Monthly Archives: February 2015

Apple Acquires TestFlight-Maker: What Does It Mean For App Developers?

TestFlight, a widely popular third-party beta-testing platform, was snapped up by Apple almost exactly a year back, for an undisclosed amount. The deal was expected to have several positive implications for iOS app developers.

Last year, the announcement of Apple taking over Burstly, the makers of popular beta testing platform TestFlight, was made official. From March 21, support and crash reporting for Android applications were stopped on TestFlight, and new users were requested to not upload new SDKs in their builds. The acquisition of TestFlight was expected to make the task of mobile app testing, often a sore point for iOS developers, a lot easier and quicker. Here’s what developers should know about the implications of the arrival of TestFlight exclusively on Apple:

 

  1. Platform support – As things stand now, TestFlight will be supporting only the iOS 8 platform. Android support, as already mentioned, has already been terminated – and unlike HockeyApp, Mac app developers won’t be able to test their applications on TestFlight either. There has been no mention yet about which, if at all any, older versions of the iOS platform will be supported.
  2. No need for UDIDs – iPhone app development experts will no longer have to deal with the hassles of ad hoc distribution of their applications. TestFlight does away with the need for setting up provisioning profiles to mention the devices that any particular app has been optimized for. Confusions over finding out and listing the UDID of each iOS device would also go away. Developers would be able to get on iTunes Connect, find out the Apple ID of testers, and send along an invite (via email) to test their apps. All that the testers now have to do is install the app on their devices.
  3. Two groups of testers – The testers mentioned in the previous point would be called ‘beta testers’, in TestFlight terminology. In addition, the app testing platform will also have a group of ‘internal testers’, who will have accounts in iTunes Connect, and operate from there. They will be able to check out new builds as soon as the latter are uploaded, unlike ‘beta testers’ – who can view builds only after they have received the thumbs-up from Apple. In essence, this means more options for iOS developers.
  4. Option to manage testers into separate Groups – The more the number of testers checking a new app, the less becomes the chances of any bug in it remaining undetected. After the Apple-Burstly deal, TestFlight has announced a new Groups feature. Mobile app developers will be able to customize their interactions with each group of testers (i.e., send out different sets of instructions, check different app features, etc.). Collecting feedback and implementing suggestions will become easier and a lot more systematic. The burden on individual app testers will decrease as well.
  5. End of the road for TestFlightApp.com – This was pretty much widely expected. The acquisition deal is all done and dusted, and the old version TestFlight on Apple will be making way for the new version. The website on which the old TestFlight was hosted – TestFlightApp.com – will shut down from tomorrow (February 26). A point of concern for many iOS app developers might be the fact that apps present on the older TestFlight will not be auto-imported to the current version of the beta-testing platform. Way to work around this? Setting up the applications all over again in iTunes Connect.
  6. More testers for each developer – This is probably the biggest highlight of the new TestFlight, after being acquired by Apple Inc. Previously, a developer could ask for the Apple IDs of a maximum of 100 beta testers, and send invites to test their app. That number has now swelled to 1000 – which makes a) the overall testing procedure for each iOS app more thorough, and b) the creation of TestFlight Groups all the more necessary. Apart from this, each app developer will be able to have as many as 25 internal testers. Clearly, Apple is bidding to rev up the quality of apps at the App Store further.
  7. Continuous Integration and Automatic Builds won’t be supported – For developers who do not create and submit their builds manually, it would be advisable to stick with HockeyApp (or any other beta testing tool that supports Continuous Integration). TestFlight will not be supporting automated builds, and each developer will have to manually create and upload their app builds on iTunes Connect.
  8. Size of the apps to be tested – iOS apps need to be smaller than 800 MB in size, for it being able to be tested by the TestFlight tool. With most iPhone app developers focusing on making small, fast applications, this cap is likely to be more than enough for most cases. What’s more – enterprise apps will also be supported on TestFlight. In case a larger application needs to be tested, the concerned developer will have to get in touch with the TestFlight staff via email.
  9. Validity period of builds – Each build uploaded on iTunes Connect by an app developer will remain valid for a maximum of 30 days. After that period expires, a new build has to be uploaded – failing which, the app will become inaccessible to the registered mobile app testers. Apple has also specified that the metadata of the apps (brief descriptions, features to be tested, etc.) will also have to be provided by the developers. The uploading process would, of course, be binary.
  10. Only the latest beta versions will be installable – At first, this might seem a perfectly logical option. Older builds automatically get marked as ‘inactive’, as soon as a new build is uploaded. The only problem with this is, developers would no longer be able to compare two different versions of an app build (say, the UI/UX designs), or find out when and how regressions were specified on old builds. In a nutshell, there is no option for installing older builds on TestFlight – something that might be, and is often, required by developers.
  11. Better crash reporting – But iOS application developers have to wait for a few months for that. Apple has bolstered the third-party app testing ecosystem with the acquisition of Test Flight, and the new crash reporting (scheduled to start ‘later this year’) will have symbolicalization. In other words, coders will be able to see exactly which program line their apps are crashing at. This will be a huge improvement over what is currently available from iTunes Connect – an overall crash log.
  12. FlightPath has been discontinued – This has been a big surprise to many app experts and developers. FlightPath was the much talked about mobile analytics tool of TestFlight, and things were looking up for it even last year – when it was phased into beta. With the closure of FlightPath, developers have lost a chance to check out the mobile analytics of their apps – which, in any case, is a relatively new sub-domain. At present, people looking for the FlightPath link are automatically redirected to the home page of TestFlight. Strangely, there has not been any official mention about stopping FlightPath.
  13. Better developer support – The standard of developer support that Apple provides is fairly good, and on the third-party app-testing platform, the support services are likely to be prompt, informed and useful. However, there are several mobile app developers who feel Apple (or TestFlight) has a lot of catching up to do, to match with the quality of developer support that its main rival, HockeyApp, provides. We will have to wait for some time (read: actual feedback from developers) to get a clearer idea on this.
  14. TestFlight will remain free – The acquisition of Burstly by Apple will not be having any effect on the pricing of TestFlight. It will remain a free beta testing platform, available over-the-air. The company does have plans to launch certain paid testing features and functionality later though. Developers will be able to upgrade to those, or stay with the free service – depending on their precise requirements.

