Tactus Therapy Solutions is creating an app, start to finish, in just a week. Follow along Monday through Friday to read how this four-person team goes from concept to the App Store in just 40 hours. See how to make an app, learn about a useful speech strategy, and interact by commenting on the blog or Twitter (#SLPApp) as the week goes on.

This is a live blog post, meaning it will be updated throughout the week of Feb 2-6, 2015. Scroll to the bottom for the latest updates. The app is now available on the App Store.

Day 1: Monday  |  Day 2: Tuesday  |  Day 3: Wednesday |  Day 4: Thursday | Day 5: Friday


Day 1:

9:02 a.m. The team assembles, ready to go for the week. Coffees in hand, they dive right in. If they’re going to make a quality app in just 5 days, they have to stay focused.

Megan starts the discussion by introducing the app concept: speech supplementation. “What’s that?” Clé asks. Megan explains that speech supplementation is using a support, like an app or communication board, to enhance the usefulness of natural speech. In most cases, it’s a piece of paper with the letters of the alphabet (often called a letter board) or a list of topics (called a topic board) that people often talk about. This is part of a field called AAC: augmentative and alternative communication.

a plain alphabet board

A sample alphabet board with instructions

 

A person who has difficulty speaking clearly, often due to dysarthria, aphasia, or apraxia, can use a letter board, topic board, or both, to help their listener understand their speech better. By pointing to the first letter or two of every word, the speaker gives the listener more context for what they are saying. When they point to the topic first, they narrow the range of possibilities of what they’re trying to say.

This online presentation from Drs. Hustad and Beukelman nicely goes through the basics of what speech supplementation is, how to use it, and the efficacy data.

Why an App?

9:15 a.m. Okay, great – the team gets the concept. Lots of people need this to help them with communication and it looks fairly simple. Buy why do they need an app? These alphabet and topic boards have been used by speech-language pathologists (SLPs) for decades as laminated pieces of paper. There are free ones to print right from the Internet. They’re relatively quick and cheap to make and work just fine, right? Well, sort of…

Megan explains that this app will take speech supplementation to the next level. It will be a game changer. It’s thinking outside the box. Okay, enough horrible idioms. An app can add value to what people are already using by:

  • Being available when paper boards may be left behind. Many people are never without their iPhones or iPads, so having an app would be more convenient.
  • Looking cooler. Using an app is a normal thing that most people do. Using a laminated piece of paper is something that emphasizes disability and makes the user look different.
  • Offering sound. Paper can’t talk, obviously, but an app can have sounds to say the names of the letters or read off the topics.
  • Being easy to personalize. Once you have a laminated board of topics, it’s not so easy to change the text without remaking the whole board. Sure, we’ve seen mailing labels stuck on top of out-of-date topics, covered with tape to protect them from dirt, but let’s go back to the second point. Not cool.
  • Reminding people that not all AAC apps are alternative communication. Most of the AAC apps on the market are designed to talk for the user. The user touches a picture or series of pictures and the app says the message. Or a user types in what they want to say and the app puts voice to the text. An app like this would be a strong example of how apps can enhance, or augment, the natural communication of the speaker, for those who can use speech.

For some reason the team doesn’t argue. Guess they know they’re here for the week, so better get started!

Design Decision

9:30 a.m. Megan takes them through a list of settings and layouts she has been working on. Letter order – alphabetical or in frequency order. Letter case – upper, lower, or mixed. Sounds – letter names, clicks, or none. Activation – on touch up, touch down, or dwell. Color – normal, high contrast, or rainbow. The list keeps going. Along with the necessary features, there’s also a wish list. Given the time constraints, not everything will make the first version.

10:05 Like any decent high-tech team, they use a good old-fashioned post-it notes and a dry erase board to organize and brainstorm. Ben and Megan write each screen, feature, button, and requirement on a post-it note and arrange them on the board.

