Nov 25th, 2009

droid-flashlightWhile big companies like Gameloft and Whitepages debate whether developing for Android sucks, is awesome, or they have no clue, something much more organic and enjoyable is going on in the shadows of the developing community. We’re talking about indie developers who realize problems/needs in the community and set out to solve them in their spare time. I’d like to share with you a really fun story about a great application for the Motorola Droid called “LED Flashlight”.

There are a billion “flashlight” apps on Android Market but the vast majority of them just enable full brightness and the “never sleep” setting to turn the touchscreen into a glowing rectangle of light when you’re in need. But the Motorola Droid has an LED Flash for the camera that – and if you’ve tried it you know – has an awesomely bright LED Flash. Is there an application on Android Market that allows you to use the camera’s FLASH as an actual flashlight? This is exactly what people were asking on on a thread called “FlashLight that uses Camera Flash” in the Motorola Droid Forum!

Unfortunately, no such application existed. Member after member reported their yearning to use the LED as a flashlight. Sure… the Galaxy had an application that did just that, but it was not compatible with the Motorola Droid. Dangit.

Enter eclipsed4utoo and Chet.

Both members realized the desire and made it their mission to create an application that would fill this want/need. They started tossing ideas around, pasting code and providing status updates. Less than a week later, after 94 posts of entertaining problem-solving back and forth, Chet offered to Email AF members his APK to test. The feedback? ASTOUNDING.

He was bombarded with requests and overwhelmed with the feedback/suggestion that he should make a way for people to donate. LOTS of people donated. So much that people starting recommending he sell the application on Android Market.

He did… and to date he has 1,000 to 5,000 downloads at .99 cents a pop. You do the math. And oh yeah, within the first couple days of being available the sheer numbers of Motorola Droid users wanting this feature, finding his application, buying it and rating it extremely high ROCKETED “LED Flashlight” into the Top 15 Paid Apps on Android Market. Ironically, LED Flashlight was shining on Android Market.

You didn’t forget about eclipsed4utoo yet… did you? Shortly afterwards he went to market with his own version of LED Flashlight called MotoTorch, making it available for free. Over the next few days competitive spirits were fueled and each developer started adding more features to their applications including widgets, strobes, morse code and more. This was an Android Application Developer success story happening right before our eyes – on what other platform would we see this type of innovation and spirit reflected so immediately?

As a Motorola Droid owner myself, I thought this was one of the most fun stories to follow. There was a need and these guys set out to provide a solution, with the entire thing unfolding before our eyes in real-time. I was interested in this as MORE than just a “there’s an app for that” story so I followed up with Chet and he was happy to answer a few questions about his experience:

Give me a brief bio. Who you are, what you do, where you live, what you’re interested in and how you found Android.

I am a Computer Engineer in my late 20s. I have a day job and a family, love technology, and am currently obsessed with my Droid (my first smart-phone). I have been wanting an iPhone since they came out, but was disappointed at the requirements to develop for it. I’ve been following android since the G1 came out. Unfortunately, T-Moble just didn’t have a network that would allow me to switch from Verizon. So naturally when the Verizon/Android rumors started leaking, I was glued to Phandroid and BGR.

How did you find Phandroid and sign up for in the first place?

I found and became addicted to Phandroid leading up to the Droid release. came at the release to collaborate with all the other new Android users out there. There has been a ton of useful info out there.

Two days after the Droid came out, someone was looking for a camera that utilized the LED flash. Four days later you responded that you were working on the application. How long had you been working on the app? How did you get the idea?

I had only had my Droid for a couple of days and knew a flashlight was going to be a handy thing to have in my pocket all the time. I went to the thread looking for a real flashlight like everyone else. Since one didn’t seem to be out there I was glad to have a problem to try and solve.

You had never made an Android Application… Developing for Android the first time, describe your experience. Good/Bad? Easier/Harder than you thought?

I am really enjoying Android. There are some new concepts, but overall it is an enjoyable process. Any Java developer should have no problem working in the Android world. I see Android flying by the iPhone in no time.

The “Flashlight Thread” absolutely EXPLODED and before long, you were offering it for free via PM/Email and getting donations via PayPal. Were you surprised at the response?

Absolutely! I was just trying to work through the problem. I never had any intention on making money off of it. I was truly honored by those who wanted to donate without being asked.

What made you finally publish the application on Android Market and can you describe the experience of publishing your first app?

