London Bus Pal

How to show support

Many mobile app users (including myself in the past) think that there is only one real way to show support for a developer and that is by paying for, or buying their product. Whilst I don’t want to ever discourage anyone from passing me some cash, there are other ways in which to show appreciation and it is actually worth more than people think.

Let me just quickly explain – the only way to remain competitive on the app store, is to have a free app which either has ads in or some other form of in-app purchase. As I do not currently have in-app purchases, I only earn a (small) income from showing ads. It’s a simple game of numbers – the more people I have to show ads to, the more money I can make. So rather than money, I try to focus on getting more people to download and use my app. From my side, I do this by making the best app I possibly can that will cause people to come back. Here is how you get support me:

  1. Leave a rating and update it from time to time, even if it is the same. This is just a case of giving me a number of stars and you are done. It helps in two ways: firstly, I get a feel for how people are feeling about the app – this is really important to me as a point of feedback; secondly, it helps with ranking in the app store – a well-rated app will feature higher in the rankings and in an app market saturated with app about London Buses, this is really helpful to drive downloads.
  2. Leave a review and update it from time to time, even if it is the same. And not just any review – tell me what you like or how I can improve. I read all of it – I get notifications when reviews are written, so I get a view of what people want from an app. And if there is something you want, don’t be shy to ask.
  3. Fork out the money. This really is at the bottom of the list for me – points 1 and 2 are significantly more valuable to me than the money from app sales. They have a longer-lasting effect and if really constructive, can bring in more income than 3 alone. Of course, I don’t want to sound like I hate people buying my app, because I don’t – I just don’t want people to feel like the only option to support me is to part with their money.

Thank you for all the support so far!

Development London Bus Pal

Reordering favourites

Today was spent finally implementing something I have been meaning to do for probably years now. Up until now, there just wasn’t a way to reorder your favourites – probably the only control you could have would be to add them in exactly the right order.

I kept flip-flopping between doing it directly on the favourites screen, or doing it in the settings screen. My opinion is that it would feel more natural to just take a stop on the main screen and drag it to the position you want it to be. That is, until you realise that some users have 10 or 20 favourites. It would be very difficult to organise it – especially if you want to drag something all the way from the one end to the other.

One other thing I have to think about was the potential of breaking the favourites screen to add this. You wouldn’t want to re-order favourites all the time. So I settled for the idea to do it in the settings screen. It also gave me the chance to quickly reorganise the settings screen a bit.

Quick plan to reorder some of the settings

I had the plan to use chips (if you don’t know what they are, there is a screenshot below) and allow users to reorder using them. I’ve never used them before and I had haven’t used drag and drop in Flutter before either. It took a couple of hours due to a silly little issue which had me stumped (thank you Stackoverflow – At one point during the struggle, I was going to give up and use lists instead and maybe even “move up/down” buttons, rather than fancy drag and drop, but I wanted to have my chips! I persisted and got it to work.

Chips which allowed reordering of favourite stops by using drag and drop.

It worked okay on the simulator, but it felt a little bit fiddly. I got it to work really well and then decided to test it on a real phone. I’m not happy. It is pretty awful. It’s difficult to get the chips to land where they should and the chips are much bigger on the real phone, which meant that each one was on its own line any way. This would not really help a user very much and probably frustrate them.

I’m going to do it over again – I’ll probably just use a list view with up and down buttons. It is unfortunate, because I liked the look of the chips in general, but it’s just not practical.

Back to the beginning for me now…

London Bus Pal

The many hats I have to wear

If you thought I was just an app developer who wrote a bit of code and published it to Google Play, you’d sadly be horribly mistaken. Doing this all on my own, means I have to wear many, many, many different hats. It’s a lot of fun trying my hand at all the different thing, but it also means that I can become spread thin trying to manage everything else together with my day job.

Here are some of the fun things I get to try my hand at while I work on my apps:

