Interview with the developer of GetPaid! for the iPhone

The ability to work anytime, anywhere is often essential for mobile businesses, freelancers and anyone not always necessarily tied to a desk for a living. Being a freelance technology and user experience consultant I have always been interested in innovative tools that allows me to organize my business life.

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In a previous interview, we looked at an excellent desktop time-tracking/invoicing application. Today we are talking to Henry of Runaway Apps. One of his applications is a full-featured invoicing app that can fit in your pocket. I personally love this application, it has a very nice interface allowing the user to have a record of past and future jobs, visual charts of earnings as well as outstanding payments. Henry has released several updates since I started using GetPaid! and is very responsive to user requests. I wanted to talk to him about his experience developing for the iPhone.

My thanks to Henry for taking the time.

Henry, what is GetPaid!?

GetPaid! Tracks time and generate instant invoice and timesheet in PDF format. (note: See app store description for additional app features.)

How did you get started developing the application?

With a Mac and a Passion. :)

Where did the idea of creating a mobile time-tracking & invoicing application come from?

I was an independent consultant often forgot to record my billable time.

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What do you enjoy about being a developer in general?

Creativity freedom

Do you develop for any platforms other than iPhone OS?

No

What kind of advise would you give a starting developer looking to enter the App Store marketplace?

Be creative, be diligent, be patient, most importantly be passionate.

How do you go about promoting your products?

Best product always sells itself, with apple’s help, that is. :)

How do you go about ensuring your app will be found if searched for?

Keywords, keywords, keywords.

What are the some of the difficulties of developing an application that is so important for business?

iPad version has been frequently requested since the release of iPad.

User ratings are such a huge factor when it comes to the point of sale for applications, does that ever become an issue?

When Users  write inaccurate reviews without fully understand the functionalities and there’s no way to communicate back and have the reviews corrected.

Are you working on any other projects besides GetPaid!?

The Prayer Network (PN) is a free “soul”cial network app in app store right now. We are working on other productivity apps as well.

Thanks again Henry, you can find GetPaid! [iTunes link] and The Prayer Network [iTunes link] at your local iTunes App Store.

Interview with Stefan Fuerst, author of GrandTotal and TimeLog

One of the toughest parts of being a freelancer or starting a small business is tracking time and billing. I spoke with Stefan Fürst of Media Atelier (@mediaatelier) about two applications he developed, GrandTotal and TimeLog, that make billing and invoicing a lot easier.

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What is GrandTotal?

GrandTotal does what most service providers (hopefully) do from time to time: It creates invoices and estimates and keeps track of the payments and due dates. The key feature is that invoices can have almost any look, which is really important to most of my users.

How did you get started developing the application?

I started in early 2008, building the layout engine, which was the most important thing to get done. If I would fail on that my yet unnamed product would never make it to a final release. After 7 months of development I picked some of my TimeLog users to give it a try. Thanks to my users, with their input I could release a fairly mature product in September. Maybe I should mention, that I tried this several times before and failed big time.

Where did you get the idea to create the application?

That’s an easy one. It was #1 request of my TimeLog users. So I knew there is a demand.

One of the features of your application is the ability to have multiple customizable tax rates, domestic and international. Were there any issues or complications dealing with taxes?

GrandTotal is a European product; dealing with international customers is a very common thing here. This required a bit a more flexible of a tax system - which in some cases can make the product look more difficult than it actually is.

TimeLog is one of your other apps, is it difficult to create applications that “play well” with each other?

Not really - being in control of the source allows you to make them fit together. It’s harder to deal with 3rd party integration.

TimeLog.app

What is TimeLog?

TimeLog was my first Mac application I wrote, it was written in RealBasic. I wrote it for myself to figure out where my time going. I submitted it to MacUpdate with no expectations. My first sale was a great experience.

Some invoicing application’s log time as well. Was there a reason you chose to write GrandTotal and TimeLog as separate applications?

Yes there were several reasons. One reasons is that TimeLog can collect working time over the network which means more than one person can be involved.

Another is that a lot of users don’t track time because they work for fixed fees anyway. Last but not least, I did not want to raise the price of TimeLog, nor was I willing to give away the app for 19€.

I love when applications incorporate companion mobile apps. What drove you to develop GrandTotal for the iPhone?

That was a logical step. I love the iPhone, my users love it…

How difficult is it to write applications for a separate platform like the iPhone?

It’s just another product. There is almost no code you can share. It’s more about dealing with the limited screen-space you have on the iPhone. You have to also consider the feature-set. But it’s a very nice experience.

How did you get your creative juices flowing to create such usable invoice designs?

I wish I had. One of my users (hi Frank) provided me with some very nice layouts. Actually the templates are not intended to be used 1:1.

At the beginning, the built-in template had a fairly bright orange typo on it, and instead of modifying it, a lot of users just kept that. Meanwhile I supplied a grayish, less screaming one as default.

How do you go about promoting and distributing your applications?

I should really do more on this part. I was lucky to have a big installed base of TimeLog users and sales where excellent from the first day on.

