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Stories Behind the Apps

Stories Behind the Apps – gWhiz

gWhizlogoblack - rs

Tell us about gWhiz, who is on the team and what are your roles?

gWhiz LLC was founded in 2008 by Kevin Reville and Mike MacDonald, both of whom had enjoyed success with prior startups.  Early on, they recognized the potential for mobile technology to revolutionize learning so they built a team of dedicated professionals including project managers, technical architects, developers, graphic designers, and marketers to build the company.

How is gWhiz different from similar apps?

The company’s first and most popular educational app is gFlash. This app was the first totally free flashcard app on the app store. It was also the first flashcard app to offer auto-generated multiple choice, adaptive study, flashcard content from brand name publishers (McGraw-Hill, Wiley, and others), Google Docs integration, the capability to share flashcard sets with other users via email, and a matching game. It allows users to study at their own pace and on their own time, wherever life takes them.

What was the inspiration for the design of your app icon and user interface?gflash70

The icon and user interface are a result of gWhiz’s design goal for a fast, mobile flashcard solution. Creating paper flashcards is labor intensive and time-consuming. To create cards directly on a mobile device can have its challenges too.  So co-founder Kevin Reville came up with the idea of creating flashcard content using a Google Docs Spreadsheet.  This enabled users to quickly create flashcards and upload them to their iPhones and share them.  This innovation is one of the app’s greatest features and a differentiator from competitors. It was also the inspiration for the “g” in the icon and the name.

What tools, people, or communities were particularly helped you in creating gWhiz?  The original inspiration was a stack of paper flashcards that sat on cofounder Mike gflashscreenshot2 (1)MacDonald’s kitchen table.  When Mike got the idea from his seeing his daughters flashcards in late 2007, smartphone use had yet to take off.  The first release of gFlash on BlackBerry was met with moderate success.  In 2008, when Apple released the iPhone and iPod Touch, adoption took off.  Our user community has been a great source of feedback.  We obtain feedback directly or through App Reviews.  This has helped greatly and many gFlash features are a direct result of customer feedback. Our publisher partners, McGraw-Hill, Barron’s, Wiley, and others have been very helpful.  They have been in the business of education for a long time and have helped greatly by providing high quality content, advice and guidance.  We have also been fortunate to benefit from close relationships with people working in education – from pre-k to college professors; and naturally our students too!

Most importantly our friends and family have provided immeasurable support throughout the process.

What did you learn?

Our users are absolutely the best students. They excel and get good grades, usually beyond the expectations of their teachers. They are often Advanced Placement (AP) students; law school graduates; studying for the EMT exam or pilots undergoing recertification. They have high expectations and demand reliability, customization, and features that help them learn faster with better results. There is no question they have made our apps better.  For development tools we have used Xcode from the start. We have had a few challenges along the way but have found success learned to expect the unexpected.  With Android, we use Eclipse as part of the Android ADT package to develop gFlash and many of our other apps. With so many phone configurations, it can be a challenge.

What would you say went right and wrong with the release?

We were early entrants into the mobile education space and able to gain first-mover advantage.  As a result, we gained a large and loyal following among students of all ages and remained the number one Educational app in the App Store for over a year. 

What were you doing before launching gWhiz?

IMG_gWhiz Team (1)Co-founder Kevin Reville has managed the development of hundreds of applications. He has been the project manager for every key publisher partnership to date. Prior to its acquisition by The Boeing Company, Kevin was instrumental in the creation and growth of Conquest, Inc. — a premier provider of advanced large-scale systems and software technology solutions to federal and commercial users.

Mike MacDonald co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer has oversight for the overall design of new apps to ensure consistency and maintain the vision across platforms.  He has also led the development of many of the gWhiz apps and is a key innovation leader in the industry. Mike is former founder and CEO of Visual Mining Inc., a leading provider of data visualization capabilities. Mike has over 20 years experience developing commercial-grade software applications.

What are some apps that inspire you?

As a small company, we have turned to social media to get our message out. So Facebook, Twitter and Buffer are key apps we use on a daily basis.  We found inspiration in Words with Friends in developing one of our other apps.  We wanted to integrate gaming in a test prep app to help make studying fun!  We liked the idea of gamification and wanted to create a compelling to integrate into a test prep app.  

Head over to the App Stores and download gWhiz!

iTunes and Google Play

Hey Devs!  Want to be featured like gWhiz?  Head over to this link and apply!

