By: Carol Vercellino, CEO & Co-Founder

The average app loses 77% of its users within the first 3 days of use.

But, if you’re in the process of app development, don’t lose hope just yet. Apps that are successful in retaining users from the very first visit follow this one simple method: benefits-oriented onboarding.

Benefits-oriented onboarding is just that – you focus on the benefits of your app, not the features. 

A feature is a part of your product or service, while a benefit is the positive impact it has on your customer.

So, your goal is to communicate to your users – in the first few moments of them engaging with your app – these three things:

  1. What does your app do?
  2. What value does the app bring to your user?
  3. How can your user integrate the app into their life?

Now, I know you might be thinking, isn’t that what the app description is for? But many users skip reading the app store description to dive right into your app, so your onboarding screens are a brief presentation to help your user understand what your app does.

So, when using the benefits-oriented onboarding method, here are the steps you should consider taking.

 

Share only 3 benefits of your app

Why 3? Information presented in groups of three sticks in our heads better than any other cluster of information. For example, consider “Stop, drop, and roll”, “Blood, sweat, and tears”, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. 

If you don’t want to bore your user or slow them down, avoid overwhelming them with every benefit your app has to offer. Choose the top 3, and then apply the “one slide, one concept” rule.

Apply the “one slide, one concept” rule

Keep each message in your onboarding process clear and focused. If you include too much information on one slide, your user will struggle to retain and remember what you said – possibly leading to a poor user experience.

Using one concept per slide helps your user digest every bit of information in your key message.

Keep it brief and offer a way out

Finally, above all, keep your onboarding brief and succinct. Focus on only providing the essentials so you don’t lose your user’s attention before they start using your app. 

And on every screen, give your users the option of exiting out of the onboarding process to go straight to using your app. Simply place an X in the top right-hand corner. Oftentimes, when users feel stuck in the onboarding process, they’ll close the app and move on to the next solution.

Conclusion

As you build out your onboarding process, go to the app store and check out what other successful apps do to see what works (or what doesn’t). In fact, we break down how the popular guided meditation app, Headspace, nails their onboarding process. Click the link below to watch it now.

And remember, keeping your onboarding process short, sweet, and simple will increase user retention and satisfaction. 

 

Watch our video on App Development Lessons from Headspace.

By: Carol Vercellino, CEO & Co-Founder

If you’ve read the news or seen the new series in the ‘Trending Now’ section of Netflix, you’ve probably heard about the guided meditation app, Headspace.

Headspace is a digital health platform that teaches users how to meditate in only a few minutes a day. As of 2020, it has a post-money valuation in the range of $500M to $1B and 2 million paying subscribers.

As you know, creating a successful app doesn’t happen overnight – or on a small budget – but there are valuable lessons and takeaways startups like you can glean from Headspace to apply to your own app development project.

In the video below, we’ll walk you through the onboarding section of the Headspace app and give you a breakdown of the features they include that help convert their trial users to subscribers.

 

 

Carol: Hi, my name is Carol, and I’m the co-founder and CEO of Oak City Labs Software Development Agency, located right outside of Raleigh, NC. I also have with me Jay, our co-founder and CTO. 

Today, we’re going to talk about the app, Headspace. What it’s all about, how it works, and why it’s one of the most popular apps in the health tech market today. And maybe what it costs to build an app like Headspace.

So, let’s dive in.

First, what is Headspace? 

Headspace is one of the top meditation, sleep, and focus apps in the app store. We’re going to walk through how it works (to some extent).

So, when you download Headspace – and this is an important feature for most apps – you need to log in. And one of the features that I like that Headspace has is that it includes using your Apple ID to log in. 

Jay, why might that be a good feature?

Jay: The sign-in with Apple ID is something Apple introduced fairly recently. It’s tied to your iCloud account, and you can use that to log in to an app. It’s a privacy-focused login, so the people on the other end get an email address they can contact you with, but it’s a smudged email that’s private that you can turn off later. It’s one of the ways you can centralize your login to make it easier to access your apps, but it also keeps your information private.

Carol: I like that better than signing in with a social network, like Facebook.

Okay, so as you walk through Headspace, we’re in what we call the onboarding screen. The onboarding section is the first two screens you see in an app that tells you what the app is and how it works. 

Now, Jay, I know there are different opinions about onboarding screens. Some people think you should have them, and some people think you shouldn’t. What do you think?

