Issue #85 - Hugo Visser
Happy Monday, everyone!
We made it to Issue #85! Thank you to everyone who read last week’s issue ❤️
This is a jam packed issue so make sure you have a good amount of time set aside to take in all of this content!
First, this is a huge week for new apps! I have a section at the bottom of the issue where indie developers can submit new apps and app updates but I wanted to specifically call out this weeks because this is an insanely good list 👇
Two of these indie devs have been feature before but maybe I should feature the other three 😉
Second, I’m super happy to see that one of our previously featured indie devs, Chris Wu, release a new app this week! I may have had a little inside knowledge about this app but make sure you go check it out and give Chris some love 👇
It's launch day for my second SwiftUI app!🎉 I didn't have a way to keep track of (and modify) my different snacking plans for my theme park visits that would work in offline mode so I made an app to do that! Introducing Snack Plan! https://t.co/zWu8Bwhu7A— Chris Wu (@MuseumShuffle) March 6, 2022
Third, it’s also a new month which means we have a new sponsor! 🥳
This month’s sponsor is DoMarks! I’m so happy to have DoMarks sponsor Indie Dev Monday so please give them a look 👇
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 Dev
📆 Today I’m featuring Hugo Visser.
👉 Please make sure to follow them or support them anyway you can! 😇 I’m excited to share their indie dev stories.
1) What is your name? Where do you live?
My name is Hugo Visser and I live in Almere, The Netherlands
2) Introduce yourself. Education? Background? Main job? Interests outside of tech? Interests inside of tech?
I’ve been interested in computers since we got a commodore 64 which I loved to tinker with. I’ve a bachelor in computer science and started my professional career working on c and later java stuff, working on large systems. When Android came around I was really interested in it and started to tinker with it early on. I switched jobs and started to work on Android projects full time, in the more or less early days of apps. After a couple of years at that company, that also did other things besides Android projects, I wanted to fully go all in on Android and took the jump to become self-employed, allowing me to make my own business choices, decide who to work for and with and all of that great stuff :) I’m currently still very happy with that choice! Most of the time I do contracting for maybe a year and a half or so, for example to create a new app, or solve issues that they have with their app/process/tools, onboard new folks before moving on to the next contract.
Lately I’ve been doing more consulting type of projects, jumping in for shorter amounts of time, helping / coaching other developers building Android apps.
My tech interests I think are mostly around Android and the surrounding technologies such as cloud tech and automation. I also like to tinker with electronics and IoT. One of the best things I made allows me to automatically open my garage door when I drive up with my motorcycle, and it still feels like magic every time I use it ✨
My passion outside of tech is definitely music…I have been playing drums since I was young, I produce music and DJ, all as a hobby, though during the pandemic I did a few remote DJ gigs for conferences which was really fun to do too :) I also love to go out on my bike and clear my head a bit.
3) Have you ever considered yourself an indie developer?
I’ve definitely considered myself an independent developer, but more related to the freedom I enjoy to choose what to work on and when to work on it. For example, I now take longer breaks between contracts to either relax or work on things for myself, like drumbox or my other app Rainy Days. But I’ve always had the aspiration to work on my own product and grow that. I love product development, and while I can work on products for others too when contracting, you know that contract is always going to end at some point and it’s still not something you own yourself. I’d love to be fully self-sustained by running my own products either as an indie or running a small company.
4) What got you started/interested in creating your own applications outside of your “normal” job?
I was working on quite large (and boring) IT systems, more or less typical enterprise software when Android came around. It immediately captured my attention as it was using a language that I already knew, Java, but also because a mobile app is something that you can build all by yourself potentially. During that time I was mostly trying out and learning Android and I was also a bit frustrated that most Android apps weren’t really great. Most Android apps at that time were poor clones of their iOS counterparts, probably because those companies just wanted to get something out there fast or just didn’t understand the differences between iOS and Android apps. One particular popular rain radar weather app in the Netherlands caught my eye, in the sense that it showed a map of the country but it was completely squashed. I wondered if I couldn’t leverage a Google Map as the base layer so that it wouldn’t look so silly and that became my first app, Rainy Days. I can’t believe that was already 13 years ago!
I worked on Rainy Days over the years and expanded with many other regions, like the US and other parts of the world and it took off and got over a million downloads. It was so amazing that I could build this myself, I was completely hooked. And because I had built up quite some Android knowledge by that time, when I switched jobs and people started to ask for Android apps, I was ready to get into professional Android development.
5) How do you balance your time between friends/family, work, hobbies, and indie dev?
When I’m contracting I usually work 32 hours a week for clients, this allows me to allocate a day a week to work on my own things, do some administrative work, or just relax. I’m really happy with that balance, it also means that I usually don’t really feel a strong urge to “work” on the weekends because I already have allocated that day, though when I’m really into some new idea or project I just can’t stop myself from working on it, and sometimes it even feels I need to work on it to get it out of my system. But in general the balance of having a 32 hour client workweek + a spare day works great for me and gives me time for hobbies, friends and family on the weekends.
