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Developer Interview: Building Apps for Wearables Isn’t about Tools

Softeq Development is involved in everything mobile: from business apps, digital imaging and utilities to mobile games, wearable technology, sensor-rich equipment and its remote management. They have built dozens of embedded solutions, web, and mobile applications for such clients as Nike, NVIDIA, Omron, AMD, Atlas Copco, EPSON, Disney Parks and Resorts. T. Our associate author, Alkis Polyrakis, discussed with Softeq’s CEO, Chris Howard.

What is the philosophy that you employ in order to assist companies take advantage of the full potential of the latest technology?

To me, our philosophy is to be ahead of the curve. It means we try to know and adopt new APIs, tools, and technologies before customers actually need it. We obtained and evaluated Google Glass, EPSON Moverio, Oculus Rift, LEAP motion controller and many more new tech novelties long before the first project came along. Once a customer approaches us with a project for those new technologies, Softeq is already the most competent tech provider the customer can possibly find on the market. Having close ties with many companies in Silicon Valley, we were one of the first tech firms in the world to access and implement, for example, Microsoft’s high speed video APIs on Windows Phone before they were available to the public.

Digital magazines
Digital magazines

What are the benefits of implementing a Proof of Concept in business projects?

A proof-of-concept (PoC) is a great first step on the way to a new product, device or technology that was never seen before because it’s a low-risk and low-investment approach. Often, it requires a 10-20 times smaller budget than actual new product development.

In our business, we have come across two different goals, or approaches if you like, to building PoC apps. One is when a customer is looking to prove the feasibility of his new business idea. At times, our clients need to demonstrate a working prototype of an upcoming product at a trade show, board meeting, or at an investor meeting. Prototypes later can become Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) and both can be stages of a full product development cycle if the idea gets approval.

Xamarin framework Business apps development
Atlassian Jira Project management
LabView – LabWindows – MathLAB Wearable devices
Flurry – Google Analytics – Localytics – Adjust – Parse Monetization
Unity Games development

Softeq’s Toolset

The second typical need is when a technically advanced company researches next-gen ideas, software or hardware they’re looking to jump into. Here, building a proof-of-concept in the first place is a way to test the feasibility of their vision for the application of new technology, a hardware component, or form factor. Just like that, our R&D teams have been working for Nike, Intel, and EPSON to help then visualize their new ideas and prove it is actually possible to do what they envision.

Do you have a specific development procedure when working on a PoC?

As a PoC is always something pretty innovative and non-standard, generally the development procedure is to identify the key features of what a client is trying to do in a bigger project, focus on only testing and proving out the specific new APIs or new hardware, and building a very simple framework in order to demonstrate that specific capability. After the PoC is approved by the management team, the investor, or the end-client, we proceed to flesh out the rest of the features and ship an actual product.

Which development and project management tools do you employ in order to facilitate your needs in cross platform development?

There are several cross-platform frameworks trending on the market now, and this is fair enough. The mobile market is no longer dominated by one platform, and most of our customers, both in the B2B and B2C segments, need to target wider audiences with various OS preferences. We use the C# based Xamarin framework for business apps, and Unity for games. Speaking of project management tools, we use Atlassian Jira by default or any other tool the client is more comfortable with.

Our readers would like to hear some examples that show how you managed to pump up a company’s marketing efforts with your apps.

Marketing apps for Blizzard and Branson Ultrasonics
Marketing apps for Blizzard and Branson Ultrasonics

Marketing apps vary, and we’ve delivered several dozen of them: from Blizzard’s BlizzCon event management app for helping improve the guest experience, to mobile CRM, promotional games, mobile magazines for corporate clients, and demo apps for tech events and industry-specific trade shows and all the way up to international tech summits and even Mobile World Congress where companies present their new or would-be products. We’ve built several kiosk apps for in-store demonstration of new gadgets to buyers. One of them was for NVIDIA’s SHIELD – the world’s first Android TV console. The kiosk mode allows demonstrating all functional features, including games, videos and music playback, while blocking access to system settings.

What are the main challenges that you face when you attempt to build solutions for wearable devices?

We’ve been working on embedded devices for a very long time, over 15 years now, that’s why the era of wearables came very natural to us. The challenges anyone designing a wearable device inevitably faces are technical limitations of the form factor, such as short battery life, small amount of memory, insufficient performance, custom communication protocols (infrared, Bluetooth low energy) and more.

However, Softeq is uniquely positioned in this market and beyond, in the Internet-of-Things (IoT) space, because we do everything from hardware, low-level and firmware to web backends and mobile apps covering all our departments end-to-end. To extend that further we have a game department, and that even gets mixed in with wearables and the IoT.

Hardware Design and Embedded Development Lab deployed in Softeq's HQs in Houston, Texas
Hardware Design and Embedded Development Lab deployed in Softeq’s HQs in Houston, Texas

Can you tell us about some of your wearable device projects and the tools that you employ?

One of our current projects involves embedded touch panels, and we do both firmware for the panels and Qt-powered games for them. Another product we helped create – the BlinkFX Wink, which is a wireless control LED light wearable device – is being used for an upcoming game show at CBS.

There’s a wide range of tools and instruments, mainly in C, that we use for such projects. For instance, recently we started receiving multiple requests for projects involving drones. We suggest using such behavior modelling tools as LabView, LabWindows and MathLAB, but it’s not the tools that matter most. The most complex part is building math models and algorithms based on them.

Do you provide consulting services as to which model can maximize a game’s revenue?