Jay: It sort of depends on your app and what industry you’re in. Onboarding screens serve as a really good introduction for a user. It tells them what your app is all about. 

If it’s a really niche utility app, maybe people who come to your app already know what it is. But, an app like this, where they eventually want to sell you services, they really want to make you feel like you’re welcomed. It will provide some value for you, and they can focus on the benefits that you, the new user, are going to get out of that.

So, on this screen in Headspace, they’re already talking to you about what you’re trying to get out of the app and how you can personalize it, and do some recommendations and stuff later based on your responses.

Carol: That’s on the tech side – where we talk about recommendations. It’s kinda like in Amazon where they say, ‘Other people like you may like things like this’. 

Okay, let’s choose some options.

What’s kind of cool here is that the screens change, so you get different colors, which is nice. Let’s go with ‘staying focused’. 

It tells you what you might expect from the app as well. Now, this is an important screen, particularly if you’re going to sell a subscription, which many people will do because sometimes, with the apps, you can’t make as much revenue as you’d like. 

Now, Jay, with the subscriptions, what’s an important thing for somebody to think about, especially since this is through the app store?

Jay: So, with the app store, they’ve got a pretty tight set of rules about what needs to be on the screen. When you’re making the screen, you can go to the app store for examples and iterate on those examples and put your branding in. 

You’re required to describe what the features are and your subscription options. You’ve also got to have the link to ‘Terms and Conditions’, and a link to restoring purchases if the user has a new phone or something like that. These features are what the app store will look at in the review process to make sure it ticks all those boxes with its guidelines and regulations.

Carol: One of the features I like here in Headspace – in the upper right-hand corner – is you can exit out of this section. I think that’s important because users don’t want to feel trapped. They want to feel like they have options. That’s my theory and personal preference. If I can’t exit out of something, I’m done. I don’t want to subscribe.

Jay: That’s what I would be looking for on these open screens too.

Carol: So, I’m going to exit out of this because I’m not ready to subscribe just yet. Okay, so now see the option to set up notifications. This is where you can control it. Why is this screen important, Jay?

Jay: Because the way iOS works, when an app asks for notifications, it’s going to pop up that system dialogue we’ve all seen a billion times. You, as a developer, get to put two lines of text in there, and that’s it. 

It’s considered best practice to have a screen like this where you step people through notifications and the benefit of allowing notifications. Explain why it’s beneficial to the user to click the ‘Allow’ button. As a developer, you only get to ask this once. If the user says no, to enable it later, they have to go into settings and dig through a couple of layers of menus. The chances they’ll do that go way, way down.

Carol: So, we’re still in onboarding mode, which for me, even with an app like this, might be a little long, but we can explore now. And, we can still exit out of here. 

Okay, so if I go to ‘begin’, now it wants to walk me through an exercise. What I like about Headspace are the animations. I’m sure that’s super easy on the development side, Jay?

Jay: Yeah, as long as you have a big team and a lot of time, and budget, you can have animations.

Carol: Let’s talk about the use of haptics as you’re breathing in and breathing out. I can feel it on my phone, which is nice. Is that something developers have to think about?

Jay: Absolutely, you’re integrating that in with animations and graphics. It’s a next-level type of integration.

Carol: So, I exited from there, and on this screen, they want to know how I’m feeling. I’m going to say ‘relaxed’. And we’re still in this beginning stage. I’m going to say ‘maybe later’ because I’m ready to get to the app. The first thing that I notice on the app is that this looks like a native app. Would that be right, Jay?

Jay: As far as I can tell, it looks like a native app. The interface feels native, but it’s also heavily customized and branded. This is a tier 1 app for sure.

Carol: There’s heavy use of graphics and animations. So, when you think about video and animations, there’s probably a lot of costs behind that as well. Wouldn’t you say?

Jay: I would think so. Not only are you looking at development efforts to do the fancy animation and integrate all the video, but you’ve got to have somebody – like a graphic artist or animator – to do the actual graphical elements you’re integrating. And also, there’s a lot of really professional videos in this app, so there are probably teams doing that.

Carol: That’s a good point. A developer can build the app all day long, but if you’ve got a constant heavy app like Headspace, there will be a lot of marketing, and there’s going to be a ton of content creation. And then you have to think about how does that content makes it into the app? So, your developer is not necessarily going to sit down and create content and put the content in there. They may create an interface for other people to put that content in there. So, the administration portion is sometimes a component of development that some people don’t think about.

