EDTECH 597: Developing a Chocolate App Thats Good Enough to Eat!

These are three of the screens from my “Christmas Chocolate” mobile app. It’s likely that some features will change as I continue developing this app.

It doesn’t seem possible that we could be in week 12 of school, but I’m pleased to be here, because I’ve learned so much in my apps class. I’ve gone from someone who had no clue about designing apps to someone who now has enough background to move forward with confidence into the final weeks, even if I’m not completely certain about how I’m going to build one of the components of the app (my timer feature).

Chocolate on Google Trends

As I mentioned last week, I’ve decided on a chocolate-themed app to help promote my Examiner.com food column. I’ve done some additional research on Google Trends and found out that the most searches for chocolate are in the month of December. I’ve also searched on Google Keyword Tool and found that people are starting to search for terms like “chocolate app,” “mobile chocolate,” and “mobile phone chocolate.” This tells me that it’s not only a good time to roll out the app, but this research also gives me a clue about what kinds of keywords I should use in my article title and body. The more I’m aligned with what people are searching for on the web, the more successful this part of the app launch will be.

Below are two graphics of Google Trends, which show the results of people’s searches for the keyword “chocolate.”

This graphic shows a keyword search for “chocolate mobile apps.”

The graphic below shows how people have searched for the term “chocolate” over the period of a few years. Information like this is useful when you’re developing online content or trying to market something.

This graphic shows a Google Trends search for the word “chocolate.” As you can see, the term peaks at the end of the year, making a Christmas time roll out of a chocolate app logical.

Building and then Rebuilding

Right now, I’ve gotten most of the visual components worked out and some of the operational bugs. I was most concerned about creating the splash screen and making a functioning list feature for the recipe portion of the app. At the moment, my app has seven pages. There will be more, but the basic seven represent every type of page that I’ll be dealing with. It’s likely that once I get all the components placed, I’ll start the app from scratch, so that my file isn’t too large and so that I’ll eliminate any visual elements that don’t please me as much right now. But I have plenty of time for that in the coming weeks.

I’m really pleased with how much I’ve learned in this class. It’s surprises me, actually, considering that I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my ability to program anything. But now I have this tool that I can really leverage to help me move my writing business to the next level.

EDTECH 597: Mixing Chocolate Chip Cookies and Mobile Apps! Yum!

ADP-Naillon

The time has finally come in EDTECH 597 for me to develop my own app as the final project for the class. I’ve actually been thinking about this for the last several months, because I wanted to not only incorporate some of the elements of app development that I struggled with and finally mastered into one app, but also I wanted to create something that would help my promote my writing business. And because the app’s due date coincides with the end of the semester and the Christmas holiday, I thought I would incorporate a holiday theme into the app as well.

I’ve decided to do a food app would allow me to develop more of a following—especially for my Boise Food Examiner column, which gets quite a few readers this time of year. Since the app is due toward the middle of December it provides me with a perfect opportunity to send a Christmas card in the form of a mobile app and start building a more comprehensive marketing plan for my writing, starting with my food column. For the Christmas holiday, I’ll center thematically on the theme of chocolate since recipes like my chocolate chip cookie recipes have gotten a lot of traffic this year.

Recipes for bacon chocolate chip cookies have been a popular choice for readers of my column.

Developing my Cooking App

As I started developing this app, I looked at several food apps on Google Play as a source of inspiration, pulling the elements that I liked from several of them as well as adding a few ideas of my own based upon what I wanted the app to do as well as on the app building skills I’d still like to develop. I also had to consider the limitations of the App Inventor. For example, I wanted to have a step-by-step feature that would allow the user to click through each step of the recipe so that only one step at a time would appear on the screen, making it easier to read. At first, I wanted to make this feature a change screen feature. However, I realized that doing this would likely put my well over 5 megs, which is all the the App Inventor allows for a single app right now. Therefore, I settled on the list feature coupled with the label feature that we used in the President’s Quiz app last week.

I also wanted to provide a hyperlink to my Examiner page to start introducing some of my travel writing clients to that aspect of my career and to provide an element to the app that constantly brings a new element to the app for the people who already read the column. Each time I publish a new article on my Examiner page in certain categories, that will add to the list of recipes and articles that users of the app will see giving them more choices as time goes on. And from an aesthetic standpoint, these pages of Examiner have a pink color element to them, which is one of the colors that I wanted to use in the app’s visual design (along with browns for the chocolate).

Promoting my App and Publishing More in the Future

To promote the app, I will include a picture of the QR code in the slide shows of my Examiner page. I’ll also send out holiday emails to my clients and promote the app and the QR code on my Facebook and Twitter accounts, which between the two of them have almost 2,000 followers.