Powerslyde Profiles – Stories Behind The Apps: Pets in Pants


Omri, this app looks fun, tell us about it.  My app is called ‘Pets in Pants’ published by Picpocket Books in the USA.  It’s a fun and wacky app featuring some great characters wearing some crazy underwear when their owners backs are turned.

Who built the app?  I am the writer and creator of all the text, images and animation cells.   Picpocket Books created all the programming, narration and sound effects.  Some additional sound effects were produced by my wife who is a voice actor and I did a couple of the animal sounds.


Omri Stephenson – creator of Pets in Pants

How is Pets in Pants different from other app books?  My app is an interactive version of my picture book Pets in Pants (published by Indepenpress) aimed at ages 2-6.  It has the option of reading to the child or they can read it themselves, as well as interact with the characters and elements on each page that are animated and make great sounds.  There’s also a groovy soundtrack on repeat which hopefully goes with the slightly retro look of the images.
Who created the icon and UI? I designed the logo in Photoshop while the interface was part designed by myself in Photoshop and made interactive by Picpocket Books.

PIP App icon

What tools assisted you in creating the app?  I created all the illustrations in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, using Illustrator to create the backgrounds and charecters and Photoshop for detail and layering.  The people at Picpocket Book, based in Washington DC did all the programming and interactivity as well as the narration and soundtrack.

What did you learn building this app?  When I started the production, I had planned on the process taking about 3 weeks, and was told this by the developer, but it ended up taking quite a lot longer as there was a lot of content, i.e. many animations cells of the pets and other elements.  Also the creation of the different cells was time consuming, as was choosing sounds and narration.

What went right and wrong with the development and release? In the end, I was happy with the overall look of the app, the narration and soundtrack.  I also liked the interactivity but would have liked the animation to be interpolated smoothly – hopefully in the next version!

PIP_HamsterWhat were you doing before creating Pets in PantsI have been working as a freelance illustrator and designer in London UK, running a small agency called OGS Designs for over 15 years creating artwork, graphics and animation for publishing, promotional projects and the web.  Before that, I worked in computer games and production companies in London, UK.  As a young boy I’ve been passionate about cartoons and animation and later studied computer imaging and animation in London producing short films using 3D Studio Max.  Lynette Matke CEO of Picpocket books has been working in childrens apps for over 4 years and has close ties with a number of leading childrens interactive web developers.

What are some apps you can't live without? I think Shazam is a work of musical discovery  genius and I love the Real Guitar app for iPhone, which sounds fantastic. I also love the app for Flying Books who have recently published some of my picture book titles. It allows you to create your own narration – and even your own book!  

Head over to the App Store to download Pets in Pants for iPhone or iPad.

Hey you app devs!  Wanna be featured like our friends at Pets in PantsBe sure to check out

Powerslyde Profiles – Stories Behind the Apps: Simply Declare

As corny as it sounds…powersylde is powered by people. It is this authenticity that fuels our app discovery. When telling the story behind powerslyde, we realized that every app has a story that humanizes it and allows us to relate to it in a new way. This week begins a new series where we are going to feature the incredible people and stories behind some great apps. Welcome to our first profile taking a look at Simply Declare, a travel app for iOS.


Hello Rae Mapey, creator of Simply Declare tell us how your app came about.

Simply Declare Travel app was created out of necessity. There were four of us sitting around, the night before returning home from abroad, and the inevitable question of “where are your receipts, cause we have to figure out our declarations?” came about. We all have iPhones, and iPads and I thought there had to be an app for keeping track of your declarable purchases. I searched for quite a bit in the Appstore to see if there was something which would work for the traveler, but there wasn’t any on the Appstore. I took a couple of months to research and really think about how I wanted the app to work. It would be a commitment of at least three years to get the app known in the marketplace. Everyone thinks it’s a” get it on the store and watch it sell”, but it is such a competitive marketplace you really have to devote time and money every day to keep it moving. There isn’t a day which goes by which I haven’t spent time making people aware about my app.

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Simply Declare creator Rae Mapey

Who is behind the app?

I am the epitome of an indie app. I did hire a company to write the currency code to my specifications, and I have had some great help from family and friends to make sure the app was going in the right direction. But the decisions, some good and some which needed quick changes, I take full responsibility. I do all the social media and the marketing of the Simply Declare, both paid and free versions, and am always searching for the right path for the app to take.