What are some of the difficulties you run into being an independent developer?

You don’t have to search for a distributor. I just ran across one Belarus site selling an outdated crack of GrandTotal for 8€…

Personally I don’t see the point of selling boxed software these days. My shop is open 24/7 worldwide.

You have several Mac OS and iPhone applications, are there any future projects you have in the works?

I focus on the future versions of my applications. Currently I have no intentions to launch a new product. GrandTotal and TimeLog keep me very busy right now. But that’s how it should be, isn’t it?

Thanks again to Stefan Fürst of Media Atelier for speaking with me.

Stefan can be found at @mediaatelier and http://www.grandtotal.biz/GrandTotal/?lang=en

Talking with Ruben Bakker, author of Mailplane

I love Gmail, I started using it many years ago and have never looked back. In my opinion, Gmail does the best job catching and filtering spam. I get just as much spam as anyone else, my spam folder is full of entertaining emails but none of messages (ok, very few messages) end up in my inbox. The features are endless. But one of my favorite parts of Gmail is the fact that it’s a web-app. None of messages are ever downloaded to my computer taking up space, yet the interface is as robust and intuitive as any mail client I have tried. But there are disadvantages to this kind of setup. Advanced features such as HTML signatures, managing multiple accounts and drag-and-drop file attachments are sometimes more difficult using a web-app.

Mailplane.app

That’s where Mailplane comes to the rescue. Before I take up too much more time explaining why I started using the application, I asked the developer of Mailplane.app Ruben Bakker (@Mailplane), if he wouldn’t mind talking about his application.

Thanks for taking the time Ruben.

What is Mailplane?

Ruben: Mailplane is an email client for the Gmail web interface. It is a Mac-only application, and it works as a “site-specific” browser for Google Mail. In other words, you get the Gmail web interface plus full desktop integration. For instance, you can drag and drop files, folders, or photos to create email attachments. The attachments are reduced in size when possible: Pictures are converted to smaller JPEG files and folders are compressed to a ZIP file. Another example is email notifications. When you get new email, the user gets Growl and sound notifications. Plus the number of unread messages is prominently shown in the application icon in the menu bar. Another important feature is support for multiple Gmail accounts: It’s easy to switch between accounts as passwords are stored in the keychain. Support for multiple HTML signatures is quite popular, too.

How did you get started developing the application?

Ruben: I loved Mac programming. We had already a “family” iMac we shared, but in 2006 I bought my own MacBook. I played around, tried all tools and loved it. But, then I wanted to create something serious; something users would download and use. The Mailplane project started in summer 2006 on the island of Corsica, France.

Where did the idea of making a desktop version of Gmail come from?

Ruben: I used Email in many different applications (Outlook, Thunderbird, Mail.app and more) for business and private use. But, I never felt happy with these solutions. My inbox was a mess and there was never enough space on the server. Then came Gmail and I absolutely loved it: Enough space, threaded conversations, the “Archive” idea, labels instead of folders and access from any computer. However, I missed some desktop feature traditional applications offered. It was a pain to send attachments and new email notifications required a separate application. I see many advantages in using a web application, but it still needs to be integrated into the Mac experience. This is why I started the Mailplane project.

In March 2007 I published the first version and asked for 200 private users. I never anticipated the response: The 200 seats were taken in just one hour - the same day I already had 1000 users on the waiting list. This was the start of the adventure, which finally led in founding a business and quitting my day job.

What do you enjoy most about being a developer in general?

Ruben: I love to create software; I enjoy the freedom of an indie developer. No boss, no company politics, no fixed hours or schedule, no long meetings, and very little paperwork.

Working on Mac software is great. XCode, Interface Builder, Instruments are great tools and the Mac is a joy to use. As an indie developer, I wear many different hats: I’m the programmer, supporter, marketing person, and accountant.

In the beginning it was rather difficult to make decisions, there’s nobody to blame but you.

Also, I need to actively stay in touch with other persons or I get isolated soon.

How do you go about promoting your products?

Ruben: Try to make the Mailplane users happy, by improving the product and by giving them good support. This hopefully leads to positive word-of-mouth marketing.

Of course it’s important to be on the Apple’s download page, to be on the different download pages and to get product reviews, too.

Finally, I constantly try to improve the website and the store.

What are the some of the difficulties of developing an application in which features are part of another organization’s services and/or technologies?

Ruben: Google constantly improves Gmail and Mailplane needs to keep up with these changes. Sometimes, there are Gmail bugs that look like Mailplane problems, which lead to support requests. But, it’s not that bad and there are very positive aspects too.

For one, Mailplane only stores some configuration data - the emails are all handled by Gmail and stored on their servers. No sleepless nights, here :)

Are you working on any other projects besides Mailplane?

Ruben: Yes, I am working on a second product. But, it’s still secret :)

My thanks again to Ruben Bakker for taking the time.

Ruben and Mailplane can be found at http://mailplaneapp.com/ and @Mailplane on Twitter.