On this screen, we’ve got a play button with a lock on it. So, if I tap on the button, it will tell me I need to start a trial. If I start a trial, do I have to put in a credit card? How do payments work for this?

Jay: With all iOS apps, Apple has you go through the app store, so this will use the credit card that’s on file with the app store. I don’t think you could have downloaded the app to start with without that already on file. With the free trial, again, that’s through the app store with the normal subscription process. You can manage that on your iOS device. What’s the free trial for this one? A week? Yeah.

The developer can pick that.  A lot of trials are one week long. Once you sign up, it’s going to start automatically. It’s on you as the user to unsubscribe after the trial. If you can get folks to agree to the trial, it’s a good chance they’re going to at least do the first month or first year, and you can convert that to an actual sale.

Carol: If you are thinking about building an app, one thing to consider is the subscription fee. Headspace is $70 annually. How much of that subscription fee do you get to take home, Jay?

Jay: In general, Apple takes a 30% cut. There are programs for small businesses where if you have revenue through the app store of less than one million a year, you can cut that down to 15 percent. For obviously a big tier-one app, they’re going to be paying 30 percent.

Carol: Is there anything else you want to point out with Headspace? For example, when I went to my profile, there’s a ‘share with a buddy’ link. If you can get other people on board, that’s more users for your app, and you can get a network effect.

Jay: Yeah, a little bit of a viral spread of your app.

Carol: So, Jay, how much do you think it costs to develop an app like Headspace?

Jay:  Carol, I’m going to say a lot! Like we talked about, this is a complex app with a lot of machinery behind it in terms of graphics, animations, and video teams. Just given that, you’re talking millions of dollars. 

Carol: And we googled before we did this video that Headspace has over 400 employees, so you think about the costs of the employees and the marketing of the content behind it. This is not a small app. This is certainly something to keep in mind if you want to create an app like Headspace. There’s a whole company behind Headspace that allows you to do all these animations and personalizations for the end-user.

So, we talked about onboarding screens, revenue models, and how that all works behind the app with the administration and recommendation engines.

Jay:  I think you hit on everything. For an app like this, it’s also all the other things that go along with it, the development cost is one thing, but there’s the marketing and content creation. With an end-user app like this, there’s so much marketing and advertising that goes into it.

Carol: Exactly. Thanks for watching if you made it this far. If you liked this video, don’t forget to subscribe to our channel to not miss out on any other videos. And please feel free to leave us some comments and give us some feedback.


**The above interview has been transcribed for clarity and brevity.**

 

Want to learn more about streamlining your users’ experience? Check out this post to learn how to make a great first impression in your app.

How to Get Your App Users to Stick Around After the Free Trial

By: Carol Vercellino, CEO & Co-Founder

 

Free trials are a great way to show users why they should choose your app or software product over anything else.

But how do you ensure your users will renew their subscriptions once the free trial is up?

Today, I’m going to share three ways you can get your users to commit after their free trial has ended. 

 

Nail your onboarding process

How do you nail the onboarding process? There are three ways you can focus on this.

First, you want to create a help center on your website or have a small support team. You could even have part-time folks who can answer technical questions. Make it easy for your users to find you; for example, your support email should be help@yourappname.com.

Second, send users a welcome email with all the information they need about their free trial and how to download the product to get started. You could even turn that process into a welcome cadence where you send them an email once every two days or every day for the first seven days.

Third, you also want to provide in-app native FAQs so your users can open the app, click Help, and quickly get the answers they need.

Empower your users

To get your app or product’s full benefits, your users need to know all the ins and outs. Empowering your customers with educational materials about your product can boost customer loyalty and reduce complaints.

So, first off, you want to offer your users hands-on experience with live demos. If you’re a startup, you want to do this person-to-person, for example, over Zoom, and ask your users how things are doing and if you can answer any questions.

Second, you can create and share useful content on your website, email, and social media. It can be simple how-to’s or tech tips to support your user in achieving their goals through your product.

You can also organize a virtual workshop or webinar. You can do those live or have them pre-recorded so your users can access them anytime via your website.

Make it easy for users to buy your app

This step often gets overlooked, but it’s the most important. Make it easy for your users to buy your app or software product once the trial is up.