  • UX researcher and designer: I am a firm believer in good user experience and following good design patterns. When I built version 3 of the app, I spent hours upon hours reading the material design specifications. I had to carefully sit and work out margins and colour schemes and figure out how to get the material design concepts working before all the tools were built.
  • Graphic designer: Or something along those lines. I had to draw the icon for London Bus Pal myself – I know, it looks like an amateur made it – that is because an amateur did! I also did the “swoosh” image (the one in the menu bar when you swipe left) myself and as much I would hate to admit it, I also did the splash screen (it needs serious work, but I have to focus on other things for now). All of the artwork in the app stores were also made by myself with free tools I could find.
  • Marketeer: I have to find ways to get people to download my apps. I have to create campaigns and I have to, at some point, put that graphic designer hat back on if I want to make them more eye-catching.
  • Sales person: When it comes to sales, the main thing I am selling is advertising space to other companies. It almost feels rude to say it, because I don’t necessarily like ads, but it is the most effective way to monetise a free app. I have to keep my eye out to make sure that I sell the space well and for a good price. Much of it is automated and out of my hands, but it is a role I have nonetheless. (Don’t worry, my UX designer would never allow me to just litter my entire app with ads, it has to remain functional!).
  • PR management: I feel like some times when doing development, I cannot just do things right the first time. I always make a mistake and have to go back and fix it. With my PR hat on, I have to make sure that I keep my users in my good books and that they stick around.
  • Support: I always have to be on top of the latest issues. Especially around big releases, this takes up a large chunk of my time – I have to constantly monitor logs and check user behaviour to see if things run as I expect them to. When they don’t, I have to figure out why – with GDPR combined with some limiting tools I use, this can be a massive challenge at times (
  • Product manager: I have to always be on the lookout for the next big things or how I can improve my app to the benefit of my users. This is mostly what my day job is, so doing it for my app can become tedious or feel a bit fake, but it is really useful to make sure I build the right thing and not just what I feel like building today.
  • Accountant: Even though I just make a bit of pocket money from the app, I still have to count all those beans – one benefit of it being a simple setup is that things are pretty easy to count!
  • Developer: This is my favourite part of it all – I get to sit down, be a bit creative, solve some problems and see what I built once I am done. I also get to experience a little bit of what the developers I work with every day experience, so it even helps me in my “real” job. I also use this as an opportunity to learn about things where I might want to see for myself how it works (automated testing and repository management being some of my interests).
  • Tester: You would not always say so, but I try and do this as thoroughly as I can. But when you develop something yourself and you look at the same things all the time, it can become quite challenging to do this thoroughly. I am always hopeful that this is where my test automation helps me out, but for that I need to invest more time in it.
  • User: I love using my own app. It does what I want it to do and that makes me happy. I know what I want it to do next and that frustrates me – because in order to do all that, I need to do all those others things!

I love doing this and being able to experiment with all these different things. I would love to have more time to devote to this, but at the moment it is just my spare time I get to use for it. When things start picking up, I will have to look at how I make more time, but it’s always a question of economics!

London Bus Pal

London Bus Pal v4.0.9

Really small change in this one with a drastic improvement in load times when trying to find nearby stops. In the past, it could take a really long time if your phone was “starting from cold” – this should be fully resolved now.

London Bus Pal

The helpfulness of reviews (even bad ones)

Last week I posted on here after I felt really frustrated about a number of bad reviews I had received. I want to please every single one of my users and when I hear that they are not happy with my product, it often gets to me.

That said, despite making me feel frustrated (or maybe devastated as I put it during a frustrated post), reviews are also endlessly helpful. Especially when they say why they like or dislike my app – it gives me a really good insight into what users want. Quite often, I just see the numbers, 5,4,3,5,4,5,4,5. Whilst I like seeing the numbers and it higher numbers make me really happy, they can, quite easily just become a bunch of numbers.

This week I have continued to get less than perfect reviews, but the contents were quite helpful. I could sit down and read each review and try to put myself into the shoes of the user. I addressed each review (not only with a reply, but with some real code change) one after the other. I dealt with it and my app is better for it. Also, the users who gave me the input now have an app which behaves more like they want.

Don’t ever feel bad for leaving constructive feedback for developers. For those who care about what they give their users, this is infinitely helpful.

London Bus Pal

London Bus Pal v4.0.8

Some user feedback required additional updates which I wanted to get out before it affects and frustrates too many people:

  • Bug fix: “Unexpected errors” when trying to find location would happen more frequently than it should. This updates tries to address this – it might just take a couple of seconds for the location to be found.
  • Usability issue: The “favourites” star was too close to the expand and collapse arrow, which made it easy to accidentally add or remove favourites. I moved this to be out of the way to reduce accidental pressing of this button.
  • Usability issue: I also added in a prompt to validate the removal of any favourite.
  • Update: I removed the “experimental” tag from the map views.
  • Feature: For iOS only, I updated the app so that it is possible to navigate backwards (Android users already have this). This meant that I had to move the menu to the right hand side to make sure that I had space for the navigation button.

Thank you for all the feedback you have provided, it is helpful to make sure that the app is as stable as possible.

London Bus Pal

Happy New Year – my plans

Following a fairly rough week in the world of London Bus Pal, I want to take the opportunity to wish everyone a happy 2019. I’ve got many plans for my bus applications.

Firstly, I want to engage more with my users. I am busy putting together a website to make this possible. I want the ability to create a bit of a community – I have a fairly substantial user base, but at the moment, the only way to engage is through reviews and very anonymous analytics. Effectively, most of my users are just numbers – this makes it very difficult for me as an app developer to fully understand what my users want. The one benefit I have however is that I am also a user of my own app, so I represent a proportion of my own users!

I would love to grow my app to the point where I can devote more time to it. Basically, I want to look at a way of reducing my hours at work and have the ability to dedicate some time to app development each week. This is going to take some considerable effort – it is only the first day of 2019, so of course I am going to feel super optimistic (despite being slightly tired and a bit hungover from last night’s celebrations!).

I want to improve some of the functionality in the app – I am very happy with the base functionality and I don’t want to spoil things or over-complicate them, but the app also needs a bit more. I am still toying with the ideas, some of them might require a separate app, but these include: journey planning, improved route displays, incorporating other transport modes and maybe more informational things (very vague, but I know exactly what I mean).

Feel free to leave me a comment or send me an email with any suggestions or requests you may have.