Thursday, August 1, 2013

Android developer interview: Martin van Zuilekom from Cubeactive

I promised to give you another interview and here it is. I really like this kind of posts and I'll definitely try to get some more people to talk in the future. In the meantime enjoy your meeting with Martin- he definitely has lots to share.

Tell us something about yourself. Who are you? Where do you live? What do you do in life?

Martin: I’m Martin van Zuilekom a 32 year old software developer from the Netherlands. I’ve been developing software for the last 12 years now. Started as a junior developer and progressed doing just about everything related to software development like UI designs, programming and giving customer support. That reason behind that is the fact that I’ve been working in small teams where everyone has several tasks to do aside from their main job.

Bartek: When did your Android adventure start and how? Why did you decide to do it?
Martin: I’ve always liked to do hobby projects in my spare time. I just got a new phone and it was my first Android phone. I really liked Android and thought it would be fun to create a small app for it. The first app I made had to be something I wanted to use myself, the result was my app Wish l!st.

Bartek: How did you learn how to create apps? What resources were you using?

Martin: I actually had never programmed Java before. I had experience with a lot of other languages like C# and Delphi. But the hardest part of writing for a new platform is learning the framework. I’m one of those guys that learns best by starting to code, so I looked at the samples from the Android SKD and looked up some tutorials from the Internet and started making a few test projects.

Bartek: What libraries/frameworks do you use if any? Why did you choose them?

Martin: I tend to limit the use of libraries. Currently I’m using ActionBarSherlock, the Android support library and the Admob SDK. The reason behind those are backwards compatibility for my app. I try my best to make the app look the same on all of the Android versions I support. Of course the Admob library is for displaying ads.
I also use one of my own open source libraries called Inscription. I like to share useful code with other developers and put some of my code from my own library into this one. It’s a simple library to display information about your app, I use it for my credits dialog and change log dialog.

Bartek: Where do you take app ideas from? 

Martin: Well this depends. A lot of my ideas come from myself. I like to write apps that I would actually use myself. Sometimes an idea can come from using another app and missing features or wanting it to work a little bit different. Other ideas come from my users, they can give good feedback and help me decide future development of my apps.
For design I like to look at a whole range of designs. Ideas can come from books, posters, websites or other apps. They don’t have to be similar to my own apps or they don’t even have to be an app to give inspiration. For example I can look at books on architecture to look at patterns, the use of colors or shapes. And sometimes this will give me an idea for a design and I will get pen and paper and start sketching.

Bartek: Where do you get resources from (graphics, sounds, music)?

Martin: I create a lot of resources myself. For the more common resources, like action bar icons I will first look at the action bar icon pack from the Android developer website. If I can’t find a good icon there I have a nice royalty free icon pack I found on the internet from brankic1979. If those packs don’t have the icon I’m looking for I will make it myself. I think I’m lucky that I can do that myself. Although it can take me a long time to get an icon exactly right. Sometimes it takes a few minutes, but sometimes I will be working on it a few hours, tweaking until I’m happy about it. Other resources like the app icons, logos, banners, etc. I create myself. I Want them to be unique so I will not use stock graphics for those.

Bartek: What other programming tools do you use?

Martin: At the moment not many actually. I use GitStack and Sourcetree for source version control and I use the monitor tool from the Android SDK for working with the Android emulator. I also really like Notepad++, I use it for searching files and other tasks.

Bartek: How long does is take you to make a single app?

Martin: Well this depends. Because I work alone, I like to use small development cycles. Most of the first versions of my apps took about 6 to 10 weeks to develop. But those first versions were very basic and I keep adding features with every update. My goals is that every release should work fine on its own. Yes there might be features that can improve the app, but it should be a useable app on it’s own. For updates I take schedule about 2 to 3 weeks for programming and a few day’s for final testing an preparing the release (things like creating screenshots, artwork and writing a blog post about the update) If an update needs more time testing sometimes ask people on Google plus or other communities to test the next update. This will take some more time.

Bartek: How much are you making on your apps?

Martin: I’m not going to write exact numbers here. But it’s not much at the moment. I’ve started publishing my apps at the beginning of 2012. For most of the months in 2012 I earned less than $30,- each month. It a bit better this year but it’s still more about the fun of writing apps than actually earning money from them. I’m still working hard to earn enough money to buy an Android tablet so I can use it to test my apps on an actual Android tablet instead of an emulator.

