Going through the review requests people send using the contact form, I bumped into what I thought was a great idea. It certainly lacked the glamour of big productions but there was something about the way it was put together that caught my eye. Some quick research reveals that, yes indeed, this is an amateur affair from someone without any academic programming background. Maybe there's a nice story there.
The person behind it is Jonas Lieben, a Belgian business engineering student with a passion for apps. At the age of 15, when he got his iPhone 3G as Christmas present, the idea of creating his own app stuck on his mind. Self-taught in Objective C first and Cocoa Touch later, he relentlessly learned with books and got his answers from Google. From his first Hello World project to the app we see today on the App Store, there is a tough journey supported by the strong desire to develop an app. "If you have found the solution, you really get a moment of excitement. That's one of the reasons I like app developing" he says. This is my chat with the Jonas Lieben, developer of Public Transport Wake.
What are the skills required for someone without programming background to publish an app on the App Store today?
I think a lot of people can learn how to develop an app, but you have to put effort into it without getting an instant reward. So you have to be really patient. You have to find the right motivation. Some people start developing apps for money. Money is not a good motivation to learn app development, because it takes a lot of time to learn it. A lot of people who do it only for the money, stop after two weeks. In my opinion, the money is just a nice bonus, but not the reason why I develop apps. I develop apps, because I want to make great apps that people all over the world will love. It is just amazing to realise that someone is using my app at the moment.
A lot of people can learn how to develop an app, but you have to put effort into it without getting an instant reward
You have to keep searching for more information and explanations if you don't really understand something. Learning app development on your own isn't like a course on school. You have to find the information yourself on a lot of different places. Besides, it isn't possible to have an understanding about every technology and every thing you can do with Xcode, just because there's so much information. That's why it is important to get the basics right. If you have the basics, you will be able to find a solution to a problem that is more difficult.
How did you find help when you where stuck with some part of the development?
I don't know a lot of people in person who are also developing apps. If I am stuck, I'll search a solution on Google. If I don't find a solution on Google, I'll ask my question on a forum. The community is really helpful. There are some great sites like Stack Overflow and also Apple's own developer forum. The people on these fora have a lot of expertise on app development and are really helpful.
Your latest project, Public Transport Wake, is a travel app that sends alerts when you approach your destination. What is the motivation behind it?
I have made this app because I use a lot the bus. In the early morning, I see a lot of people sleeping in the bus. They don't sleep comfortably because they don't know when they are going to arrive. That's why I made this app. People will sleep more comfortably on the bus or train when they use this app, because they don't have to worry about waking up when they are almost at their destination.
I always thought people who commute develop some type of internal alarm clock after years doing the same journey. But then, I have fallen asleep, of just forgot my stop being too distracted reading the paper or playing with my phone. So you basically developed your own app to be able to sleep a bit more on your bus ride, right?
Yes, that's right. In our country, the public transport isn't really good. There are a lot of trains and buses, which have delays. In that way, you can't really commute. Moreover, if you're reading a book, you can easily lose sight of time. With Public Transport Wake, you'll know when you are almost on your destination.
I’m using other transport app specifically for London that has a similar feature, but never wanted to rely too much on it. What makes Public Transport Wake unique?
You can use my app everywhere, not only in London. Furthermore, you can use my app also on an airplane and it comes with some great ringtones. Moreover it is easy to use.
How do you remind people to run and set up the app every day?
That's a nice question, I haven't thought about. It is a great idea to do it in a next version. Just like the alarm clock app from Apple.
The Swedish flag theme on the app is a little unsettling for my taste but I really like the concept of the icon. What was the design process for it and how did you end up choosing this design?
After I got an idea about my app, I instantly knew how to design my logo. It had to be a train or a bus, with some element of an alarm clock. The choice of colours was more difficult. I have chosen the yellow because not many app icons use yellow. Yellow makes the app icon recognisable and makes the app icon stand out from others — a lot of app icons are blue. Also, the visibility of yellow is great on a lot of different backgrounds.
The most characteristic thing about the app is the use of bright colours and high contrast. In fact, this must be the first app I see using the top navigation and status bar all in yellow. Why did you decide to go down this route?
After I had designed the icon, I wanted to incorporate the colours from the logo into the user interface. I think it is important that you differentiate your user interface. If all apps have the same user interface, you will easily get tired of the design. If you make something different or new, people need some time to get used to the design. But in the end, they’ll love it.
By the way, iOS 7 has also inspired me. Simplicity and clarity are the 2 most important concepts. I tried to incorporate these concepts in my app, in order that the app is consistent with the OS.
How has the app been received by your friends and family? What type of comments are you getting?
They think it is an awesome concept and they like the design. I also let other people test my app. They have given me some great suggestions. These people weren't family or friends, just because they are less biased. People who don't know you, give better feedback. Sometimes it's difficult to accept that feedback, but you don't have to take it personal and if you incorporate these suggestions and find a solution for these comments, you will end up with an app that is a lot better. As a developer, you know perfectly how to use your own app, but that doesn't mean other people know how to use your app. If other people instantly know how to use your app, you can say that your app is user-friendly.
What's next for Jonas Lieben?
In the following months, I will translate my apps into Dutch and French. In addition, I would like to redesign my website. And there's also another app in the pipeline. Unfortunately, at the moment, I haven't a lot of time because of school, but I hope to accomplish all these things in the next year.