We just finished our fastest development cycle ever: two weeks from concept to App Store.
Quicksilver and our partner SymPlay recently identified a pressing need in the medical community through one of our members. Regulations stemming from the Affordable Care Act require all covered medical service providers to post notices of non-discrimination. But this imposes a very difficult burden — notices run to 30 pages because doctors are required to post in 15 different languages.
Needless to say, the last thing a busy medical office wants to do is spend hours downloading Microsoft Word files and inserting contact information, then plastering those documents all over the walls. Where will they find the space? Even though the Department of Health and Human Services was kind enough to provide translations, this is still a very burdensome task for any normal medical office.
We realized that we could solve this problem easily with a simple app. All we would have to do is import all 63 translations into our system, then write a “fill-in-the-blanks” text replacement function to insert the contact phone numbers and addresses the law requires. Quick and easy. Better yet, we could free the medical facility from worry about which languages to include; we have them all. We sketched out a screen layout that looked like this:
Very clean and easy to understand. And we decided to make the menu animate, so it would be like the “attract mode” on a video game or pinball machine. The simple act of changing the screen would attract the eyes, and make it more likely for people to at least look briefly at the information being displayed. In a sense, then, it would be far better than a static cork-board in the corner of the room.
But it’s never as simple as it looks. We discovered some significant snags in this plan. Most significantly, the iPad does not have a few of the necessary fonts. It’s not entirely surprising that it can’t always handle Burmese or Assyrian, of course. But it meant that we had to come up with a clever alternative. Being gamers at heart, and knowing how to work around just about any graphical challenge, we came up with a clever approach that involved used PDF versions of the documents, converting those into PNG files, and then overlaying the substituted text on top. Sounds really complicated, but it was actually pretty easy to do once we realized we had to do it.
Another challenge that cropped up was that the formatting of some of the text files was very inconsistent and unattractive. We wanted certain bullet points indented differently, and we wanted the HHS address to also be indented, for readability. Once more, low-level hacking expertise to the rescue. We wrote a bash shell script that did a dozen tricky search-and-replaces on strings in the files, moving them around and even correcting for a bad phone number that HHS had put into some of the files. In a few hours, we’d updated all 63 files and the resulting text looked far better on the screen.
At the last minute, we found that we didn’t like the way the code transitioned from one language to another. It was perfectly functional, but it just didn’t “feel” right. So we took a little extra time to make a fade-in transition each time the language changed, and to scroll the left-side menu to highlight the currently selected language. Suddenly, the display came to life and the improvement became immediately obvious.
There’s one more fun thing we did, but I’ll save that for another post. The picture below will give you a hint.
Bottom line: we were able to get a fully functional product designed, built and out the door on multiple platforms (iOS and very soon to be Android) in just two calendar weeks, with no more than two people working on it at any one time. Amazing. Today’s tools may be complicated, but they’re also sophisticated and enormously powerful when they’re set up and working as intended.
To find out more about the very cool projects of our partner, check out the SymPlay Web site at http://www.symplay.com.