by Jeff Hodnett (@jeffhodnett)
Opuss is a new service that i’ve been working on with Adam Neilson(@adamneilson) and Chris Knight(@chrisknight2) for the past 2 or so months. It’s a new and exciting way to read, write and share all the best words in the World.
The idea for Opuss was conceived by Adam and refined with me in coffee shops, whereby I picked apart the idea to see if it could be a useful/successful product. Adam had a really rough prototype created originally to get a feel to see if it could work. It did!
We both could see the value in this product so I jumped onboard the Seamonster team to get started and make this happen.
So where to begin? Well thankfully Adam had created a simple web-service api from his original prototype. Plus we went through some simple features we wanted in version 1.0. The first main problem was setting the brand/theme for the product. It was important to actually have something that looked and felt great, because we wanted users to say ‘oh wow! really nice graphics!’ when using it. Luckily i knew an amazing designer who was also free at the time, the one and only Chris Knight.
The original Opuss xcode project was created using the new ARC feature. I used this for a while, but finally my meticulous nature cracked and turned it off. I like knowing that i’m in charge of my memory management. Also i was using alot of libraries that did not use ARC, so constantly swapping between classes that used it and didn’t was getting frustrating, so finally i disabled ARC! About 400+ memory leak fixes later i was back in my comfort zone!
I must also point out on starting this, we were/are not financially backed by anyone so getting this out the door was a big priority, but we also didn’t want to deliver something useless, so we did take alot of time working on user experience. I think i re-wrote one view controller five times to make us happy with the way it worked. In the end, if your not happy with it, then actual users will definitely not be.
App Design Evolution
The main feed screen is the most important screens in the app, as it’s what people will be focusing on. You can see the original prototype screen Adam did on the left and the current new one on the right.
There is nothing wrong with these original designs really, the screen functions fine. But basic things like the buttons generally being too small on the headings, the view was very cluttered and confusing icons all needed to be addressed. As you can see the finished version looks very nice, so it’s very important to have a great designer to set the style of your app.
The ‘Find’ view was one we struggled with alot. We wanted to make the discovery as easy as possible. But there were too many options really try and squeeze into the view. We wanted users to be able to search by text, keyword and author along with maps and filtering by types!!
One of the original solutions we came up with on the left had a UITableViewController in this UIViewController. Selecting a row would push in another list of items in the UITableViewController but the main view would not move. It looked weird! We took a step back and thought about the problem for a while. We finally came up with the control on the right which is in the final app. It works really well we think because it has all the content displayed in a concise way to the user, along with the enticement of exploring new content.
Beta Testing and Apple Feedback
I cannot state enough the importance of getting a group of beta testers. With great services like testflightapp out there really you have no excuse if you don’t! We ended getting around 50 beta testers which helped us no end. Most of the feedback was on extra features requested, so we really had to limit what we spent time including as we wanted to get this to market as quickly as possible.
We also attended the Apple Tech Talk World Tour that was on in London and were lucky enough to get some facetime with some of the Apple speakers. We showed them the app and were thoroughly impressed with the nice UI and intuitive user experience. We did get some great feedback though, mostly about button hit area size and colors/contrast of text, but overall it was good! They had a great tip about area of focus on your app. Hold your phone at arms length away from you and see what areas you naturally focus on. Very useful to see if something is taking too much of your attention away from the desired main content.
It took around 80 days from when Chris & myself came onboard with Adam to get the Opuss app to the app store. It’s not something that i can stand back and go, ‘theres nothing more to do’, it’s quite the opposite in fact! The second you start to work on something for yourself, you suddenly have a flood of new ideas. It’s all about managing these ideas and not getting bogged down spending 18 months creating something that the timing has come and gone. Get it out there and work on making it better while it’s live, users will appreciate the effort and enjoy watching your product grow and evolve.
I also can’t stress enough the importance of designers. Without them your app looks like everyone else’s. Chris has kicked my ass into recognizing when stuff looks bad over years of working together. So it’s worth the time to work with a designer to really make your work stand! Go the extra mile!
Where Opuss goes next? We have some great ideas to where it can go, along with the different platforms we want to support. Since Opuss is text based, an iPad app is a big box we want to tick soon!
You can download the Opuss iPhone app for free here on the App Store:
Jeff Hodnett has dabbled with mobile development since 2005. He has previously worked for IBM and as Head Of Development for a digital agency in London. Currently he is Technical Director of Seamonster Ltd. You can follow him on Twitter @jeffhodnett
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