All the tasks for the app

Text-to-speech is a new functionality that no previous Tactus Therapy app has used, so it’s going to take some research. Ben asks Clé to start researching online.

10:50 a.m. Meanwhile, the rest of the team starts moving the post-it notes around, this time in order of priority. In row 1 means it absolutely has to happen. Row 2 holds the “wants”, while row 3 is the “if there’s time” space. Row 4 is the “you’re dreaming” row, but who knows? Maybe this will all go a lot faster than they think….

Prioritization of the features

 

Assigning Tasks

11:08 a.m. Usually the team uses online software called Jira, a project management tool by Atlassian, to assign tasks and track progress. For a project that will be done so quickly and with everyone in the same room, there’s no time for inputting tasks and deadlines. Using the same post-it notes, row 1 tasks get moved to names or split between the two programmers and two designers.

Task assignment

 

11:25 a.m. Everyone is now hard at work with their respective tasks. The office only has 3 desks, so a bit of furniture re-arranging is required to fit 4 people and computers. Usually everyone works from home on their own schedules, using the office for some quiet work space or meetings 2-3 days a week. Each team members has a Macbook laptop as well as 1-3 iPads and iPhones. You have to use Apple computers if you want to develop iOS apps, and this office looks like a mini Apple Store today.

Text-to-Speech

11:40 a.m. A computerized voice breaks the silence: “this is a button.” Clé has figured out text-to-speech! He did a Google search for “text to speech on UI button objective C” and found some great information from devfright.com. Then he used a copy of another Tactus Therapy app to practice putting it in place. Hooray! It’s not even noon and one of the biggest challenges of this project doesn’t seem so scary anymore.

Searching online is a great way to find ways of programming your desired functionality or troubleshoot problems. Many developers are working alone around the world, but they’re all connected online. Sites like stackoverflow.com are immensely helpful, if you know how to sort through the information to separate the useful from the rest. A skilled programmer can recognize which suggested solutions will work for them, but novices may find themselves lost in code they don’t fully understand.

There is one implication of using the built-in text-to-speech to read the topics aloud. It means the minimum iOS for this app will be iOS7. Nearly all the Apple touch-screen devices can run iOS7, but the original iPad, now referred to as iPad 1, cannot be updated past iOS5, and many are still running iOS4. By using this feature, nobody using an original iPad will be able to download or install the app. Others using iPad 2 or iPhone 4 will need to have upgraded to iOS7 or iOS8 to use it. Is it worth it?

To help make this decision, the team goes to the statistics. Many apps send anonymous usage statistics to the developer to help them track down bugs and understand their customers’ behavior. Ben pulls up the data of all the users of Language TherAppy Lite in the past 6 months using the Flurry online software. Of all the unique users, only 3% used an iPad 1. To have the added functionality of the app being able to speak any topic or phrase entered into the topic board, it seems well worth it.

A Base App

12:45 p.m. Everyone has had a bite to eat while continuing to work. Ben announces that a base app is ready. Two main screens (letters and topics), an info screen, and a settings screen with buttons that flip between them.

An advantage of being an established app developer is that there is a library of working apps that have already been set up and tested, saving time on the basics. Ben took Comprehension TherAppy, the first app Tactus Therapy created, and took out all the buttons and code that aren’t needed. This leaves things like the status bar settings, landscape orientation, and 64 bit functionality that he now doesn’t need to worry about.

As of February 1, all new iOS apps submitted to Apple have to be ready for 64 bit processing, along with the previous 32 bit. While no Apple device yet has more than 4 GB of RAM (the iPhone 6 has just 1 GB) that can fully take advantage of 64 bit processing, they are preparing for the future and making sure apps are ready. Updates will also have to have 64 bit support and be compiled for iOS8 this summer, adding to the list of changes developers have to keep up with to continue to support their apps and release unpaid updates.

Ben’s next step is to add in the databases of letters and topics that Megan created so the screens don’t look so bare.