6) drumbox - Congrats on your recent release of drumbox! I saw it while scrolling through my Twitter feed and it instantly caught my eye 😁 I knew what it was, it was pretty, and I needed to have that. I mean, everything I do makes it terrible but it’s so much fun! When did you get started making drumbox and what were your initial inspirations? Do you have a musical history with drums or drum synthesizers?
Aww thanks! Awesome that you are having fun with it! I had the idea of doing “something” with audio for a while and somewhere last year or even the year before (?) I experimented a bit with what would eventually become drumbox. I’ve been playing drums since I was 6, playing in bands with other folks on and off until my early twenties and very interested in electronic music production since I was a teenager. When we finally got a PC the first thing I bought was a sound card so that I could make music with that PC, in glorious 8 bit low quality at that time :) I was alway tempted to buy music hardware too, and especially a drum machine because I wanted to try to recreate those beats I heard in house music at the time. However, those machines were quite expensive, at least for me as a teenager. When I finally did have the money for it later, I could never really justify buying hardware as the software had also progressed and I didn’t feel my music making skills were at such a level that I should pour a lot of money in it either :) I still make some music now and then, usually using Reason, but also using my op-z.
So back to drumbox; it was really something I always wanted to make, combining drums, electronic music, synthesizers and mobile apps! So before drumbox really became drumbox, I dabbled around in Faust. Faust is a language for creating audio processing software. It has a bit of a learning curve but it’s quite powerful. I thought that trying to make something to create drum sounds would be fun, also because I had the experience with music production software and knew how to create drum sounds in that environment.
But after trying some things I sort of abandoned that again, until this year. My contract had ended in October and was getting a bit bored, and somehow I remembered that experiment I did. After some tests to integrate my Faust code into an Android app, I focussed a little bit too much on getting started with the UI but when I had something that I thought looked nice and sounded alright I went for it and got more and more enthusiastic about it myself. I shared a very early version with a few friends that also have some music production experience and they seemed to like it too, which was very motivating to keep going. I worked a lot on the UI side of things in Jetpack Compose (the new Android ui toolkit) and also worked on the audio side in Faust, learned a bunch of new things, such as making icons with Figma, along the way too.
All in all I think creating drumbox took me around 7 weeks of work, often weekends and nights too (I always try to track my time spent on these things and it was a lot of hours…🙈).
7) drumbox - I have zero natural music skills so I’m currently terrible at producing anything that any other humans should hear with drumbox 🙉 Do you have any tutorials for using drumbox for someone brand new into this space? Or is drumbox meant as more of a professional tool? Either way, I love it and I’m going to keep practicing!
That’s a very interesting question! There are other “drum pad” apps around on Android, but they use loops and samples mostly and to me they don’t feel much like music production tools. My goal with drumbox is to have an app that I’d like to use myself, so I think I see it as an instrument as well, in addition to just having fun on the couch. For example, drumbox supports midi input so that you can combine it with other music making apps or hardware if you like. I think drumbox can be for the casual user, who just wants to jam on the pads using the pre-made sounds, as well as for the more experienced user, creating their own sounds and potentially using it with other music apps on Android.
I’ve tried to make drumbox easy to use and to understand, but I do realise that there are some concepts, like a sequencer, that might need more introduction than what the app currently provides. I’d be curious to what kind of tutorials you are looking for! I thought of writing some kind of manual…but then again…who reads manuals 😅 I’ve heard other users comparing the settings for the built-in presets so that’s also a way to learn I suppose.
Answering the question, other than the list of video’s I have on Youtube and Tiktok (which are mostly demos) I don’t have any tutorials at the moment, but it’s definitely something I want to explore more and welcome feedback on!
8) drumbox - The user interface is clean and intuitive 😍 I especially love the dials on the edit screen. Not going to lie… I spent too much time just messing around with those dials 😛 This is a two-parter question. How difficult were those dials to make? I can imagine that I would struggle with those. And what is a user looking to do on the edit screen? I was a little out of my element and it seemed pretty powerful so I would love to learn more!
Thanks! I did spend a lot of time thinking and struggling to make the app simple to use, it’s really where most of my time went. Implementing the dials with Jetpack Compose actually wasn’t that hard! What also helped is that I made similar controls for different apps in the past. The interaction with the dial was the hardest part. I first made them work like real knobs, but “turning” the knobs on screen just didn’t feel right, so I settled for dragging them. And finally I added a little bit of haptic feedback too.
The edit screen itself is basically the core of the sound engine for drumbox. Each pad is a unique voice in the synthesizer and using the edit screen you can change every aspect of that voice. For example the decay parameter will determine how long it takes for the tone to die out. If you want to make a trap-like 808 kick drum then you’d probably have a long decay time. But if you want to make something punchy a short decay will do the trick.
