I feel like I spent the last year saying “We’re going to be shipping soon.”
Last night, around 7:30, I pressed the “Submit for Review” button on Codeless 1.0. And now here’s the part I hate. The waiting.
This morning it went into review. Everybody cross your fingers. We’re (hopefully!) about to send this thing out into the world and see how many people want to be friends.
Every so often, I’m at my desk working and I glance to the left. There’s a large window there. It looks down Bastion Square, past the Maritime Museum, and to Victoria’s inner harbour.
This is why I’m grinning right now.
I just got back from a couple of weeks in Peru. Attending my sister-in-law’s wedding, checking out Lima, marvelling at Machu Picchu, and spending a couple days in the amazon.
Today is the 20th anniversary of the iMac. Those gumdrop coloured balls of joy that brought the Mac back to being trendy. I don’t remember when I saw my first one – probably the blueberry one that my Dad bought for his print shop. But I remember seeing a Blue Dalmation iMac on a trip to Vancouver, and it was absolutely eye-catching. I remember stopping on the sidewalk and staring into a store window with my jaw somewhere near the sidewalk.
I used to go to the office with my Dad after supper. He had work he wanted to do. I wanted to read Star Trek fanfic on the iMac – it’s 56k modem was screaming fast, and Internet Explorer didn’t crash under the weight of the stories I was reading. I had a Classic II in my bedroom, but it’s 4 MB of memory had trouble handling really long webpages.
Twenty years ago, those of us who used the Mac were still in the ‘little bit insane’ category. I grew up in a Mac household, because my family was in printing, and I caught grief on it from my friends. I couldn’t play the games they could play. My browser couldn’t load the same websites. When I started getting into coding, nobody else really knew what Hypercard was and why it was so cool. So I went online and found friends who cared about the same computer I cared about.
The iMac always struck me as a powerful computer.
Over the past few days, I’ve gotten asked how long we’ve been building Codeless a few times. I thought I’d write it down somewhere.
I’ve always liked punching above my weight. When I was thinking about what project I wanted to pour myself into next, Codeless appealed to me. An app where you build apps – that seems more like something an Apple or an Adobe should do. Which made it the perfect project for me and my tiny development team.
I started writing Codeless in May 2015. For the first year-and-half it was strictly a ‘nights and weekends’ project. Nobody else on my team even knew I was working on it. It came out of a long period of reflection I did – how could we make the development process smoother?
I actually built three full prototypes of the software before showing it off to anyone but my husband. All three were woefully incomplete by the current standards of Codeless. They were crashy, they lacked actions, there was no scripting at all. Swift export didn’t even exist. But they were enough to convince me that it was time to start spending real money and time developing an app where you build apps. This was a way to smooth development.
When I finally showed it to my team, it was time to ditch my previous work and start fresh with the knowledge I’d gained from those prototypes.
We were able to move fast. We took the last prototype and bought coffee for developers, designers, and entrepreneurs here in Victoria. The consensus was that yeah, they were interested in apps, but yeah, they also wanted a faster way to build. Time and money are crucial when you’re building something new, and everybody knew that apps were expensive in both ways.
In the shop, Adam and Brendan worked hard building up the app’s architecture. Owen came by for the summer and helped flesh out the business plan. Jen figured out the voice of the product and figured out how to speak about it. I pitched in where I could, mostly building out features and making sure we stayed true to the vision.
I also started dogfooding it as often as possible. Building out concepts for prospective clients and showing them how their app would feel if they went with Whole Punk. Creating silly little apps (like my ‘dog quotes’ app) and serious ones too (a mobile app to talk to our bug tracker, apps to track our validation efforts).
By December of 2017, we were ready to go into beta. Our small beta list looked at the product, and expressed that it was good – but could it do more? Could they build whole apps, just on the iPad? So we did what any seriously normal people would do. We wrote a scripting language and a standard library and added it in.
Their brings us to now. Last Thursday we stood up in front of the Victoria Web and App Developers meetup and demoed Codeless to a room for the first time. The feedback we got was fantastic.
