Math Formula

Friday, February 17, 2012

Free Auto Currency Converter Now Available On the Android Market

Dear all,

I am happy to announce that as of now, my first mobile application Auto Currency Converter is available on the Android Market (totally free of charge).

Taken from the description there:

Automatically convert currencies! Just start the app, and see immediately the conversion between your most probable currencies. A totally simple and easy to understand screen handling.
Further features:
  • Support for more than 170 countries and more than 130 currencies
  • Automatically maps your native and the current country to a currency
  • On app start, automatically provides conversion between your most probable choice
  • Keeping track of your most recent conversions, and thus providing even better suggestions
  • Capability for offline conversion (NO Internet required)
  • Fully automated update of all exchange rates
  • Conversion in both directions (from base to target currency, and vice versa) at the same time

Thanks to your feedback, I was able to improve the user interface a little bit. The final version looks like this:

First screen of Auto Currency Converter

If you have Android, you might want to check it out.

Each comment and rating on the market would be highly appreciated. Thanks for your support!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Progress Report: My First Mobile Application

A couple of weeks ago, I made a bold claim on this place: I want a tiny little piece of the mobile development cake. So, three weeks later, how am I doing with my first mobile application? Time for a quick update!

As I indicated in the last post already, I'll try to sharpen the knife on a simple, yet maybe useful application: a currency converter. Unlike other converters, though, on mine it is NOT required to select base and target currency yourself. Instead my converter has the ability to automatically "guess" your most probable conversion (based on your native and current location), and consequently I call it Auto Currency Converter.

Key features are:

  • Support for more than 170 countries and more than 130 currencies
  • Automatically maps a country to a currency
  • On app start, automatically provides conversion between your most probable choice
  • Keeping track of your most recent conversions, and thus providing even better suggestions
  • Capability for offline conversion (NO Internet required)
  • Fully automated update of all exchange rates
  • Conversion in both directions (from base to target currency, and vice verse) at the same time

In order to get feedback from potential users as early as possible (remember, I want to fail fast and fail often), here is the first draft of the user interface:

First draft of the user interface of the Auto Currency Converter
Even if you are not interested in my self-estimation of the progress and don't continue reading, I want to ask for your first impressions on that draft. You like it, you hate it, you would never use an app with such awful a background color, or you would love an icon of an unicorn in the upper right corner - whatever it is, please drop a comment below.

I'll describe the progress against three different dimensions: 1.) State of achievement; 2.) Problems encountered; 3.) Future activities.

1. State of achievement
I familiarized myself with the development environment (Eclipse with Android SDK). Running the device emulator is a bit slow at time, but it's doing a fairly good job.

The Android documentation is pretty good either, and for all the things that are not fully covered there, odds are that somebody else encountered a similar challenge already. For most questions arising I found an answer on the web very fast.

Accessing the Yahoo Finance service for exchange rates is not a big deal, either. I am happy to say that all calculation-related modules are in a proper test harness, as simple as they may be.

What I'm really impressed about is the great, flawless, built in SQLite database in Android. Easy to use and just working! I'm using the database both for the exchange rates and keeping track of the user's last conversions.

So, most features envisaged are in place. Also, I managed to provide a first draft of the user interface.

2. Problems encountered
As expected, the biggest challenge for me will be the user interface.

For a small application like this, providing the required functionality is a piece of cake; providing a good-looking user interface for me is not. Not only are there some challenges unique in mobile development, but even more, it is simply time consuming.

Ensuring the application

  • looks good several different devices (imagine a smartphone vs. a tablet screen) and
  • different operating system versions (most smartphones still run Android 2.x, but some nice features were added in 3.x, which I want to use if available)
  • supports both landscape and portrait screens (and ideally, also the transition between those two)
  • finding proper free icons
  • supporting different user-languages and preferences (what should be displayed as "08.02.2012" in most European countries should better be "02/08/2012" in the US)
etc. ... it simply sums up.

Some of the other potential challenges I did not face up to now (such as marketing and the likes), simply because I did not yet publish my application.

3. Future activities
Most features are in place; what remains to be done is polishing up the user interface.

What I have not yet decided, is whether to include ads (the easiest choice probably being Google's AdMob) in that first application, or not. I guess users are most likely much more opposed to ads if they are introduced later, compared to having seen them from the very beginning.
On the other hand, if I keep seeing this first app as a pure learning field, and may be a "reputation builder", there is no need for ads at all.

Oh yes, and then, finally, I should publish the app as well, and make people aware of it.

Apart from that, there is another thing that concerns me: I think that I totally lack any vision of what exactly I actually want to achieve (not with this first application, but with the others yet in the pipe). What can I provide?
Even though I know I should have a clear picture on that upfront, I hope it will work the opposite for me and will evolve over time.

For the moment, I'm just interested in getting my first mobile application done, and I feel that I'm on a good track. In order to progress further, I need your help. I would be very grateful for a brief comment about your first impression of the screenshot above.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Keeping Your Mind On Fire

As I mentioned in my memories about Mexico, among the things I value most during travelling is having time to think about topics apart from my daily routine. In his excellent essay How To Be A Free ThinkerScott Berkun recognizes that  "... many of history’s great spiritual leaders chose to step away from their cultures and their worlds for a time." Clearly, there aren't too many things more inspiring than foreign cultures and environment.

For the good or for the bad, however, most of us are more or less bound to their place of living, and their daily routine (which, I guess, for most people is working, unless you adopted a 4 hour workweek). So, that made me wonder, what can you do to keep your mind on fire, even in a potentially mind- and idea-suppressing environment?

In the last week, I paid close attention to what does inspire me, and what provokes me to think about issues that really matter to me. Of course, people care about different issues, and consequently, for many of them different approaches might work out.

However, here are my thoughts:
  • Reading, ideally about a variety of different topics. What I'm onto these days is Mindfire (again by Scott Berkun; obviously a primer for this article) a master thesis about the political and economic transformation in Central-Eastern Europe, Management 3.0 (Jurgen Appelo) and I just finished novel price winner Ivo Andric's masterpiece The Bridge on the Drina
  • Physical exercises. Long hours of sitting in office do not only cause pain in the back, it's also pain for your brain. After jogging, swimming, skiing, mattress-sports or maybe just a walk my mind is not only open, but actually even full of energy for new stuff.
  • Wandering around with open eyes and open ears. I'm trying to re-invent the curiosity which I used to have as a child (pretty much to the sorrow of the people facing my constant questions).
  • Make notes. Since a few weeks, I don't leave home without my pocket Moleskine anymore. Whenever something interesting catches my attention, I write it down to came back to the issue later, or to discuss it with somebody who might be interested as well, or may be even offer some explanation. Since I'm doing that, I'm also surprised myself about how many questions are around in that brain over a day. It simply doesn't stop anymore once you've started!
  • A beer. Or maybe two. I'm fairly certain that this is absolutely necessary to re-adjust your body every now and then, and I think there is more than one example of a great thing that was initiated over a couple of pints in a bar.
  • Discussions with other curious or passionate people. Ideally ... well, see the point before.
  • Theater and exhibitions. Totally diving into another time or place might have impacts similar to travelling. Just that it's much cheaper, closer by, easier to reach, and in the morning you'll still wake up in your own bed again.

In case you look for some inspiration or idea on anything, you might try one or two of these approaches. 
Of course, there might be many and more approaches ... so I wonder, what are yours?

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