The new TestFlight Groups will be replacing legacy distribution lists – which were a core part of the older version of the beta-testing platform. Developers, of course, have to keep in mind that Apple’s acquisition of TestFlight does not, in any way, lower the importance of the overall testing process at the App Store. What this deal promises is more systematic, streamlined testing of iOS apps – and the presence of even ‘better’ apps at the store.

 

12 Things Mobile App Entrepreneurs Need To Know

Every mobile app development expert, including indie developers, hopes to make big money from their applications. In the following piece, we have elaborated a few things that mobile app entrepreneurs need to follow, to brighten the prospects of their businesses.

A recent survey revealed that there are well over 70000 mobile app developers worldwide. The number is going up all the time, and the competition levels are becoming increasingly fierce. Although creating mobile applications can be a potentially rewarding profession, one wrong step (or a misplaced expectation) can be the recipe for business failure. Here are some factors that all mobile app entrepreneurs need to keep under consideration, to steer their companies in the best possible way:

 

  1. Wish to get maximum downloads in the shortest period of time? – Most new developers do crave for instant recognition, which, in turn, implies higher volume of app downloads. That’s precisely why they turn to Android app development, since it takes significantly longer to get featured at the Apple App store. Blackberry App World has become, sadly, more of a relic – and the Windows App Store has a lot of catching up to do. If you wish to get quick exposure for your apps, Android is the way to go.
  2. iOS is more financially rewarding – And here comes the tradeoff. The ratio of revenue to app developers from the iOS platform and the Android platform is approximately 8:1 (a remarkably skewed figure). Provided that you are not averse to sticking around for some time and focus on the quality, utility and innovativeness of your apps – you can get top billing at iTunes. As the downloads go up, you start getting richer.
  3. Making apps does not automatically mean financial success – The competition factor comes to the fore here. Although both Google Play store and the Apple App Store have in excess of 1.5 million applications each, and the annual revenue from downloads is well over $11 billion – it is fairly difficult for new developers to get rich, at least immediately. According to a Gartner report, only 1% of all apps actually emerge as successes, a trend that is not likely to change much over the next three years. By 2017, around 95% of mobile apps will be free-to-download (as opposed to only 5% paid apps). Revenue from free apps will hover around $1250 per day – but to get to that level, your mobile app monetization strategies have to be really sound, and you need to be a lead developer at the stores.
  4. Working with a single idea is not a smart option – Even the most experienced Android or iPhone app developers cannot predict with certainty as to what type of applications will click with the targeted customers. It is always advisable to start off with at least 3-4 separate, viable app ideas, and transform each of them into user-friendly, interesting apps. Do not gloss over the importance of creating detailed sketches, wireframes and mockups of your app screens. They will serve as handy flowcharts during the actual mobile app development process.
  5. Be dynamic in your approach – Before the current worldwide app revolution began in right earnest, mobile websites used to be popular. They offered satisfactory user-experience at best – and hardly anyone was surprised when apps upended them in terms of popularity over the last few years. Experts from leading app development companies feel that apps, as we know them at present, won’t stay for long either – and would change in terms of appearance, functionality, and other features. You need to be able to anticipate all types of changes in the mobile app industry, and mold your activities accordingly.