The monetization system of a game is usually built by a tandem of experts – a game designer and a marketer. The game designer is responsible for building game mechanics in terms of monetization and balancing economics while the marketer drives user acquisition campaigns.
To ensure we deliver the maximum amount of effort on our end to ensure the game’s success, our game designers invest a lot of time in research, comparative analysis of top apps, exploring best practices and efficient mechanics to put them in our arsenal. From the game design perspective, we certainly consult developers at the early stages of building the monetization system: building the core loop, the in-game store, retention mechanics, economics balance, analytics, A/B testing system implementation, etc. For instance, we work with such analytical tools as Flurry, Google Analytics, Localytics, Adjust, Parse and the selection of tools depends largely on the game specifics and client’s preferences.

Thank you very much for taking the time to share your strategy with our readers.


Agile tools for the Samurai Coder

This post is not meant to help you understand agile methodologies. A simple Google search will be enough to reveal tons of posts presenting, explaining, analyzing and suggesting how to make agile methodologies work to your advantage. And we have to keep in mind that they all usually apply to teams of 3 or more people. This post is about the freelance developer who just needs a simple way to manage tasks and projects. I do not claim that I present the absolute and irrefutable Truth; every person has their own way of working. This post simply intents to be a starting point to another way of doing things.

Meet Sally. Sally is a developer, a Samurai Coder, a hero of the day and she absolutely loves writing code. She works as a freelancer and the other day she got a new project from a customer.

Before starting work, she picks up a piece of paper. She writes down the day’s tasks (to-do’s, appointments, ideas etc) and crosses off the completed ones. She repeats the same process every day. These sheets of paper pile up and follow her everywhere… until she finds Evernote. Evernote replaces the paper and uploads her notes to the cloud, but still…. The notes multiply just as much and just as quickly as the papers do. They only stop creating piles on her desk.

Sally is desperately in need of solution – a way to capture and track her customer’s numerous requests as well as the 100+ things she has to do. What about a bit of agility and organization? How about combining simple methods and tools to get things done? Sally gave it a thought and found out the 5 most important things to her:

  1. Ability to separate projects and tasks.
  2. Clean visual overview, i.e. understand what needs to be done, watch the progress or the big picture, and prioritize accordingly.
  3. Sharing and Collaboration features.
  4. Accessibility, i.e. ability to retreat her work through any device in real time.
  5. Speed, i.e. Sally’s work is programming, not using tools. Tools should work for her, helping her save time, and not the other way around.

The simple process

  1. Here’s a really simple and basic five step-process that Sally could follow. This kind of flow is Kanban-like (but I will talk more about Kanban on another post).
  2. Create a repository for every project.
  3. Separate it virtually in 3 areas: to “To Do”, “Doing” and “Done”.
  4. Add new tasks, requests or bugs in the “To Do” area.
  5. While working on a task, move it from “To Do” to “Doing”.
  6. Move the task to “Done” when completed.


The tools

There is a great variety of software tools in the web; tools for small teams, big teams, distributed teams… But how about one single person? We will see how Sally can follow this process with the use of 3 simple tools: a) Trello, b) Asana and c) Wunderlist

a) Trello

Trello’s visual layout is very intuitive. Imagine a dynamic whiteboard with columns (lists) and cards (like advanced sticky notes).
How to use it:

  1. Create Project with the use of Trello Boards: Each Trello board represents a project. Add lists (columns) to simulate progress. Add cards as tasks. And that’s all…
  2. Managing Tasks: A new Board has by default three basic columns: “To Do”, “Doing” and “Done”. You can drag a card over these columns anyway you like and you can always visually track both the card and its status.
  3. Handling of requests or bugs: Trello has a color mapping that you can apply on the cards (e.g. red color for bugs). You may add lists, comments and much more.


b) Asana

Asana is an advanced task list oriented application with an equally intuitive visual layout to Trello. It is fast, easy to use and quite popular.
How to use it:

  1. Create Project with the use of Asana Projects: Start a new project and add tasks in the center column.
  2. Managing Tasks: Tasks added in the center column get a level of hierarchy and may be stacked. You can start by creating the three high level tasks “To Do”, “Doing” and “Done” and then fill them with specific tasks accordingly. You can easily create a task, drag it to move and edit its details on your right hand side (add sub lists, comments and more). There is a checkbox in front of every task and may be checked if the task is completed. By doing so the task is removed from sight but if you prefer you can manually drag it bellow “Done”.


c) Wunderlist

Wunderlist is a pure task list oriented application, though their newest update has many improvements including Collaboration and Public Lists. It has a clean UI and is much simpler than Asana, quite fast and user friendly.
How to use it:

  1. Create Project with the use of Lists. Add a new list and add tasks in the main column. Just like a true boss…
  2. Managing Tasks: Add tasks in one column. In order to create some kind of flow for your tasks, create more lists (see the example in the pic below). Wunderlist is quite easy to use, but not as advanced as other tools, i.e. missing collaboration features, ability to assign subtasks, etc.


All of the above tools are equally fast, have the ability to collaborate (add more people to your list/project) and can sync to other available devices.

Quick Verdict:



+ Nice visual and collaboration.


– No task sub lists (there is a great checklist feature, but there is a minor problem: you cannot assign tasks to these lists. As a result you need to create separate cards).


– The visual style with the cards may overcrowd the board making it look messy.




+ Nice interface, quick.


– Not a nice “big picture” or “flow” visibility




+ Nice simplistic UI, powerful task list.


– Missing advanced features the other tools offer.


+ Their recent update added collaboration features.


Sally in our story has therefore many great tools in her disposal. All she has to do is put her pen and paper aside and work easier and faster. And you can all join her!