Edward Kim is a bit of an anomaly in the Android developer world. He has managed to maintain a selection of popular apps in the Google Play Store while admittedly only focusing on Android as a hobby. Developer of Smarter Alarm and Android Developer Challenge 2 finalist Car Locator, Kim has managed to turn his hobby into a profitable enterprise. For Kim the key to success has always been about focusing on turning quality code into a quality product. As he reveals, he has learned there is no “silver bullet” when it comes to publishing top-ranked Android applications. His story is a testament to the results of putting in the work in order to reap the benefits.
We caught up with Edward as part of our Developer Appreciation Month and asked him our “10 Burning Questions.” Read on for the full transcript.
Phandroid: How did you get started with Android Development?
Edward Kim: Way back in May 2009, Google announced the Android Developer Challenge 2, which was a contest for developers to create and submit new Android apps. At the time, I was about to leave for vacation with my family and knew I would have some free time on the plane and in hotels, so I decided to buy a book on Android development and start development on an app idea I had called “Car Locator”. My intention and expectation was not to win the contest — it was all about setting a deadline for myself to learn Android and write my first app.
Much to my surprise, “Car Locator” actually ended up winning 3rd place in the travel category, which came with a $25,000 cash prize. Motivated, I started writing more apps and improving existing ones. The rest is pretty much history from there.
P: What phone do you personally use (or what is your favorite Android phone)?
EK: I bought the Galaxy Nexus the day it came out. This is the phone I still use today. I have to say though, my favorite Android phone of all time was the Nexus One. Something about that phone felt so good to hold in your hand. It was the perfect size and weight.
P: What was your biggest challenge in developing Smarter Alarm?
EK: Smarter Alarm is essentially a personalized news feed reader. It aggregates personalized information from various feeds and web services, compiles the information into human-understandable sentences, and then actually reads the sentences to you aloud. Smarter Alarm can read you lots of different types of information, including weather, sports scores, stock quotes, Facebook birthdays, news stories, Google Calendar events, famous quotes, and much more. To pull all this off, the app has to gather personalized information from a LOT of different feeds and APIs, including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, FanFeedr, and much more. Maintaining all this in a scalable and robust way is definitely the biggest challenge in developing and maintaining Smarter Alarm.
P: As an independent developer without the benefit of a huge team backing you, how do you balance time between developing for multiple apps on the Android platform?
EK: I believe the most important thing is to write good, maintainable code, and never ever use undocumented APIs. Once you have that down, maintaining multiple apps becomes very simple and straightforward. It’s very rare for my apps to break on new phones and new versions of Android, and when they do, it’s usually very simple to fix.
P: Monetization: in terms of driving revenue, can you tell us about your experience, your strategy, and the overall potential?
EK: My strategy for driving revenue has been surprisingly straightforward — simply try to get the highest ranking possible on the Google Play store. In my opinion, focusing my attention on getting high user ratings is the best way in my power to improve my rankings. And the best way to get high user ratings is to just write a great app. Sorry, there’s no silver bullet or “hack” here.
I also use AndroidLicenser to boost revenue on my apps. AndroidLicenser can boost revenue through a variety of different strategies (i.e. letting your users pay for your app through Paypal, automatically emailing your users to leave a positive rating on the Android market, reducing piracy, and automatically contacting users who tried to purchase you app on the Google Play market but were unable to for whatever reason). In full disclosure, I originally wrote AndroidLicenser for my own apps, but later opened it up to other developers for a fee.
P: What do you want to see in future versions of Android?
EK: I think I’d love to see improvements in general speed and smoothness, even at the cost of new features. Even on my Galaxy Nexus, Ice Cream Sandwich can feel laggy at times.
P: Do you develop for other platforms and how does Android compare to those platforms?
EK: I do not. I only develop for Android. Always have and always will.
P: If you could give one tip to fellow Android Developers, what would it be?
EK: Apps are a hits-based based business. Don’t be discouraged if the first app you release isn’t an overnight success. I’ve seen many friends become discouraged when, after spending a lot of time developing an app, they find it goes unnoticed by the smartphone masses. I’ve seen some developers give up, and some keep at it. I’ve also seen that those who kept at it eventually stumbled upon success. Keep on coding.
P: Tell us one thing that most people don’t know about you.
EK: Android development is actually just a hobby for me right now. I’m spending the vast majority of my time working on a new startup called ZenPayroll.
P: If you could only download and use one app for the rest of your life (excluding your own), which would it be?
EK: I have a terrible sense of direction and Google Maps saves me from getting lost multiple times per day.
We’ll have more with Edward throughout the day, including a special opportunity grab one of his popular apps at a discounted price, all as part of our Developer Appreciation Month. Stay tuned, and if you haven’t yet, be sure to take a look at a few of Kim’s apps in the meantime, particularly Car Locator, which recently received a major refresh.
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