Billy Lo

May 10, 2020

4 min read

Ep. 21 — Seven unexpected lessons when building HomeSweetHome

First things first. Let’s start with Why?

Why? During shelter-at-home, I have found it too easy to turn a 20-minute trip into a 1-hr wandering in Wal*Mart because my brain is starting to crave away time. So, I made this tool to help ourselves better manage time.

How? Once installed, it automatically starts a timer as you leave your home wifi network (you don’t need to manually launch the app or press any buttons).

What? Every 15 minutes*, it will remind you using a notification with an unique beep. Once you return home, it will record the trip time so you can see daily/weekly trends.

Extra? I have chosen not to use GPS location** or have a login system, so your data remains private and anonymous.

The Development Process under this unique situation

One of the most important decision was picking a scope that is useful, easy to understand and can be built very quickly. The clock was ticking and it was the first time I tried to build something from zero to AppStore in a week.

It’s a pretty ambitious goal, but it’s worth a shot. So, I went to work, spending every hour outside of my day job on the app, making quick decisions and hope that I won’t run into showstoppers I can’t overcome.

What have I learned?

a) Google Play said it had a major backlog and would take 7+ days to review submissions, instead of the normal 1 day turnaround. Ouch! I just coded my hearts out, got stuff working in record time to help the public. Now, I needed to put it in the freezer for 7 days and hope for the best? (Pro tip: Tweet to Google Play account publicly. It may work for you too.)

b) Three days after their initial approval, Google sent me a shocking email to tell me they have delisted my app because they don’t allow apps tied to the pandemic! I ended up creating a new submission with a new app name and crafted wordings carefully in the app description and got lucky the 2nd time. Phew! (Moral of the story — Don’t give up: eventually you will figure it out. There is no short-cut. The language you use matters.)

c) iOS AppStore reviews, which were historically slower than Google Play, gave me numerous pleasant surprises. During the pandemic, they stepped up to offer ultra-fast feedback (within 1–2 hrs!) and offered useful details when my builds crashed (yeah, this tends to happen when doing things too quickly :-)) — Pro tip: Don’t get discouraged if the Beta reviewers reject you. They are handled by different people. It’s still possible to get approved for your production release.

On the technical side, there were a few unexpected lessons too.