Remind users their free trial is about to expire. You can send your users an email or maybe even call them if you’re a startup and have the team to do it. 

You can also provide an early discount if they buy before the expiration of the trial. For example, you can send them an email and say, ‘Hey, if you renew now (7 days before your trial is up), we’ll take 20% of the subscription!’

Also, send a final email that includes step-by-step how users can buy and activate the full version. Make the purchasing process really easy. Find the simplest checkout form that you can have them put their credit card information in (if you can, use Apple Pay). If the product is available in the app store, that makes it pretty easy too.

Conclusion

Your free trial phase is a great way to retain customers, build loyalty, and grow your business.

Make it easy for your free trial users to learn how to use your app or software to its fullest potential, and they’ll move right into the paying phase.

 

Now that you’ve got your users hooked, learn how to streamline your onboarding process, so your app users never want to leave. Read it here.

By: Carol Vercellino, CEO & Co-Founder

 

Today my co-founder and business partner Jay Lyerly and I are going to talk about adjustments you may need to make to your app as the year winds down. So, specifically, Apple’s app store tends to shut down in December, so we’re going to discuss how you can adjust your workflow and processes to ensure that the end of the year can be seamless for you and your app users. 

Watch the video or read throughout transcription to learn what this closure means for developers.

 

Carol: So Jay, what’s the closure about? What does it really mean for developers?

Jay: What usually happens is Apple closes down its app store review around Christmas. I think last year it was from the 23rd to the 27th, so a couple of days before a couple of days after [Christmas]. That just means they aren’t accepting new apps. They aren’t doing the review process, so new apps can’t go into the store during that period. That means for a developer, if you want to get something out before the end of the year, you definitely have to get in before that window. There might be a bit of a rush right before then because a lot of developers are trying to get that last release out for the year.

The other thing to think about is if you’re going to do a big new release with lots of features, you might want to do that a little early in December. Then you have some cushion in case something goes horribly wrong and you need to get out a critical bug fix. Not that that ever happens, but just in case!

 

Carol: What might be a good amount of buffer time? Is it a couple of days? Two weeks?

Jay: For me I think December 15 might be a drop-dead date to get anything big out. That gives you a week or so for any critical bugs to pop up.

 

Carol: That makes sense. Is there anything people need to do now, or just know that the date is coming up?

Jay: Well it’s one of those things to know is coming up. Typically Christmas is one of the biggest days of the year for app installs. People get their new device, so they install a bunch of apps. They see family and say, “Oh, have you tried this new app?” So there are a lot of installs that happen that day, so a lot of people do try to get a new feature out and do a little PR around it before the holidays.

 

Carol: Okay, that makes sense. And I feel like last year and probably years before that I actually have seen Black Friday specials for app downloads. Is that something you’ve seen as well.

Jay: I don’t know off-hand, but that certainly seems like a thing that will happen!

 

Carol: Yeah, I want to say that I got the Things app on a Black Friday special last year. So it’s definitely something people can look out for and consider in their pricing model as well. Anything else people should know?

Jay: I think that mostly covers it. Just don’t get caught blindsighted – “Why can’t I submit my app? OH, they’re closed for a week”

 

If you need help updating or launching your app before the closer, just email us at team@oakcity.io 

by Jay Lyerly, CEO of Oak City Labs

According to new research, Americans check their phones every 12 minutes. And what are they doing on their phone? Well, 90% of their mobile time is spent on apps.

Pretty good news for someone like you wanting to build an app, right? But, if you want to make some headway in this multi-billion dollar industry, two things need to happen:

  1. Your app needs to work.
  2. People need to enjoy using your app. 

Sounds simple and obvious, but knowing is easier than executing. If you want to compete and succeed, you need to have a better understanding of how to build a functional app that can grow with you and will get you 5-star reviews all day long in the app store. 

And it all starts with unit testing. Keep reading to learn the reasons why it’s important to test your app early during development and what questions to ask a developer who’s building your application.

Why Mobile Application Testing is Important

Reason 1: It helps you manage risks

At Oak City Labs, we see applications come in all the time with absolutely no history of testing.

Most of the time, it’s due to working with an inexperienced developer, someone who’s early on in their career and doesn’t understand the value of testing. And sometimes, it’s the organization that doesn’t understand how necessary testing is, and slices it out of the scope to save some coin.

However, of all the steps you take during your app development process, and all the services you invest in to build your app, testing is one of the most important.