One person told us that he was a QA guy, but he could see himself building out apps with this – he already had an idea about something he wanted to build. Another told us that he thought a tool we’ve built in for hookup up JSON was super slick. One woman wanted to know how it worked on a mini – and let us know that she’d be checking that out herself!
We’re still not at the finish line. To be honest, I don’t even think we’re at the start yet. But we’ve trained for this marathon and we’re ready to run it.
(This has been in my drafts folder for a while, but today I saw this article on Techcrunch and I had to post it. If you want to talk or argue about this idea, you can find me on Twitter @warwick or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I love bookstores. The smell of ink and paper. The tall wooden shelves. The slow walk that browsers take on while they survey subjects I never knew existed.
I come from a print family – my grandparents and parents owned print shops. Bookstores always remind me a little of home. So I’m in a position to tell you – we print books for the bookstore… but we print everything else too.
We print business cards, memo pads and calendars. We print college course catalogs, business forms, and direct mail advertising. And no sane bookstore would stock any of it.
But it’s important that it gets printed. Print allows for so many useful things, and almost none of them have any place in a bookstore.
I’ve taken a different course from my family, but really it’s not that different. I don’t own a print shop. I own an app shop. From a little office in the downtown of Victoria, BC, my team and I create software for your phone.
I believe that there are apps that should be in the store. Apps that broadly apply to a mass audience, whether you’re in Victoria or New York. I’ve built a business helping to deliver those. But I also believe that there are many more apps that are the equivalent of business cards, memo pads, and calendars. They’re useful, but useful for maybe a hundred people. I call them small circle apps.
* * *
There are plenty of reasons why you might want an app for a small audience.
I prototyped an app for my wedding last summer. Sure, there are wedding apps out there, but I would have been stuck using their design and their decisions when I wanted to create something that was uniquely special for our wedding day. We ended up not using it, because I had absolutely no faith that we could get it past review. Most things don’t belong in a bookstore.
I have restaurants all around my city that would love to let you order via their app. I’m a regular at several of these kinds of restaurants, but they wouldn’t be able to get an app on my home screen either. They’re just too small, and those apps aren’t useful unless you’re in the small circle of people who live near the restaurant – so the restaurants are stuck going through aggregators instead.
Whether it’s my real-estate agents ‘app business card’, or my kid’s soccer team schedule app, or my apartment building’s ‘announcement’ app – most things just don’t belong in a bookstore.
* * *
The obvious retort is that I can just load up all this stuff in my web browser. I can Google my real estate agent, and I can sign up for email blasts from my apartment building. But the mobile web still sucks after a decade of working hard on it. I want beautiful and smooth UIs, I want maps that pinch to zoom correctly, and I want notifications that show up on my lock screen instead of my email.
I can look up Facebook on Safari too. Or Yelp! Or Instagram. But we don’t deny that those experiences are better as apps. Apple has put an incredible amount of effort into making sure that apps on iOS are incredible to use. Small circle apps will be better experiences than their equivalent websites too.
But they still don’t belong in the App Store. The App Store should be a place that we go to find the apps that have broad appeal. It should be curated. It should be browsable. It should be a bookstore.
* * *
So how the hell do we get small circle apps if they shouldn’t be in the store? Well, luckily Apple has already build all the mechanisms we need.
The only difference between a small circle app and an app in the store is how it’s indexed. Small circle apps wouldn’t show up on any of the browsing lists for the store. They wouldn’t get featured. They wouldn’t show up in search. The only way to find a small circle app would be to already have a direct link.
And once you’ve got that link? I can link directly to an app in the App Store today. The store screen would load right up with screenshots and reviews and a download button.
People who want those apps would be able to get the link easily. It could be sent to them via email, or it could show up on websites using Smart Banners, or people could scan a QR code with iOS 11’s built in scanner. If we had shipped our wedding app as a small circle app, I can guarantee that our invitations would have had an App Store link on them.
And now, with just that little change, suddenly iOS apps aren’t limited to what you can find in the bookstore. You can download an app for your neighbourhood, an app for your favourite restaurant, apps for your kids classroom, and an app for your church.
