(The finished app can be purchased on the Android Marketplace)
Let me set the scene first: It’s mid-evening, I’m in my home office working on my next major app but nothing seems to be clicking. I’m trying to get a fairly simple feature to work, but it’s not. Even the logs and debugging list isn’t giving me much of a clue. The heat of two computers, a laptop and a server in a small-ish room compounds my frustrations further.
Then I give up. I close Eclipse and play some Team Fortress 2 to unwind.
Sometimes when I’m coding something that takes a lot of my time, something that seems like it’s going to take forever for a one-man effort, it’s disheartening. It happened with My Shopper, an app I spent months pouring my efforts into, but ultimately didn’t sell well. I’ve got high hopes for this current project, but it still feels like it’s too easy to get completely lost. At times like those you just want to do something different, start fresh.
So that’s what I did.
Inspired by the second episode of this year’s Apprentice and fuelled by tea, I decided to set myself a challenge – come up with an idea for an application and bring it to the Android Marketplace by the morning.
As it was 11pm, and I effectively had up to 9 hours to get this app complete, I had to think of an idea that was small but practical and whose scope was unlikely to spiral out of control. I also had to find an idea that, while not completely unique, was not likely to be crowded out by an established or superior app. Something that was likely to be used in a real-life situation.
After jotting down some ideas and comparing those ideas to existing apps on the marketplace, I opted to make a Lottery Number generator. The structure of the program would be simple – a random number generator picking numbers within the rules of each game. The rules of the chosen game would then be fed into the generator, meaning the app could be expanded for other non-UK lotteries in the future.
The simplicity of the program structure meant I could make a bare-bones demo of the app within a couple of hours, getting the functionality done and frozen before giving serious thought to the look and feel.
At this point I had a realisation, one of the reasons I was becoming bogged down in my major project – I had spent too much time on the User Interface, how the app was going to look, but not to the features and how it was going to work. What I thought were simple features were spiralling. I was having a hard time keeping these new features under control because I didn’t have a map of what features were required, and ultimately didn’t know how to implement them. Essentially, without the map, I was lost.
Whether it was the coding or the coffee, things were starting to look a lot clearer both in this challenge, and my coding techniques.