Our first android application was a product of laziness and frustration - and it succeeded.
Many of you may not know how our team got to know each other: It was a cloudy late summer day in 2014 when the four of us (Wolfgang, Matthias, Patrick and myself) started our studies of computer science at the university of Innsbruck.
We were getting to know each other in a week-long event that was meant to introduce us to the university, the courses we had to take and the things we had to do in order to study.
What united the four of us from day one was our unwillingness to do most of the things outlined in that course. These things were not directly related to computer science but to organizing your student life:
- Receiving your student mail
- Creating a calendar based on all the university courses we were supposed to attend
- Logging in to the university website countless times
- Find out what the university canteen had to offer.
Naturally, we found this boring.
We also noticed a certain pattern when looking at these things. Many of the tasks involved in organizing our daily life could theoretically be automated, but not by average students:
The university provided an IMAP server for mails, but most average students didn't bother configuring their mail apps and just went with the clunky web-mail solution provided by the university.
It also offered an .ics download for each student's university schedule, but most people didn't know what to do with it.
And the canteen offered their menus on a website hardly known to anyone.
The information was all there, the task at hand was to make it easy to obtain.
There should be an app for that
After a year of studying, we decided to tackle this problem and help our fellow students with a smartphone app. Like most students in Innsbruck, we were Android users and already decent at Java programming, so using that platform made a lot of sense.
I started working on the UI/UX of the app, while Patrick implemented a mail client, and Wolfgang and Matthias laid their hands on the canteen menus and parsing the calendar .ics file.
Some time after starting development, we noticed that there was a coding competition coming up for students of the University of Innsbruck. All the competing projects of that competition were to be presented in front of a big audience of computer science students.
Entering a competition
The competitive aspect of that event didn't really interest us, but we really wanted to quickly gain a user base for our app, and presenting it in front of an audience of CS students seemed to be the perfect opportunity. We signed up for the competition, well aware that our project was far from finished at the time. However, there were still a few weeks of time to finish and polish the project before presenting it to the world.
The headlining features of the app came together quite nicely in the last days before the event: Our calendar was correctly parsed, our canteen menus showed up and our mail client IMAPed just like it should, but we realized that we were far from done with our app, and time was running out.
There was no way a user could switch views within our calendar, our email client lacked when it came to actually sending E-Mails (text formatting, attachments etc.) and the canteen menu was probably the ugliest mess of textViews mankind had ever seen.
Also, we hadn't really thought of a name for the app. Our development name, UIBTap (University of Innsbruck, Tap) was not a great creation, but it was kind of memorable at least.
The day of the presentation came around, and we weren't able to fix the issues outlined above. We therefor slapped a BETA label onto our app and published it to the Google Play Store a mere two hours before the presentation, hoping the Google Malware scan would be quick and allow our app to be listed (it was, and it did!)
An honest presentation
For the actual presentation, we decided that honesty would be necessary: We made sure people understood that this was BETA software and that we were not looking to win an award, but to find a few users and enthusiasts who could help us improve the software.
To our big surprise, the app was very well received even in these early BETA stages, and we ended up winning the 2nd prize at the competition. We quickly updated the app with some urgent bug fixes and received a ton of productive feedback that still helps us to this day.
The user base continued to increase in the weeks and months after release, and after some time, we had a userbase of 200-500 weekly active users. For an app with a rather limited target audience (the University of Innsbruck has less than 29.000 students), we were absolutely happy.
Well, where has it gone?
However, as weeks and months went by, we realized that working on this app took a toll on our studies, and that we weren't really motivated to do the full rewrite that became more and more of a necessity as time went by. We had to abandon it eventually, and after some months and years, changes to the university website and the canteen website broke some of the features we implemented. Future android versions also limited the usability of our IMAP client.
We therefor decided to unpublish the application from the Play Store at the end of last year. The app is still hosted on some third-party websites in case you REALLY want to try it out, but we're not sure if any of its features still work.
However, the lessons we learned from it and some people we met thanks to it still are with us to this day, and we are thankful for how well it was received. In a way, it's a big part of the foundation of ifloop.
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