It was the all the support from the forum (and donations) that urged me to go through the Market developer process and publish the LED Flashlight. I had looked at it in the past, but was turned off by the $25 fee to become an official developer just to post free apps.

How has your response from Android Market been? Were you surprised? Disappointed? Were you looking at the download stats repeatedly?

Very impressed by the Market. I didn’t expect a new app to get any notice. Although, it is hard to say how much of my initial exposure was driven from the forum. Within just 2 or 3 days I was pushing towards the top of the “Top Paid Apps”! I couldn’t believe it! I think I wore out my refresh button watching the download stats page :)

You were the FIRST LED flashlight app in Android Market and a few days later another developer who had been there for the duration of the thread released a Free/Donate version of a flashlight. Thoughts or comments?

Sure, healthy competition is a good thing. I think we will see a threshold of complexity and quality that will require a paid app solution (or potentially a open-source community). There are tons of great free apps out there already. I believe in the free market, if a quality app comes out cheaper (or free) why shouldn’t it be the standard. Quality, support, and features will be the key in the end, the users will decide.

I have just released v1.2 based on requests. New features include a widget, a workaround for the auto-brightness feature going nuts when the light comes on, a keyboard sliding bug-fix, and some nicer looking buttons.

Do you care to share with readers how much you’ve made on Android Market and what you think this does/doesn’t mean about the potential for developers to make money on Android Apps/Games? Would you mind sharing your statistics for the app?

Officially, I am down $25 right now from the Developer fee, but should be seeing payouts from Google soon with over 1400 orders (92% active). There is definately a lot of potential here. I would encourage all developers to consider publishing apps to the market. The key is to create an app that will solve a problem for the user (boredom is a valid problem that most people deal with). I think iTunes has proven the 99 cent price mark approach. There is certainly power in numbers and almost anyone will drop a buck for something they want.

After looking back at the past couple weeks – how would you sum up the experience?

I feel like I have experienced a micro version of the .com boom…

With your first app under your belt and having been a pretty big success, do you have more plans to develop Android Apps or will you consider this a one-hit wonder? Will you wait until ideas come up or are you actively plotting your next project? Or in short… where does Chet go now?

I have had ideas for mobile apps long before I had a smartphone. I would mention them here, but I might find it on the market next week if I did. I hope some of them come to fruition, but am not counting on the instant success of the LED Flashlight.

I hope you all enjoyed this look into the making (or legend as I call it) of an application. From the realization of needs to the launch on the market – it all happened on our little home for Android lovers at AF/Phan. Thanks to Chet and eclipsed4utoo for their awesome work and for all of the Android Forums and Phandroid Community who make us their go to destination for everything Android related!

I want to ask everyone to think about THIS example when they’re deciding whether or not to buy an application on Android Market. Look at all the hard work and back and forth Chet put into making the LED Flashlight application. Sure… there might be free alternatives that pop up. Whether they are better or worse should often be inconsequential. If the application really helps you and you enjoy it, just think of it as tossing a buck to the guy as a way of saying “thanks” instead of considering it a purchase at a retail store. A LOT of Android Developers are people just like Chet who are doing work in their spare time to make Android a better experience for everyone. And I hope they make some money along the way. For those making their apps available for free? Props to you too – put a donate button on those bad boys!

Think about it… buying a 99 cent application that you’ll have and use forever is cheaper than buying a 20 ounce soda at the gas station and MUCH cheaper than that Starbucks Spiced Pumpkin Latte that you just downed in 30 seconds flat. Not to mention, that 99 cents gives the developer a vote of confidence and a real reason to CONTINUE developing their application. It makes them WANT to listen to user feedback and improve their application and the experience.

In short… application developers are much of what makes Android great – please support them!

WARNING: (as suggested by Silverwing)
I just wanted to bring this to everyone’s attention, and perhaps you could add this to the description. If you “fix” this app. and make it possible to adjust the strength of the LED, a maximum mode in an LED can (and if is strong enough for this phone, will) hurt the LED bulb after using it for extended periods of time (even in military grade equipment). So if you can keep it on a lower setting, do that unless absolutely necessary to put it to full strength. I also suggest you put a disclaimer that you are not responsible for broken equipment and that people use this software at their own risk. You don’t want some jerk trying to sue you or be a nuisance, otherwise. Trust me, there are a lot of people with nothing better to do, than try and score a few bucks.