Side Tracks

Meanwhile, Clé carries on with text-to-speech, but now he’s working on a lower priority item: rate control. While rate control of the automatic voice wasn’t considered crucial, it was a next logical step. Sometimes it’s better to carry on with the task you’re working on, especially if you’re motivated, than to keep to a strict priority list. He manages to create a slider, using some of the code from Question Therapy, that controls how fast the US English voice in the device will read what’s on the button.

Letter Board Layout

Clifford is working on most of his tasks at once, trying to create a unified design, color scheme, and app icon. Ben will create the functionality based on initial sketches of layout Megan has created using MS Excel, adding the finished colors later in the week.

Excel layout of letter board

Megan wants the vowels aligned down the left side, so they’re easy to find. There need to be numbers on the board, so putting them down the far left allows them to double as row numbers for users who use scanning instead of direct selection. The space button allows users to indicate a new word, whereas the ? distinguishes utterances that ask a question.

Megan had intended to put a ! on the board as well, but it wasn’t essential. Ben wondered if an emoticon might be more useful, and everyone loved the idea. The smiley face has become a part of our written style to show humor, and many people who struggle with clear speech also struggle with getting their inflection just right to clearly indicate sarcasm or a joke.

Let us know: what’s missing? Send any advice you have from personal or clinical experience on the layout of this board. Tweet @tactustherapy or leave a comment on this blog.

Font Decision

1:40 p.m. Ben asks which font the app will use. The other Tactus Therapy apps use either Verdana or Arial Rounded MT Bold. Both are sans-serif fonts, or typeface that does not have lines, or serifs, at the ends of each stroke. The research informs us that people with aphasia find sans-serif and bold fonts easiest to read, and all the Tactus Therapy apps strive for aphasia-friendly design.

Once you go with a sans-serif font, you have to look for a few other characteristics from the available options. The shape of the lower-case “a” and “g” should be considered, since many typefaces make them differently than people learn to print them. Finding a natural “g” is easy, but the only sans-serif font that has a natural looking “a” is Futura. Unfortunately, the “j” loses its tail and it’s quite narrow, so it will probably be either Verdana or Arial Rounded.

font options

Other design principles to consider are large print for aging eyes, high-contrast for people with low vision, and maximizing the touch area for each letter and button. The buttons that bring up other screens should also be out of the way, at the top, so they aren’t hit accidentally. Clean backgrounds without unnecessary features are another hallmark of the Tactus Therapy apps, so this app will be no different.

Color Debate

2:00 p.m. Clifford presents some color schemes. Some have bright backgrounds and letters while others have dark backgrounds with light & bright text or white backgrounds with dark & bright text. He tries colors from the new Tactus Therapy website at Megan’s request. The green is too light on the white background, but looks good on the dark. The pink is too hard to read on the dark background, but looks good on the white. Other combinations look too pastel or too feminine.

There can be a few different combinations in the app, but a standard or default one needs to be chosen that the most users will likely end up using. Everyone’s taste seems to differ on this, causing some frustration. Time for a break.

First Look

2:40 p.m. Ben sets up the app to accept any color combination easily, so this can be a decision made later in the process. Ben has filled in the grid of letters and spaced them out to maximize the screen “real estate.”

The first look at the new app, already on an iPad! Looks great Ben!

First look

3:00 p.m. Clé continues working away on his next task, editing the topics for the topic board. First he has to learn how to create a pop-up window with data that will load into UITableView, some of the built-in functionality that the Xcode software provides. He uses the category screen from Conversation Therapy as a template, since it uses the table view, but he has to make changes so that the text can be edited, re-ordered, and deleted.

Xcode is the software Apple provides for free to developers making apps for iOS and OS. All the Tactus Therapy apps to date have been programmed using the Objective C language, and designed natively for iOS. Designing for cross-platform use or for Android is a very different process, and can get complicated quickly.