  6. Cross-platform app development is overhyped – Simply replicating an iOS app for the Android platform (or vice versa) almost never works out well. There is a reason why Apple and Google offer separate SDKs (Xcode and Eclipse respectively) and require expertise in different programming languages (Objective C and Swift for iOS development, Java for Android development). If your app is doing well on one of the platforms, create a customized version of it for the other platform. Launching a ‘one-size-fits-all’ app has a very slim chance of working out favorably. Cross-platform should mean having expertise to work on projects on different platforms, and not just releasing single versions of apps for all platforms.
  7. Update your app regularly – Never ever let your apps stagnate. Even the successful ones need to be regularly updated – and not necessarily simple bug-fix versions. Keep an eye on the ratings, reviews and the total user-count for your applications, and whenever you sense a dip – launch an upgrade, with new, useful, additional features (the update must not be gimmicky, done just for the heck of it). In general too, regular app updates serve as a ‘wow factor’ to regular users.
  8. Optimize for devices. As many devices as possible – This is almost a no-brainer. You want maximum reach for your applications, which makes it absolutely essential that the latter should be compatible with as many handheld devices as possible. For iOS app developers, this means making apps customized for the latest iPhones (6 and 6 Plus), iPad and iPod Touch. Start getting familiar with WatchKit app development too. Android app development experts face a greater challenge, thanks to the sheer number of mobile vendors working for that platform. All app screens need to be checked on mdpi, ldpi, hdpi and xhdpi screen sizes (the display should be the same across the board). Neglect mobile app testing at your own peril.
  9. Pay attention to the graphics – There is a general belief among many new app developers that, the smaller the screen size, the less is the importance of app graphics. Nothing can be more wrong than this. You should always focus on having flawless, pixel-perfect graphics for all of your applications. Make sure that the buttons, tabs and icons are large enough (so that tapping isn’t a problem), and go for simple visual elegance instead of complex designs. You will need to hire a team of specialized UI/UX designers for the job – coders cannot handle app designing as well.
  10. Customer feedback matters – Scratch that, it matters the most. There is no point in spending money, time and resources to create a complete app – only to find that there are no takers for it. Create a prototype, and share them with prospective buyers/users (via social media channels, e-newsletters, etc.). Carefully go through their feedback, and implement their suggestions and recommendations. Every mobile app entrepreneur has to decide whether app projects are worth working on or not, and you will need to take an informed decision each time. Remember, if there’s no demand, the best of apps can fail.
  11. Go for a Free and Pro version combo – This would be a smart way to monetize your apps. Have a free version (with limited features) of your application, with in-app ads. Send prompts to users to upgrade to the PRO version – available at a competitive price and without any ad distractions. With freemium apps gaining in popularity at present, providing in-app purchase options is also a good idea. Keep things transparent at all times, and provide all information about ads and in-app purchases in the app description.
  12. Market your app.And then market some more – Start creating a buzz about your new app from a couple of weeks before its release. Promote it on Facebook, tweet about it, and share information on popular social bookmarking sites. There are many online mobile app review websites where you can submit your application and get a rating. Seek feedback from the early users. Announce upgrades and new features on a regular basis. Keep a tab on how the top-selling apps are being marketed, and chalk out your own promotional strategies (for instance, usage of keywords in app descriptions) accordingly. Great marketing cannot save a lousy app – but if your product is good, solid promotions will help in generating awareness about it.

