Issue #130 - Vidit Bhargava
Happy Monday, everyone!
We made it to Issue #130! Thank you to everyone who read last week’s issue ❤️
Deep Dish Swift is a brand new conference being held in Chicago April 30th to May 2nd in 2023. The conference aims to bring togethe Swift and iOS developers of all experience levels and backgrounds in an inclusive environment to share knowledge and experience from a diverse set of speakers. The first day is focused on indie development and and the next two are focused on Swift and iOS!
Today’s Spotlighted Indie Devs
📆 Today I’m featuring Vidit Bhargava.
👉 Please make sure to follow them or support them anyway you can! 😇 I’m excited to share their indie dev stories.
Creator of LookUp and Zones
1) What is your name? Where do you live?
Hi! I am Vidit Bhargava. I am based out of New Delhi, India.
2) Introduce yourself. Education? Background? Main job? Interests outside of tech? Interests inside of tech?
I design and develop apps under the name of Squircle Apps. Two of my most popular apps are LookUp and Zones.
I started designing apps with my elder brother when I was in high-school (He’d program the apps while I designed them). Eventually started doing both design and development of the apps, as my brother moved into a sales-strategy role at a larger tech company.
By the time I completed my undergraduate course in 2018, LookUp was was popular enough to be able to work on it full-time, and that’s what I have been doing ever since.
Inside the tech sphere, The field of Emerging Technologies has always fascinated me. Currently, I am excited about this idea of ubiquitous computing where technology disappears in the background but is available when we need it, instead of always being inside a rectangular display that we always need to carry along with ourselves.
My interests outside of tech are very varied. In my spare time I love baking pizza, watching movies, or reading fiction. I also, pretty much watch all Cricket matches where India is playing, if they are happening while in my work time, I play the commentary in background (as if it were a podcast!).
3) Have you ever considered yourself an indie developer?
Always. I’ve only been an indie developer throughout my professional career and have never had a job besides that.
4) What got you started/interested in creating your own applications outside of your “normal” job?
In school, I was the one of those kids who were very fond of computers and took a keen interest in designing web pages, I’d participate in inter school web designing competition, and also maintained an e-magazine for students to keep abreast with technology news and to catch up on tech-trivia.
Being an Apple fan and a tech-nerd, I was always interested in news around Apple products, so when the iPhone SDK and the App Store launched, I spent all my time reading about it. The idea that one could build and ship something to thousands of people worldwide was really exciting to me. My passion for web design and my fondness for Apple products quickly translated into a passion for App Design, and I was downloading Xcode and playing around in Interface builder in no time.
Soon I was trying to convince my brother to learn iOS programming so that we could turn our ideas and designs into actual apps!
5) How do you balance your time between friends/family, work, hobbies, and indie dev?
I try to. For me, the pandemic was a big eye opener in terms of taking the time to unwind seriously. Six months into the pandemic, I realised that my work balance had gone for a toss, and that I was burned out. These last couple of years, I have been working on restoring that balance.
Evenings are for family time. I stop work at 5PM and then spend the entire evening with my family.
I spend my weekends unwinding, that usually means baking pizzas or going to watch a movie.
6) LookUp - LookUp is one of my most used apps! I’m always looking up the definition of words when I talk to people online. I’m so bad at words but LookUp is always there to help me 😊 LookUp is so much more than a dictionary app though! When did you start making LookUp? What were your original goals?
My brother and I used to share an 8 GB iPod Touch back in 2012. I was in my final year at high school and was studying for my finals. Being a non-native English speaker, I’d often need a dictionary to learn and understand the meaning of various words, but dictionary apps at that time took up more than 200 MB of storage, and were cluttered with numerous features I didn’t need.
I wanted to make a dictionary app that was as delightful and easy-to-use as the iPod and iOS itself. A dictionary where finding definitions was easy and not bloated with junk features. That’s how LookUp came to be.
My original goals were to create a minimalist, easy to use app that provided contextually rich definitions.
Over time, the app has built on top of that, and a lot of the features (like Collections and Quizzes) have been a result off the feedback that our early users shared with us.
7) LookUp - The “Word of the Day” is probably my favorite feature of LookUp! It’s such a fun thing to wake up to in the morning each day. It’s not just about the word but its also about the artwork! How is the word of the day chosen and how is it matched up with the artwork? Is it all done manually or do you have some sort of algorithm or automated process for this?
It’s all done manually. I maintain a list of words that I come across and find interesting, along with a set of words that are relevant for students taking their English Proficiency exams. This is how the words are chosen mostly. Occasionally, the words are a bit topical too. For example, during holidays this year, one of our words of the day was ‘bauble’ which are small Christmas ornaments.
In terms of actually designing the artwork. The process involves designing one central element that pictographically represents the word’s definition and then picking up the right typeface that goes with the definition. So if it’s a formal word the typeface is likely to be a formal looking serif font, if it’s more fun, I try new, more eclectic fonts. I do maintain a library of designs that I have created over time, and the fonts I have used, so it’s easier and faster for me to make more consistent designs.
8) LookUp - What was one of the most fun things to build in LookUp? What was the most difficult thing?
