of top-picked and top-grossing mobile apps on iOS, Android and, yes, Blackberry, both for himself and others.  He jumped at the chance to work on a game (because secretly or not-so-secretly every developer wants to develop games), especially one like Quingo, and especially with a game designer like myself! 

What are some of your favorite apps now? I like Uber or Lyft for getting around town, Marvel Puzzle Quest for passing time, and Testflight for beta testing our games.  We also found DropBox to be an essential and inspiring app that "just works".  Morgan is also a fan of Dots and Letterpress for helping show that even subtle use of animation, color, and sound make a huge difference in the user experience.

Quingo also helps support the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center .

Quingo supports the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Brandon, such a great story, game and cause!  I’m happy to game it forward and play Quingo.  Game on and keep us posted when you release on Google Play.  

Hey you!  Wanna be featured like our friends at Game It Forward? Be sure to check out www.powerslyde.com/developers.

Powerslyde Profiles – Stories Behind The Apps: Toon Goggles

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My PSA for this week is that my home will soon be overrun by small children off school for Thanksgiving break.  Like many other parents, I must prepare with Costco-sized provisions and electronic offerings a plenty to appease the three foot tall masses. Parenthood isn’t easy but luckily there are family-friendly apps that can make juggling the attention of small kids a lot easier.  Toon Goggles is one of those apps.  James Cahall, Chief Technology Officer for Toon Goggles, Inc., guides me with his wisdom on how we can all survive the upcoming holiday season in one piece. 

James Cahall, CTO

 

Hey James – tell us about your app! Toon Goggles is a 100% kid-safe, parent friendly on-demand entertainment service featuring over 4,600 cartoons and 60 HTML5 games.  It’s available worldwide on iOS, Android, Web, Windows 8, Roku, Google TV, and numerous Smart TVs and is targeted to children ages 2-12.  Content is broken up in to 7 basic categories: Boys, Girls, Action, Comedy, Preschool, Education, and Boom Goggles (user-created content).  The service has been used by over 2,500,000 users since launch in March 2011 and we'll be pre-loaded on over 3,000,000 Android tablets by the end of this year.

Screenshot 1Parents with small kids want and NEED kid friendly on-demand entertainment and Toon Goggles helps address this need.  Brilliant!  Tell us about the team.  Stephen L. Hodge is our Managing Director.  He comes from the music industry helping promote and showcase a variety of different artists and entertainers across a wide swath of genres. Stephen has always been on the forefront of technology and how it impacts business and peoples’ lives in meaningful ways. When the idea for On Demand Children’s Entertainment was initially conceived, Stephen spearheaded the creation of Toon Goggles. He took the concept of providing child-friendly content through applications and the Internet around the world, meeting face to face with all the consumer electronics manufacturers and securing deals with billion-dollar companies such as: Sony, Sharp, Panasonic, Samsung, Roku, Dell, and children’s tablet makers.  Stephen continued this success by identifying mobile gaming as a valuable companion to Toon Goggles, leading to the formation of Dinomite Apps, which brings a share of the revenue back to Toon Goggles.

As for me, I manage everything from scalable server infrastructure to web, mobile and connected TV applications as well as all of our technology development and feature integration.  I lead our platform agnostic design implementation to support delivery to millions of users on virtually all modern devices operating systems such as Roku, Panasonic, etc.  

We have a team of 30+ other individuals working on operations and development including Jordan Warkol (Director of Business Development), Brendan Pollitz (Creative Director) and Jimmy Huynh (Director of Operations). 

Screenshot 3How does Toon Goggles differ from other family friendly apps in the app stores?  You’ve been around since 2011, right?  Yes, 2011!  What makes us different are our features including: users can save content for offline viewing, we’re fully COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) compliant, our modular-based technology infrastructure can be quickly adapted for any content (e.g. Speed, BET, Discovery, Comedy Central, etc.), we’re global and localized in 18 languages, we have the most diverse professionally created content library on any video platform, we have the largest short-form content library curated for children, our contracts with partners are revenue based and we’re the only entertainment service that features children created animations (in partnership with Toom Boom Animation.)

LogoThe years you’ve spent building, testing and refining the app show in the rich content and the family-friendly design.  Can you elaborate on your philosophy behind the design – both for the product and the icon?  All of the designs on our platform have been focused on creating an inviting and engaging experience for children.  While it has evolved over the last several years, we’ve tried to make an interface that feels familiar to kids.  For instance, our mobile applications list shows games on bookshelves and makes categories very clear using discrete colors.  Our app icon breaks the ice with cool goggles to signify our idea of taking life and putting on “cartoon goggles” on it to make it more fun.  The service also allows users to choose screen names and pick avatars to signify what the user associates themselves with most.  Future updates will allow them to interact with other users.  

Screenshot 5What tools did you use for creating the app?  For iOS, we use Xcode, Dashcode, FileMerge.  For Android, we use Eclipse.  For Windows 8, we use Visual Studio Express 2012.  For HTML and JavaScript/CE, we use TextWrangler/Eclipse.  For Server/Back-End/Website, we use Drupal, Amazon Web Services, Kaltura, Git and Source Tree.  For project management, we like Basecamp and Unfuddle.  For Communities, we use Stack Overflow, iphonedevsdk and Drupal.

All those tools and yet for the parents and kids it just feels like it works automagically on all those devices.  What lessons did you learn building your app?  Honestly, the development industry excels in teams working together for common goals.  It’s great to have so many open source tools and developers willing to help others.  We’ve also found quite often that tools were not available for what we needed them to do so we started inventing and pushing the limits of technology.

Screenshot 4What went right and wrong with the development and release? Some of our earliest endeavors with web and iOS involved hiring developers that were not able to meet our high standards and led to products that required an immense amount of re-work.  Since then, we’ve focused on hiring developers that are forward thinking, detail (yet big picture) oriented, and we’ve had exceptional success since then.  Some of the biggest challenges, of course, are trying to support a huge variety of configurations for the many platforms we support (especially on Android where our application has over 85 different configurations).  We also were not prepared for our first large growth spurt last Christmas which led to a short downtime.  We’ve since learned from our mistakes and now are poised to handle several million active users at any given period.

What were you and the team doing before you created Toon Goggles?  Steve (Managing Director) was involved in financing cartoons.  Brendan (Creative Director) was creating movies and was the protégé for Peter Keefe, the creator of billon-dollar licensing earning properties such as Voltron, Denver the Last Dinosaur, and Widget the World Watcher.  I was building military aircrafts before joining on as CTO.  Jordan (Director of Business Development) grew up in the entertainment industry as an actor starting at the age of four, notably playing the role of ‘Froggy’ in the 1995 version of the “The Little Rascals”!  Jimmy (Director of Operations) has a background in children’s education and graphic design.  He was full time in school before joining the team.

What are your favorite apps?  Quora is my favorite app by far and Flipboard is the easiest way to read the news.

James, big congrats to you and the team on helping to change the way parents discover and share quality on-demand family-friendly content with their kids – this is exactly the perfect app that can help any frazzled parent survive holidays, weekends and every day that ends in "y".  

Hey you!  Wanna be featured like our friends at Toon GogglesBe sure to check out www.powerslyde.com/developers.