If you are making a mobile app for kids, always include parental control features in it. Never settle for developers/designers who have half-baked coding knowledge or poor hands-on expertise (even if their pay packages are comparatively low). Making money from mobile apps is not the easiest task in the world – but if you are diligent enough, it is not rocket science either!

 

Unity Vs Unreal Engine 4: Which Game Engine Comes Out On Top?

Many developers feel that Unreal Engine 4 is at par, if not better, than the Unity 5 game engine. We will here compare Unity and UE4 on the basis of key parameters, and find how the two perform in each regard.

The results of a Develop 100 survey last July, which showed that Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 had outvoted Unity 5, came across as a surprise to many industry experts. However, if the two game engines are examined in detail – it would be evident that there is not much to choose between them, and the Unreal Development Kit (UDK) can in indeed very well hold its own against the Unity3D framework. In what follows, we will do a Unity vs Unreal Engine 4 comparative study to check out how the two game development engines stack up against each other:

 

  1. The learning curve – With its user-friendly UI and plethora of online tutorial support, Unity3D would probably edge this round. It’s very much possible for professional indie mobile app developers to get the hang of the engine within a week or so – and start making small games. Unreal Engine 4, on the other hand, takes a little more time to get used to. Although it is way simpler than its complicated predecessor, UDK, a newbie in the domain of computer graphics can be at a loss, while working with UE4 for the first time (please note, it is NOT a complex engine per se, and only requires more time to learn).
  2. The price factor –  At a cursory glance, Unity might seem to hold the aces from the price perspective, for startups at least. There is a free version of Unity available for download, with which game developers can start out. However, this version lacks many of the engine’s best features – and for professional purposes, upgrading to the rather expensive Unity Pro (at a monthly charge of $75) is often necessary. Unreal Engine 4, however, has no free version whatsoever – and can be used by paying a fee of $19 per month. The only bone of concern is the additional 5% royalty charge, which, according to many app developers, does not make much sense.
  3. Underlying coding languages – For game developers more at ease with the C++ programming language, Unreal Engine 4 would be the ideal development engine. Unity works with Javascript and C#, and hence, requires users to have in-depth knowledge of either (or both) languages. It all really boils down to the language proficiency of coders, while deciding which game engine to use.
  4. Quality of graphics – Unity 5 offers great visuals in its own right, but even so, it is not even in the same frame with the graphics output of Unreal Engine 4. Developers who wish to make really gorgeous games would be well-advised to work with UE4 instead of Unity. There is a general opinion that the graphics of Unreal Engine appear more realistic than those produced by Unity. In any case, the free Unity indie version gives only mediocre visuals, and to get even close to the quality of UE4 – getting the license to the Pro version is required.
  5. Utility for making mobile games – Both Unity 5 and Unreal Engine 4 CAN be used to make mobile games – but while the latter offers better visual graphics, Unity remains the first-choice for dedicated mobile game developers. The reason is simple enough – even the free version of Unity offers full support to all the major mobile platforms, and is generally regarded as more convenient for relatively smaller projects. Buying the license for Unreal Engine 4 would be a smart move, only if the projects are of larger size (and not simple Android games!).