Really enjoyed building the Learn feature in LookUp. I spent a few months researching on spaced repetition techniques and learning methodologies, and then designed and built something that took the physical flash card approach and gave an interactive technology-driven spin to it.
Building the Learn feature was an entire summer’s worth of work, but the things I learnt during the process informed me in how I wanted to build things for LookUp.
Recently, the challenging thing I worked on was the Reading Mode feature in LookUp. It’s a mode that the users can turn on to create Live Activity that exposes key LookUp functions in the Dynamic Island and on the Lock Screen.
Live Activities is a new API which also meant that many things that didn’t work were simply bugs that developers at Apple were also working on fixing. I didn’t have an iPhone 14 Pro while developing for the Dynamic Island, so I was really guessing how people would use it. And the feature wasn’t exactly what Apple marketed as a use case for the Dynamic Island, so there was the added anxiousness of whether this’d be something people find useful. But ultimately it was a worthwhile challenge as the people do seem to be enjoying it.
9) LookUp - One of the things I love the most about being a developer is being able to learn different domains for the projects I’m working on. How has your knowledge of words grown since you’ve been working on LookUp? Do you have any favorite or least favorite words?
For example, I’ve learnt about how the same word can not only have multiple definitions but those multiple definitions can have different origins too. So, the word could be the same, but it could have arrived at a certain usage through many different ways.
While I was building the Learn feature for LookUp, I researched heavily on learning techniques and ways in which one could gamify the learning process.
Occasionally in my research of new features, I also stumble across ideas that are relevant to the larger sphere of technology too. So while I was reading about learning techniques, I came across this concept of Habit Loops, and how social media uses these habit loops for engagement, that ultimately makes people addicted to these apps, there’s a lot of work that goes into making sure that the habit we’re encouraging through habit loops are actually positive habits.
I don’t particularly have favourites, but I do find it fascinating to see how words from different languages have landed into the English vernacular. For example, the word cushy is derived from the Urdu word for pleasure i.e. “Khush”. Or, how Shampoo, which wasn’t introduced in Europe until the 19th century, is derived from the Hindi word for a head massage i.e. “champu / champi”.
10) Zones - I love this app so much! I’ve been a Zones user since I think the day you launched it. I work at a company that is fully remote and it’s so nice to be able to quickly see what time it is for my teammates. What inspired you to build Zones? Working with dates and time zones is rarely fun. Did you run into any weird date or timezone issues while building Zones?
The idea of creating a Time Zones app has been on my mind for a long time. My cousins are scattered across different time zones, and it’s always a challenge for us to find a common time to chat.
But this most recent push to build something in the time zones area came in late 2021, when I was scheduled to attend an online meet-up, two weekends in a row and between the two meet-ups, cities in US made a Daylight savings time change. I ended up being one hour early for the meet-up, which given the time zone difference was way too early in the day here in Delhi.
Working with time zones is probably one of the least fun aspects of software development, and there was a fair share of weird date-time issues while building Zones.
I spent a good amount of time building and fixing the time conversion wrapper I had built for Zones. After I thought I had everything ready, I went to WWDC, and there one of my friends shared how they were facing this really peculiar Time Zone issue which was only affecting cities in Australia, so I spent a week locating and fixing more bugs. Did you know that apparently out of the different ways to initialise a TimeZone in Swift, some of them are more reliable than the others?
11) LookUp, Zones - What’s next?! Do you have any future features that you can share with us?!
Zones just had a major update with a subscription roll out and some key improvements to Weather and Holidays data. With Zones, the next few months are going to be about ironing out any issues and working on user requests.
LookUp has a lot of exciting updates planned for this spring. I am working on a redesign of the Learning features and the quizzes. There are other major overhauls planned too, but I hope to be able to talk about them in the coming weeks.
Apart from LookUp and Zones I am building a movie recommendation app. It’s built on a unique take on movie recommendation, helpfully there should a beta available soon.
12) What’s been the hardest part of being an indie dev? What’s the most fun part of being an indie dev?
The hardest part has been juggling the various responsibilities of indie development. Indie Development is not just about the development of apps, it’s also about ideation, design, and marketing of the app. The marketing part can be particularly challenging.
Oddly enough, it’s also fun to be able to gain all that cross-functional knowledge. I feel I’ve learnt more about design, development, and marketing through building LookUp and Zones than I’d have learnt on a job.
The most fulfilling part of indie development is being able to create something and put it out in front of people, and then see them enjoy it. When someone writes in to say that the app helped them prepare for their TOEFL test, I feel extremely satisfied.
13) Is there anything else you’d like to tell the indie dev community about you?
That’s about it. Always happy to help fellow indie developers with anything I can. I am available at mastodon @email@example.com and on Twitter at @viditb.
14) Do you have any other indie devs that readers should follow / lookout for?
My following list is almost all indie developers. Everyone in the indie development community is largely welcoming and helpful.
Charlie Chapman of Dark Noise, Mustafa Yusuf of the Task App, James Thomson of PCalc are just some of the indie devs who are incredibly kind have always been helpful.
Newly Released and Updated Indie Apps
Here are some newly released and newly updated apps from this past week! If you would like to possibly see your app in this list, please submit your app to the look at me form 👀
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