In the future, I’d like to roll out an app about every three months, allowing me to build momentum, gather names for my mailing list and launch either a paid app at the end of 2013 or possibly even a cookbook that can be published by a local publisher I know and have a relationship with, Freundship Press.  The company is the publisher of an anthology of women writers called Eclectic Collage. Some of my writing appears in this anthology, so it’s a logical next step.

EDTECH 597: Mobile Learning in the Larger Picture

This week’s mobile app for EDTECH 597 was in some ways for me the most practically related to the school experience since it was the Presidents Quiz. The purpose of the app is pretty straight forward. Create an app that allows you to make a quiz. It could be used for studying in any circumstance, I suppose, although in the example in the book, used U.S. presidents, the quiz can be adapted to any subject. In my case, I made a quiz about German Romanticism since I studied German at the undergraduate level, so that’s a subject I know a little more about.

Three of the screen shots for the German Romantic Period quiz app.

Mobile Apps for the Romantic Period

I picked the Romantic Period, because it was the one in which Goethe lived. He had a huge influence not only during that era, but in German history in general. In fact, there is a Goethe Institute today, and when I lived in Berlin we took a train tour across Germany to visit some media outlets like radio stations and PR departments. Because its purpose was in part cultural, the Goethe Institute paid for our week-long trip.

I also selected that era, because I like the literature and the art that arose from that period of time. It was an age in which the cultural artifacts were infused with a kind of magic or mysticism, which is a component of Romanticism in general and something that appeals to my personal sensibilities as a writer.

No Infrastructure, No Apps

All of that said, I was reminded again that the purpose of technology for this degree is to use it to better educate people. This was brought sharply into focus for me, because in my other class EDTECH 501, we’re doing our digital divide project. For our assignment, we are to make suggestions about how a state can implement technology into the learning experience. I had pulled an article from CNN, which I spoke about in an earlier blog post for this class. It dealt with cell phones in Africa and how they are changing the intellectual landscape with education being one of the things phones will change. In Africa, people often use them in place of computers, because they’re cheaper and more mobile. And because there is enough equipment to get cell coverage so that people can access the internet.

This proved to be a key component of the assignment. How do we reach students and school districts whose infrastructure really isn’t completely up to par or non-existent. Having a cell phone won’t matter if there’s no tower to get a signal. It is a more complicated issue than I originally looked at when I started this class. It still does fall under my original question of “What is the most logical end to this technology?” It doesn’t matter how good a mobile app is. If people can’t download it, because they don’t have the infrastructure then all the good that went into its development is going to be lost to a segment of the population.

EDTECH 597: Mobile App Dilemma Du Jour — The Problem with the Comma

Here’s my version of “Android, Where’s My Car?” It includes the addition of nearby restaurants and eateries that you can go to after the game is over.

It turns out that commas are important in more than just language. They are apparently important in building mobile apps as well as I discovered while building this week’s app for EDTECH 597, “Android, Where’s my Car?”. While there were a few things that I misread on the blocks, causing my app to sort of function, but not the way it was supposed to, the final thing came down to making the maps work. The offending issue was a comma between the two coordinates.

The Power of a Comma: Not Just for English Anymore

I bought the class book on Kindle for the desktop, thinking that it would be more convenient since I’m already on the computer anyway, and since one of my fascinations with the mobile apps class in the first place is how books are changing and how mobile apps will affect that. It turns out that the writing is very small, so what I mistook for two text block placeholders were in fact, commas. Being a very visual person, the written instructions don’t often make sense to me until I’ve walked through the steps a couple of times using the blocks. It took me hours to finally put two and two together. In hindsight, an app that should have maybe taken five hours tops, took me between 10 and 12 hours. Ugh!

The section of the App Inventor blocks giving me trouble. The tiny commas are circled. Oops!

But some good things happened as well. I got to explore a theme that I learned about a long time ago when the web and websites were really starting to come on with a vengeance. I met this woman who wanted to create a Boise-themed website. One of the ideas she had was a theme page that would make recommendations for where people could eat after the BSU game. I thought that this was a clever idea, and for about the last 15 years, that idea has come back to me off and on.

Working with Themed Mobile Apps

Now that I’m in this class, it occurs to me that this theme in many ways is better suited for mobile apps because of the, well, mobile aspect of the device. My thinking is that if you’re already at the game and you decide to wait things out until the traffic dies down before you even think about moving your car, then having the information at home on your computer won’t do you much good. True enough, it’s information that people can write down, but having an app for this purpose makes a lot of sense. You just click on the app and a list of restaurants and coffee shops near BSU along with maps and some information about them are at your fingertips. This type of app goes hand-in-hand thematically with the GPS aspect of this week’s app as well, because if you do walk to say The Ram in Boise from the BSU parking lot, you can set the GPS for your car, walk to the restaurant, and then find your car on your return.