All without cluttering up my experience of the app store. And I don’t have to clutter yours. When we do want to search for our new social networking app or a cool game, we don’t need to wade through the garbage.
* * *
Let’s say that your name is Tim Cook. You’ve been reading this entry, and you’re getting excited. It turns out that there might be a way to have a beautiful bookstore and your kids soccer schedule, all on the same printing press. What needs to happen next?
- Create a ‘small circle apps’ piece of metadata in iTunes Connect. Developers would opt-in.
- Instruct reviewers that small circle apps don’t need to comply with App Store Review Guidelines 4.2 (and possibly 4.3)
- Update the App Store servers to avoid showing small circle apps in search or browse views.
- Tell the world. We’ll be pretty excited.
* * *
I’ve done a lot of thinking about small circle apps. I feel like I have to admit – I’ve got an ulterior motive. For the past couple of years, my dev team has been working on Codeless, which is an iPad app to build apps for the iPhone. It generates real code, and it’s meant to create beautiful and complex apps. The kind of apps that should be in the bookstore.
But you could use it to make small circle apps too. And I wouldn’t mind it at all, as long as it didn’t clutter the store.
* * *
There’s a bold future available for the App Store. It’s the best-case compromise, allowing a smaller and more curated App Store, and a broader more inclusive way of allowing small content creators to delight their audiences.
Not everything belongs in the bookstore. But that doesn’t mean we stop printing the pamphlets, the ads, the notepads, or the business cards. Apps are powerful and full-featured experiences. Apple can make them even better.
Today, Whole Punk is co-sponsoring Ladies Learning Code in Victoria. They’re doing a workshop on responsive design, and I couldn’t be prouder to put our dollars towards them. About 20 seconds after Erin announced sponsorships for the year, I was standing in line to make sure we got one.
This morning I walked in about half an hour before the workshop with a huge box of swag. Notepads and stickers from Whole Punk. All with our logo on it of course. I’ve got a goal of getting our logo into every tech shop in Victoria, and this seemed like a great vector.
(If you know a Victoria tech company without our notepads, please shoot me an email.)
As we were passing the swag out to every seat, one of the coordinators mentioned that this wasn’t something that any of the other sponsors had done before. It was obvious, now that I’d done it, but bringing swag just wasn’t the norm.
Those are my favourite ideas. The ones that are obvious now that I’ve done it.
(Bonus! They’re tweeting about us: https://twitter.com/llcvictoria/status/741676004620439553)
For the first time, we’ve written down our core values on a chalkboard in our lounge.
I’m pretty happy with this.
I’ve been reading “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh, and in the first few pages he makes a comment about his early entrepreneurial endeavours. It made me think of something that I haven’t recalled in years.
When I was about seven, I started by first business. My family had a record player, and we were getting ready to get rid of it. It was the early 90’s and audio cassettes were clearly here for the long term, so we were starting a project to pick our favourite records and record them on tape.
Naturally this struck me as a business opportunity. Tapes were less annoying to use, and I had a Fisher Price tape player that ran on batteries. You didn’t even need to come into our house to listen to a record – instead I could play it for you on our front step and you could enjoy the music. Clearly a foolproof plan.
With a reckless disregard for business paperwork and music licensing law, I took to our front yard with a cardboard box to stand behind and a sign. I was charging ten cents to listen to any of our records – once we’d finished putting them on tape.
It took only minutes before my Mom started wondering where I’d gotten off to, and to find me in the front yard. Nobody had come by, so I hadn’t made any sales. Mom carefully explained that maybe we should wait until I had something to sell before I took to opening a storefront.
That said, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to test out the idea on some of the people we knew. So that night, when we walked down the block to visit my Grandma, I gave my pitch and walked out with five shiny dimes. I gave her yellow paper slips that I’d made with shaky printing that entitled her to listen to our tapes.
Grandma died a few years ago. She never cashed in those slips, though I know that they sat on the table next to her armchair for as long as she lived in that house my Grandpa built for them.
Thank you Grandma.