Testing helps you manage risks. That’s really what it’s all about.

As your product grows and develops new features, it becomes more complex. If you have solid unit testing, you can rest assured that as you add new features, you’re not going to break existing functionality.

Testing also lets you know that your app will continue to work as expected as your features and product evolve.

Reason 2: It fixes your bug problems

Much like glue traps and pest repellent spray, testing helps your app developer monitor your app for bugs and create tests to address them.

For example, with apps we’re building, if we encounter a bug, we write a test for it (the purpose of that test is to fail), and that lets us illustrate to ourselves and our clients what went wrong.

After we fix the bug, we conduct another test to demonstrate that the solution we chose was the correct one and will ensure the bug doesn’t reoccur in the future.

Reason 3: It helps you stay in compliance

With a health and wellness app, you’re likely in an environment where you need to stay in compliance with HIPAA and other regulations. And by codifying some of those compliance workflows and rules in your unit testing, you can make sure that as you grow, and your app becomes more complex, you stay in compliance. 

Questions to Ask Your Developer About Unit Testing

As you can see, it’s important to start testing early.

As soon as you start writing code that’s not tested, you begin to dig a hole of technical debt. The more code you write, the bigger that hole gets. Later on, you’re going to spend a lot of time (and money) filling that hole back in.

Many codebases that don’t have code fall into this trap. Their code has gotten too big, and the developer can’t fill it in. So, it’s important to stay ahead of the game with your testing.

When you’re talking to a developer who might work with you on building your application, here are some questions you can ask to learn more about how much value they place on unit testing and the process for doing so:
• Do you test?
• What kind of testing do you do?
• When do you test? 

Testing is an investment in the future of your health & wellness app.

Unit testing takes work, but it’s important to ensure you have a stable and reliable app that can grow with you.

A quality software development team will embrace testing as a tool to make sure that your product can make an impact, and customers will love using it — now and as you grow. 

Building a health & wellness app? Read our free guide, The Impact of the ‘World’s Largest Work-From-Home-Experiment,” to learn how you can be on the front lines of COVID-19 innovation. Download it here.

You want an app. Seems simple, right? But much like purchasing a car, there is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to mobile apps. Among all of the decisions you’ll need to make when building your app, from a technical perspective, the most important decision is what type of app will it be? And I’m not talking about iOS or Android (though those are also important decisions to make!). I’m talking about how will your app be built. Native? Hybrid? Web?

Read on to find out about the three different ways your app could take shape.

Native Apps

At Oak City Labs, we consider native apps to be our bread-and-butter. Native apps are built with a specific platform in mind – like iOS or Android. Users download these apps from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Native apps are capable of taking advantage of device features – like the camera, GPS, contacts, etc. – for use within the app. They can also employ push notifications and work with or without access to internet.

From a technical perspective, these apps have a codebase of either Swift/Objective-C for iOS and Java/Kotlin for Android and are built according to the standards set forth by Apple and Google (who also offer SDKs).

Side note: There is also such a thing as a cross-platform native app. You can read more about that here.

Web

A web app is a completely different approach. The easiest way to differentiate a web app from a native app is that web apps aren’t downloaded from app stores. Web apps are built like a website would be with HTML, CSS and JavaScript and can be accessed with your phone’s mobile browser. They are quick and simple to develop, but don’t allow for the wider range of functionality that native apps do like push notifications, integration with the device camera, contacts, GPS and more.

Side note: There are also such things as progressive web apps. You can read more about those here.

Hybrid

So what’s left? A combination of the two types we’ve discussed already: hybrid apps.

As their name suggests, hybrid apps are part native app, part web app. You download these apps from an app store, but they are essentially just a wrapper (called a WebView) around a web app. That would be appealing if you want to spin up a quick minimum viable product (MVP), which is often simpler to do as a web app, but still would like to have users download your app from the app store. The pros: you’ll have access to analytics of app downloads and usage. The cons: performance is inferior to a native app and you’ll likely have to scrap everything and start fresh if you chose to move forward and expand the MVP into a full-fledged native app.

Our Recommendation

We weren’t kidding when we said there is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to building a mobile app. Our best recommendation if you’re just beginning the app development process is to partner with someone who can walk you through the specifics of each approach and guide you into the solution that makes the most sense for both your short term and long term goals. Sound like something you’d like more information on? We’d love to chat with you!