Even though the lingo on that screen is catered towards folks that have some background in synthesizers maybe, I hope that when you play around with the parameters you should get some feel of what they do. I have some ideas of making it easier to experiment creating your own sounds here, even if you do not exactly know what every dial does. Something like a “make me a kick drum” feature that would just randomize some of these to generate a new sound. I haven’t fully fleshed out the idea but I think that could be fun and surprising!
9) drumbox - I noticed that you created a video on TikTok for drumbox! I spend too much time on TikTok and I’m a huge fan of this idea 🙌 Do you think TikTok is where developers should be going to market their apps? I’ve been wanting to do this myself but I’m so intimidated by it 🙈 Do you have any examples of some other TikTok marketing videos or any tips on how to make them?
I am by no means an expert on TikTok videos here, in fact I never used it before until now! But even with a fresh account the videos I posted got quite some views, so I’d think there’s some potential for app developers, for sure. My process for posting these is not very scientific…Usually I’m playing around with the app myself, and when I create something I like, I’ll screen record that process, do a raw edit of that capture and then add text and stickers in the TikTok app. I think since drumbox is about making music and TikTok has a lot of music content it’s a good fit…I’m not sure if it would work for my weather app 😅
10) drumbox - What was the most fun part of making drumbox? What was the most challenging part? Is there anything you would have done differently?
The most fun part is that so much of the UI is completely custom and that was also the hardest part I think…Not so much creating those custom things, but trying to stuff in all the things that drumbox does in just a phone screen and in a way that makes sense took a lot of thinking and rebuilding. For example, one goal was to keep the pads visible on the screen as much as possible, but there will be Android phones that simply do not have enough space, so I made sure that on those phones the drum pad area is scrollable, but at the same time that it doesn’t scroll too much off screen when you open the kits or the sequencer with the browse button.
I have a lot of fun “testing” the app myself, which often results in one of those TikTok videos.
The audio part was challenging at times…While Faust has a lot of building blocks I could use, I also wanted to have some custom things, and that took some time to learn too. There’s also a lot of math involved with audio processing which I’m not really great at, but trial and error and advice from a friend who has also worked on audio stuff helped with that.
One thing I might have done differently is that I had external testers in a stage where the app was fairly complete and for only a short period of time. I might get them onboarded earlier next time and make sure there’s more time to gather feedback, though overall the feedback I got now was still great to validate some of the choices I made. Marketing-wise I maybe should have waited until showing off my initial version, because it took me almost another month for the app to get out there. But at the time I wasn’t really thinking in terms of marketing, rather I was so pumped about the app that I just wanted to share my progress. And seeing that other folks also liked it kept me motivated to keep working on it as well.
11) drumbox - What’s next?! Do you have any future features planned that you can share with us?
There are a couple of things that I am planning. First of all I want to make a couple of small additions on the audio side that will let you shape the sound a bit more. I’d also like to support tablets at some point as it seems that that is a form factor that other music apps and folks using these apps prefer too. And adding tools to make it easier to create and share your sounds are also things that I’d like to explore. Further in the future I’d like to create a version for iOS too if there’s demand for that. There are many directions I can go in really, and to some extent that will depend on the feedback I get from users of the app.
12) What’s been the hardest part of being an indie dev? What’s the most fun part of being an indie dev?
While I like controlling all aspects of an app and working alone, I also like to work within a team…This is the most challenging part. There are a lot of decisions to make when building an app in terms of features, design, and much more that is not simply a technical task. And then you probably need to make a website and try to get the word out so that people are actually going to find, use, and hopefully pay for your app too. And you need to decide on how to make money if you want to keep being independent. All of this can be a lot and at times that does make me a bit anxious. At the same time it’s also great to push yourself into doing these things, making these decisions and figuring out stuff. Fortunately I also have a couple of folks that have given me valuable feedback on many of these things with drumbox, which I really appreciate. The most fun part for me is that you own the thing you make, you can shape it the way you want it and feel proud about the result. It’s kind of amazing that you can create something that is potentially used by millions of people on their phone.
13) Is there anything else you’d like to tell the indie dev community about you?
Uhm nothing that I can think of! But I’m always happy to answer any questions people might have :)
14) Do you have any other indie devs that readers should follow / lookout for?
I think being Dutch I’m almost obligated to mention Jordi Bruin here 😬 Jordi is really great at turning creative ideas into apps very fast, and then also get them featured on the App Store…wow 😅 I worked with Jordi last year to bring his Soosee app to Android and that was a great cooperation, he’s a very nice person. Speaking of nice persons…Emmanuel Crouvisier of Cardpointers fame is also someone that is worth following. Full disclosure, I also worked with him, helping to navigate through the Android landscape for his Android app…He is doing very interesting things with offerings that are not just apps but also browser extensions, really positioning Cardpointers as a service in that way.
On the Android side, you should give Alex Styl a follow. He has been talking about and documenting his indie dev journey, which I also find interesting to follow. Oh and I did not work with Alex (yet?) 😂
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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