  6. Visual programming – Presence of the ‘Blueprint’ visual scripting language is probably the biggest advantage of Unreal Engine 4 over Unity. Users who have no experience in coding with C++ (or any other language, for that matter) can easily create full games with Blueprint – without having to manually type out even a single block of code. Creating game prototypes is also a breeze with this visual programming method. To work with Unity, your programming expertise in C#/JavaScript needs to be solid, and you have to be good at program debugging too.
  7. Erratic behavior – Many mobile game development experts working with the Unity tool have reported that they have lost access to updated installs – due to changes in the hardware (at times, this error happens even when no changes have actually been made). Since installs become inaccessible, returning the licenses (via the same unresponsive installs) is also not possible. Unreal Engine 4 does not have any DRM at all, which rules out the possibilities of such errors.
  8. Built-in editor – Once again, there is nothing bad about Unity’s editor – but it sort of pales into insignificance when compared with the UE4 editor. The degree of precision attainable in the latter is amazing, and objects can be exactly positioned on the playground. Now compare that with the positioning of objects in the Unity editor, which is at best, ‘approximate’ (at least there are no visual confirmations). The UI of Unreal Engine 4 is more flexible and less prone to crashes than that of Unity3D. In a nutshell, UE4 has a more professional, streamlined feel than Unity – which, in comparison, looks like an entry-level tool.
  9. Asset store resources – While small-time game developers might have some reservations over purchasing new assets for different purposes in Unity – the fact remains that the asset store of this tool is much better stacked than what Epic has managed to do for Unreal Engine 4 till date. Both the asset stores have general game props and characters, but from the Unity asset store – you can get custom software for motion capture, intuitive animation tools, and a whole lot more. However, since UE4 has been launched less than a year ago – there is a general expectation that its asset store would expand in future.
  10. Required system specifications – Another point where Unity steals a march over Unreal Engine. The latter is positioned as a full-blown new-age game engine – and as such, does not support systems like PS3 and Xbox 360 (which are comparatively older). An AMD Radeon HD card (or similar card) is required for Unreal Engine to function properly. Unity, on the other hand, supports games for mobile platforms, new console systems like Xbox One and PS 4, as well as their predecessors. Developers can install and start to use UE4 on a low-spec machine, but if the game is large and complex, there are bound to be problems later.
  11. Ease of debugging – Hunting out program bugs is possible on both the engines – but on Unreal Engine 4, the task is that much easier. All that game developers have to do is let the gameplay start in the ‘Overdraw’ or ‘Shader Complexity’ view, and look out for red spots (if any). In Unity, users have to manually match the ‘Scene’ view with the game camera, and look for probable glitches. It is significantly more time-consuming.
  12. User-support – When Unreal Engine 4 was released for public use last March, most game makers expected its customer support to be rather patchy to start with. In that regard, the Epic team has amazed all users with its top-notch customer support. People can seek clarifications to their questions regarding UE, and get proper responses really soon. If anything, the user support of Unreal Engine is a couple of notches better than that of Unity.

A major drawback of Unity, according to most indie game developers, is the absence of Profiler in its free version (which makes detection of gameplay problems difficult). On the other hand, there is still room for improving the iOS and Android deployment of Unreal Engine 4. It is, at least for the present, not a full substitute of Unity – but there are many areas in which UE4 would rank ahead of the latter. In essence, Unity continues to be the best engine for making mobile games, while Unreal Engine is the ideal choice for games for PCs and consoles.