Like many tools, the Git version control system, through a handful of commands, provides the core functionality that most users need on a daily basis. In today’s post, I will touch on one that doesn’t seem to be used as often or, for many users, hasn’t been used at all.

Making One of Two

One of Git’s primary features, that was a huge draw for me when first exposed to it, is branching. Unlike many other systems, branching in Git is simple, fast, and the expected procedure to use for introducing new functionality, fixing bugs, and more.

If you are working alone in a repository, there usually isn’t much of a need to do more than simple branch and merge operations. However, Wwhen you add more contributors, however, managing the work can become a bit more involved, but still be easily maintained with the branch and merge commands.

A Common Occurrence

Let’s say you’ve created a new feature branch off the dev branch, done some work (with commits) locally in that branch, then see that someone else working in a different feature branch has merged their work into the dev branch.

oak-city-labs-trevor-history-lesson-1

You might continue work in your feature branch because the new code doesn’t affect what you’re implementing and vice versa. But often, you will find yourself wanting to incorporate changes and fixes into your current working branch.

At this point, most will reach for the merge command which will definitely do the job it’s intended to: incorporate changes from another branch into the current one. But if you find yourself (or other team members) doing this often, you can wind up with quite a few merge commits which, among other things, can make it a bit more difficult to understand the history of the project. Merge commits don’t go away when you eventually fold your feature branch back into dev.

Rebase

While merging is a common workflow for handling these kinds of scenarios, another option is the rebase command.

The rebase command performs the same work as a merge operation, but in a way that results in a different historical view.

Using the scenario from above, how would things look if you reached for rebase instead of merge?

When you choose to rebase the changes in your feature branch onto those that have been committed in another branch (such as the dev branch your feature branch is based on), the command goes back to the common ancestor snapshot saving the feature branch commits to temporary files. It then switches to the branch you’re rebasing (dev), resetting HEAD to the most recent commit, then replaying those stored commits from your feature branch and reinstating the feature branch.

Now, a look at the history will appear to show that the work you’ve done in the feature branch came after the commits (done in parallel) in the dev branch. No merge commits will “litter” the history of either branch.

oak-city-labs-trevor-history-lesson-2

While this workflow may seem only useful for resulting in clean commit histories, Scott Chacon (Pro-Git) makes a good point that it also provides value when working in a repository that you don’t maintain. By rebasing your work on origin/dev, for example, the maintainer does not need to do any integration work to incorporate your changes; just a fast-forward merge.

The Golden Rule

There is absolutely at least one time when you will not want to employ the rebase command: when your commits have been published outside of your repository.

If you’ve pushed local commits to a remote, do not use the rebase command. It can cause lots of pain and suffering for your teammates (even though there are ways to work around it).

To rebase or not to rebase…

Most people are comfortable with just using the merge command for combining branch work. It’s a completely serviceable practice and, as they will often argue, shows the “true” history of the repository compared to rebasing.

I often reach for rebase when hot fixes or other commits that contain changes I’d like to have while working in a feature branch are made before I’m done. The feature branch will be clear of those merge commits letting me see a clear history of the work and will maintain that clarity when it is merged back into the destination branch.

At Oak City Labs, we’re working more and more with computer vision (CV) and image analysis, so it’s exciting to see how others are using CV to solve problems. Face ID from Apple has garnered a ton of recognition in the past few months as they attempt to use CV to solve the issue of mobile authentication.

FaceID is a technology that Apple shipped in the fall of 2017 as part of the iPhone X. The phone projects a constellation of 30,000 infrared dots onto your face and the user facing camera reads the location of those dots. The phone can use that positional information to create a 3D map with enough detail that it’s unique (with a one in a million chance of false positives).

FaceID replaces TouchID, a fingerprint based authentication technology that is fast and relatively mature. I’ve spoken with some folks who lament the loss of TouchID in favor of FaceID. They miss the ability to unlock a phone with only touch without having to ‘frame’ their face, so the phone gets a good look at it. Others say FaceID is too slow, or doesn’t work consistently enough, falling back to manual passcode entry. While FaceID might have some rough edges in this initial release, in the long term, FaceID will win out over TouchID.