Bartek: How do you monetize your apps? Do you have any advice on it for others?

Martin: My advice is, if you want to earn a quick buck do not start developing apps. Like I said before I’m not making a whole lot of money with my apps. Most of the money I earn goes back into my hobby, for example hosting costs for my domain, etc. At the moment I use Admob banners in my apps, have in app purchases for disabling ads and I have a paid pro version of my app. I get about the same amount of money from purchases on Google play as I get from in app ads. I am looking for other ways of monetizing my apps, I would like to be able to have all of my apps ad free in the future.

Bartek: Which one of your apps have been the biggest success and which has turned up below expectations?

Martin: My most successful app is Note l!st. People like the design and how easy it is to use. My widget linear clock is a bit of a struggle. I thought I had a cool unique idea for a widget and it took a lot of work to develop. But for some reason it just does not get the downloads I had expected.

Bartek: Do you use any marketing techniques or SEO?

Martin: A lot of my time goes into marketing my apps. I think it’s about 10-15% of my time working on my apps. I usually take a whole afternoon to get the word out when I publish a new release.

Bartek: Can you give us more details?

Martin: Marketing wise I try to limit my spending's. I don’t have much resources aside from the income the apps generate. When I release an update I will usually write a post on my blog, post the information on the Facebook pages for my apps and inform my followers on Google Plus. If it’s an important update I will also post on some Google Plus communities. I have also several treads on various Android forums about my apps. But to be fair aside from the XDA developers forum most of them don’t attract many new users. When I publish a new app or a big update I will try to contact Android blogs and inform them about the apps. Although 9 out of 10 will not write back, the ones that do will likely write a nice post on your app and can attract a lot of new users. But to avoid them being spammed on updates of my apps I limit writing to these blogs only for very important updates (once or twice a year).
Other marketing techniques I have tried are paid review and advertising on Android devices (Admob, etc.) I have mixed results with these options. They cost money so they need to give a return for your investment. I can say that the paid reviews have not attracted any significant new amounts of users in my case. When using ads I can see a rise in the number of downloads, but I still pay more money per user than I would earn with my current monetizing options.
I find it very important to care for my users and to keep their experience with my apps as good as I can offer. So I have always refused to add any questionable ads to my apps just for more revenue. I never used push ads or other advertisements that I feel uncomfortable with. I always ask myself if I was the user would I be ok with the way I monetize my apps. I feel that I create a trust relation with my users and that trust must be earned and maintained.

Bartek: Could you tell us what blogs you contact to promote your apps?

Martin: Well most of them don’t respond back. I do try Android Police sometimes, Droid-Blog etc., but I have not yet got a review on those sites (and a dozen or so more). Droid App of the Day did a review after contact, and AppEggs as well. Also AppsZoom reviewed my apps after my request. My apps also get reviewed by other bloggers from time to time, but usually they do this because they liked the app, I did not contact them for a review.

Bartek: What are your favourite Android games and apps?

Martin: You can find them on my blog:

Bartek: What Android devices do you own?

Martin: Just my phone, a HTC desire Z.

Bartek: What Android blogs/sites do you read regularly?

Martin: Android Police, Wolframs blog and the Android Developers Blog. I also have a lot of great people in my Google+ circles that post the latest news and useful links.

Bartek: What are your plans for the future? What do you want to create/achieve?

Martin: I would love to be able to earn a bit more money from my apps to keep continuing spending a lot of time developing updates and ideas.

Bartek: What advice would you give to other developers (something that you wish you had known before yourself)?

Martin: Be aware of the amount of work it can take to get your app known to the public. That is the hardest part of developing apps. Be critical about the quality of your apps. This is the only way you can stand out from the crowd.

Bartek: Where can people find you on the Internet?

Thank you Martin for sharing your experience. It's a great learning resource for me and others as well. Keep up the great job with your apps. Good luck!

I have to say that I get really excited every time I interview someone. They say that 90% of what you learn is watching great people and I totally agree. Getting to know other Android developers and their work techniques is invaluable and I hope it can give a boost to your work as well. I promise more great content is going to come soon. If you have a question you'd like to ask, post it in the comments section and I'll try to incorporate it in my next interview.

May the force of the green robot be with you!

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