How is your app different from similar apps or competitors?

People often think of Simply Declare as an expense reporting app, but it isn’t at all. Simply Declare is for the world traveler to manage their duty free allowances by quickly and easily entering in their hard good purchases to keep them in the know about how much they have to spend before duty might be applied upon their return home. I wanted the app to work from any currency to any currency, and allow the traveler to hop from country to country. If a traveler is going from the States over to Europe, depending on where they are, they might travel through three or four different countries. So at the beginning of the trip, put in your allowance amount and then your home currency (which only needs to be set one) and the trip is started. The suitcase on the front page will always tell you how much room you have to spend before you are over the limit you have spent. The items you buy just tap and enter, pick the currency of the country you are shopping in, and even add a snap of the receipt for safekeeping. But the user can also be from Great Britain traveling to Australia. Any of the supported currencies can be worked either way. If you are traveling to an unsupported country, then you can even add a custom currency rate. Simply Declare will update your purchases in your home currency in real-time, so if you are away for an extended period of time and there is volatility in the currency markets, you will always know where you are in your purchases.

How did you design your App UI and App icon?

The suitcase with the currency symbols just seemed to be the picture with a 1000 words philosophy. The currency symbols say world travel, and the suitcase will be filled with the goodies one brings home. The app had to look and feel simple. It’s a stress to have to stay on budget, because we all hate the idea of filling out our declaration forms and having the border agent possible stop us and check our purchases. Simply Declare had to be Simple, first and foremost. The currency code is extremely intrinsic and I take it as a great compliment when people tell me the app looks and feels pretty simple.

What processes and/or people inspired or assisted you in creating the App?

I am grateful to many wonderful people who I have met with the development and the marketing of the app. I have hit a couple of road blocks, but if it were an easy process I think to myself “Wouldn’t everyone do it?”.I have a couple of friends who have helped me with doing the screenshots and my sister is a great editor when I am publishing marketing material. I try to take constructive criticism from the Appstore reviews to help make the product a better one. I have implemented a few suggestions from users to also strive to make the product better. The industry is fairly new, and there are hits and misses in the learning curve, but it’s has been an absolute blast learning and changing with the times.


The motto that hangs over Rae’s desk to remind her that she is in it for the long haul.

What lessons did you learn building your app?

The biggest lesson for me was to know you can’t be perfect to all, and you have to stick to your intuition about your product. And you have to grow a fairly thick skin to deal with the negatives. There is always one review which you wish you could just answer them back. Someone put a negative review in because of something so simple. I designed the app to have a couple of escape routes, so you didn’t hit the wrong button and delete all your information. One person wrote in every time he hit the “Start New Trip” button it would take him back to the beginning. I wanted to tell him to hit “items” instead. I made the “Start New Trip” button the biggest to make sure people didn’t hit the wrong button. Mostly the reviews have been tremendous and I have gotten very lucky to have had my app showcased on CNN and on great websites like PCWorld.com and Smartmoney.com Travelers and Review sites are finding and liking the app, which makes me very proud. It comes down to just taking a chance and trying something new.

What went right and wrong with the final development and app release?Ipad 4

Translations of the app were probably the most frustrating thing to do. When you are an indie developer you want to conserve your cash flow as much as possible so you think why not use “Google Translate” to do the translations. It took hours, and unfortunately wasted hours, as the results were somewhat hysterical to the users. The words on Google translate are good, but more than often misses the meaning of the word, when put in the written context of the app. My funniest example was in the Japanese translation of “BACK”, as in to go back in the app, the Google Translation meant “Hair Receding”. My lesson learned was to make sure you budget to have professional translations done to make sure the app works properly all over the world. . What went right was researching the idea, and finding a company who knew what they were doing with the code. The code is so important. There is nothing worse than having the code or the app break and cause the app to fail. If the user has to put up with a crashing app, they will dump the app and they will be more likely to tell people to not buy the app, rather than to buy the app.

What were you doing before you created this app?

I work in a pharmacy as a bookkeeper. I have always worked with accounting and inventory software systems, but Simply Declare is my first foray into development.

What are some of your favorite apps?

I like productive orientated apps. I have a few games, and I prefer word games but do partake in a session of Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies, but mostly I like apps which make my life easier.

Head over to iTunes App Store and download Simply Declare.

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