TouchID was a great stepping stone, enabling much better security with relatively low friction. But it didn’t work for everyone. I know several people who aren’t able to consistently unlock a phone with TouchID. In my experience, they all have small hands and slim fingers that don’t seem to adequately cover the TouchID sensor. The other group with TouchID issues all have “end of the world” type cases on their phones. These big, bulky, indestructible cases promise to save your phone from the harsh reality of a concrete world. While they do an admirable job, they often make it physically difficult to place a finger fully on the TouchID sensor, rendering it useless. These are the worst kind of experiences for a technology like TouchID, where they train the user that it’s difficult to use and unreliable.

FaceID solves a lot of these issues. By not requiring physical contact, having the “right size” fingers isn’t an issue. Neither is encasing your phone in drop-proof armor as long as the camera can still see. Other issues with FaceID, like taking too long or having to ‘frame’ your face for the phone are just growing pains associated with an initial release. FaceID is usually fast enough not to notice now, and in a few years time, it will be fast enough to be unnoticeable. I also expect the cameras to continue to improve their field of view so FaceID is effective at wider angles. As the software is refined and the hardware evolves, FaceID will only improve.

FaceID brings something to the table that TouchID simply can’t — continuous authentication. That’s the idea that authentication isn’t something that happens once when you start a session, but something that happens continuously as long as you’re using the device. You see a bit of this on the iPhone X with notifications. When a new notification pops up on the screen, it doesn’t have real content. The phone shows a “New Email” pop up, but no content or who it’s from. When you, the phone’s owner, pick up the phone and look at it, FaceID verifies you and the notification changes to show who the email is from and the first bit of text. Imagine extending this to third party apps like 1Password. When you’re looking at the screen, the passwords might be automatically displayed, but when you look away or put the phone down, they’re obscured again. You could also imagine an online testing service that could use continuous authentication to ensure that you’re the one taking the test and not your buddy who’s much better at calculus. We’re scratching the surface of all new use cases for security and convenience with continuous authentication and I’m very excited to see where we’ll go next.

As FaceID becomes commonplace, we’ll see it adopted in many devices beyond phones and tablets. Because it doesn’t rely on physical contact, like TouchID, it’s easier to see it adapted to devices like AppleTV. In the large screen, 10 foot interface, FaceID could be the key to finally having a seamless multi-user experience. As I approach the TV, I’m identified and verified and I have access to all my content. Kids in the house might be identified in the same way and presented with only their kid friendly content. And if we really want to jump ahead, imagine FaceID for your car, where it unlocks and starts because it recognize you as it’s owner.

TouchID was an incredible innovation in making devices more secure with less burden on the user. FaceID is the next step in the evolution of strong security coupled with ease of use. As this technology becomes a staple of our digital world, we’ll see it applied to more and more niches. As we develop computer vision solutions at Oak City Labs, we’ll be considering how we can incorporate this kind of ingenuity as we solve problems for our clients. If you have a computer vision problem that you need help with, let us know! We’d love to speak to you!

 

During some recent discussions with clients, I noticed we tend to throw around the SDK acronym quite a bit. Today we’re going to simplify what an SDK is, share examples of SDKs and talk through how you might think about an SDK as a potential software product or product extension in the future.

What is an SDK exactly?

SDK stands for software development kit. An SDK is typically a 3rd party chunk of pre-written code. For example, in the majority of mobile apps, a user will need to login and most apps use social logins like Facebook, Twitter and Google. All three companies provide an SDK which a developer “drops” into the mobile application they’re building. That SDK allows the developer to quickly, easily make the right calls (via code) to Facebook for instance to authenticate the user (make sure the user is who they say they are).

Examples of SDKs you might hear used in mobile or even web applications:

Analytics and crash reporting

User Login/Authentication

Notifications, Engagement and Messaging

Advertising

Payments

There are also SDKs available for news feeds, weather data, restaurant reservations, and more.

Potential Downside of SDK usage in mobile apps

SDKs are pretty powerful in terms of speeding up app development. They allow a development team to quickly put a new feature in place without building it from scratch. As always, with great power comes great responsibility. Occasionally, and it’s probably not happening to your mobile app, developers (or product owners) start to integrate multiple ad networks, authentication methods and analytics services. All of these integration points can slow the performance of the app down and also introduce complexity in the troubleshooting process. The SDK will need to be updated when a new version is released by the provider to continue to receive support from the provider. With any new release or change, that update can either introduce or fix bugs. SDKs also introduce a layer into your application that can make debugging (or bug fixing) more complicated. Often times the bug will be in the SDK but the app developers hands are tied waiting for the SDK owner to release an update. Ask yourself these questions before integrating a third party SDK:

  1. Does it provide value to the user of the mobile or software application?
  2. What if the owner of the SDK goes out of business or is acquired (ahem…anyone remember Parse?)
  3. Does it impact the performance and user experience of the app?
  4. Is there clear documentation and support around the SDK?
  5. What security risks will the SDK introduce?
  6. Is the SDK a critical component? If so, are you OK depending on a third party for bug fixes and support?