As I’ve mentioned many times in these blog entries, I want to know the most logical way to develop an app guided by the question, “What is the most logical end to the development of this app?” In other words, where are the circumstances surrounding its creation taking me. I really saw this for the first time last week, and now this week’s app is pointing me in that direction as well. The addition of the restaurants and eateries around BSU logically extended the app’s reach well beyond—but not illogically—past the original parameters of the assignment. Besides the visual design aspect of the class, this has to be my favorite part of being in EDTECH 597.

Mobile Apps: Keeping People Out of the Way of Hurricanes

On a related note, it looks like mobile apps are helping people on the East Coast deal with the incoming storms. There was an article in CNN this week about tracking Hurricane Isaac. If anyone needed up-to-date information and GPS capabilities, the folks in the paths of these storms would certainly be candidates. While it’s not certain yet how the storms will affect satellites having mobile capabilities to reach the web at least for a while must be very helpful. These are quite logically storm-tracking devices.

Finally, because of the difficulties that I had in developing the app this week, I didn’t have as much time to work on the visual design aspect. I did some. I included the blue and orange for BSU and created a clean interface, but it’s still rather dull-looking. I would change that aspect in the future.

EDTECH 597: Revisiting Trier, Germany Via Mobile App

The Trier walking tour and landmarks apps gives the user some history plus a pictorial reference to each UNESCO site featured on the app as well as access to Google Maps.

This week’s EDTECH 597 mobile app broke through many of the challenges that I’ve wanted to resolve for weeks, but didn’t quite know how. The original theme of the app in the book was “Paris Maps Tour,” which I changed to a “Trier, Germany UNESCO Landmarks and Maps Tour” mobile app. Through the process of developing this app, including its many prototype incarnations, I finally was able to not only create an app with more than one screen, but also change pictures on the app depending upon which button I pushed and to access the internet via Google Maps. This maps portion of the app development was also part of the original assignment.

The Nine Lives of the Trier Walking Tour App

The various incarnations of this project were many pages long—I think about six. However, for the final one, I turned in just a 2-page app. The multiple page app had a few bugs that I really wasn’t able to solve this week. However, I’m not sorry I went down the road that I did, because I’m looking at each app as a way to direct my thinking for my final app.

I know that I want that app to have multiple page and audio capabilities, so I’m pushing the envelope as far as I can on each assignment to see what kinds of abilities I’ll be able to bring to the table and to give me an idea of what kinds of problems I’ll be able to realistically solve during the process even if I don’t have all the know-how now. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I often solve problems for previous apps as I’m working on another app. In fact, the answer to one of the problems that I had for that app—how to increase a line size—came to me and now I know how to do that.

Design Solves Problems: Creating Orc Armies with Technology

Additionally, this week once again taught me that it’s the nature of good design that it solves problems. I am reminded of the stories that I’ve heard about when Peter Jackson was directing Lord of the Rings. He needed to be able to create large scale orc armies on screen, but at the time, there was no software that could do that so his production team created a program called Massive that would design individual orcs with their own decision-making capabilities on-screen.

Jackson said that he was forced to create these solutions, because he lives in New Zealand and didn’t have access to larger production houses like Sony or Industrial Light and Magic. If he wanted an effect in his films, he and his team had to create it. I’m starting to really look at app development in this light.

 

The Long Road in App Development

Currently, I work as a travel writer. One of the things that the company that I write for is doing is starting up walking tours of Cascade, Idaho with the idea that they’ll have many tours eventually. I thought about this and about the experience I had when I visited Trier, Germany several years ago. While I was touring the Karl Marx House Museum, I was given a hand-held device that told me about each exhibit. This week, I wondered how I could bring the type of information that the hand-held device gave me to the mobile app experience. It would have been cool to have an app for each of the sites that I visited in Trier—one that would give me a bit of information about each site plus a pictorial reference so that I would know that I was at the right place. I then brought my thinking a bit further by applying these same lessons to the walking tours we’re currently doing.

It might even be something we could package down the road and sell. It would allow us to duplicate ourselves without adding manpower. For the first time since I started the class, I’m beginning to understand the answer to the question I put forth in one of the early blog posts for this class, which is “What is the logical progression of outcomes that can happen from this?” or “Where will this path logically lead and how can I apply what this information is telling me to the apps that I’m developing?”

In reality, it wasn’t until I wrote this post that I realized what kind of economic impact this could have on the business I work for. It didn’t even really occur to me until I wrote it that we could save manpower, but still make money by developing apps like this. It was a good breakthrough!