Building your own SDK

It might make sense for your business to build an SDK depending on your product and market. For example, one of our clients came to us with a connected device for motorcycles (think IoT – Internet of Things). We’ve built an SDK that handles the communication between another mobile application, an IoT platform and the hardware device itself. The SDK is a part of the product and necessary for device operations.

In the case of Facebook or Twitter, the SDK is a free extension of their product that allows the social network to grow and also acquire data on the users. Whenever a Facebook or Twitter SDK is integrated into an app, it potentially allows the app developer to access data about the user and also share that data back to the social network. Yes, if you have an app on your mobile phone, you are likely being tracked for advertising purposes.

Here are a few more examples of potential market opportunities for an SDK:

  1. Connected devices (IoT) where you might want other developers to also integrate your product. Something generic like bluetooth beacons are a great example.
  2. Products that provide a general utility. Analytics services, data services, or “platform” specific products that house data from your application. For example, you might build a platform product that handles user reviews for consumer products. You could provide an SDK that allows a developer to easily pass user reviews from the application to your review platform that centrally stores the user reviews. The platform could then provide analytics on the review data. In that scenario, you might need to gain as many reviews as possible for data analysis and would consider giving the SDKs to developers for free and then sell the data to product companies.
  3. Unique app features that would take a developer extensive time and resources to build on their own, for example unique maps or even making an app screenshot-proof!

SDKs present opportunities and challenges for mobile and software applications. A discerning developer will help you choose wisely and also help you understand if there are potential market opportunities to expand your product. Along with APIs, they can be a pretty powerful tool in the software developers arsenal. If you’d like to chat more about SDKs or any software development project, drop us a note!

Often, our daily challenges are solved with simple solutions instead of overly complex or “clever” ones that even the authors don’t understand a month later.

Not long ago (in a galaxy quite close to our own; okay, the same one), we ran into an issue where we needed to add activity indicators on some tableviews when getting information from a remote data source. At first, this seemed liked a simple case of showing the indicator when the call for data begins then hiding it in the completion handler when the data is returned.

We soon noticed that there were times when the activity indicator was being hidden while a search was still executing. The only code to hide the indicator was in the completion handler so, at first, it was puzzling.

The application’s data access layer often allows that a request for data be “cancellable.” There are times when a request might be in flight (e.g., an initial call for data when the tableview appears) and a user may tap into the search bar and start filtering by keying characters before a previous search has completed. When that happens, the previous search is cancelled, but the completion handler from that search still gets called.

As hiding of the activity indicator takes place in the completion block, this would occur even though another request was still being executed. We needed to prevent the indicator from being hidden until the last request was finished and ignore the other callbacks that would have hidden it prematurely.

Our first thought was to have an ivar that could be incremented when searches were made then decremented in the completion handler. When it reached zero, that would indicate that the last executing search had finished and then, and only then, would hiding of the indicator take place. It was a simple solution and worked as expected.

After considering the number of places this would be useful, we decided to create a struct that exposes two methods:

An internal counter goes up and down with calls to the corresponding method, and false is only ever returned if the value is zero.

Now, when a search is started, the increment method is invoked on the counter and the flag indicating that an update is occurring is set just prior to the call for data:

When the completion handler is called, the decrementWithValue() method is called on our counter and its result assigned to the flag (which also hides the activity indicator):

Now, if a search is cancelled for whatever reason and another search is still executing, the completion handler is still called, but the activity indicator remains visible.

This solution eliminated the need to go deeper into the data access layer and attempt a modification that may have resulted in unexpected behaviors and side effects.

At times, it’s tempting to create “clever” or “elegant” solutions to problems we’re dealing with. And sometimes, those are the things to do. But it’s also valuable to consider the “keep things simple” principle when you’re writing code. Your team (and maybe, your future self!) will appreciate it.