Cle Working on TableView

First Day Wrap-Up

4:15 p.m. Everyone is getting tired and starting to think about heading home. Looks like some people are starting to tune-in on Twitter with retweets and read today’s post.

Ben has just finished adding the letter and number sounds to the app. These are the same sounds that were recorded for Category Therapy years ago. He pulls recordings of “yes” and “no” by the same voice artist from Speech FlipBook. New voice recordings would require far more time and money to get studio time with a professional sound engineer and voice artist. Good thing they’re already done!

4:30 p.m. Clifford heads home, while Ben takes a look at the setting to highlight letter while touching them. Now that the sounds are in, the app actually does something, and once the highlight function is in, it will be even more functional with both a visual and sound cue produced when a letter is touched.

Since this won’t be done today, Ben loads a copy of the app in its current condition onto Megan’s iPad.

5:00 p.m. Ben, Megan, and Clé pack up to leave. Most of the highest priority items are still on the board under names rather than under “done”, so there’s plenty of work to do tomorrow. Megan will still have some work to do tonight at home, sharing the link. They’ll meet back in the office tomorrow morning for another full day making an #SLPApp in a week.

Please let the team know what you think of the process – both the app creation and live blogging and tweeting. What do you want to read more about? What do you want less of?  What’s most interesting? What have you learned?

 


Day 2:

Decisions, Decisions

9:05 a.m. Back at work again. Ben starts in on highlighting with a million questions that Megan can’t answer…yet. “Do you want the highlight to happen when they touch down on the square or when they’ve selected it? Do you want the highlight to continue while the sound plays or disappear immediately after they stop touching? Do you want the highlight to follow their finger as they drag around the screen?”

There are advantages and disadvantages to each for the user, not to mention the time spent programming. Apple has default behaviors for touches, and modifying these will take extra time and effort. Looking first at highlighting the letter while the sound plays: very little disadvantage. It keeps the spotlight on the selected letter long enough for the communication partner to see what has been touched.

Highlighting each letter as you drag your finger around the board could be helpful for people with vision problems, or even visual attention problems, as they can see where they’re at on the board and what sound is about to play. However, it also could be quite distracting for people with attention deficits or with seizure disorders as the movement on the tiles looks somewhat like a disco floor. Whenever there are two options that benefit different situations, it’s a good time to consider a setting to flip between them.

discofloor

This means there would be a setting for having the highlight on or off, then another for whether it follows the finger. These can be combined into one setting with 3 options: off, on, and follow finger. Ben proposes a separate highlight color for following the finger from the main highlight color for selection. It’s not clear to Megan how this would look, but it will take time to put in before anyone can see.

Interruptions

10:00 a.m. Megan has a scheduled phone call with a TV producer looking for information on the Tactus Therapy apps to feature on an upcoming show about stroke. She takes the time away from app development since this could be a big opportunity to get the word out about these powerful stroke recovery apps. While the show sounds really great, it would require a cross-country trip for a day of filming, and the kicker – a very hefty fee for “pre-production” costs in the tens of thousands of dollars. This is one of the ways many shows fund themselves now, along with commercial sponsors.

This is not the first time Tactus Therapy has been invited to pay a large sum to be featured on a TV segment. It’s not a scam – it takes a lot of money to produce a segment, including all the legal requirements, scripting, supplemental shots and images, and publicity. Megan knows well that actually creating what people see (the apps) is often only a small part of all the work that goes on behind the scenes (planning, publicity, content, legal, accounting). However, for such a small company, the huge fee is not a reasonable expense for a 5 minute TV segment that will air twice on a cable network, since it’s unlikely to create a return on the investment through app sales. It is interesting to know that many of the companies you see on TV shows have paid to be there, so the advertisements aren’t limited to the breaks.

Color Choices

10:35 a.m. Ben is working on implementing a few different color schemes. There’s a white one with purple, orange, and pink letters.

whiteboard

There’s a tan one with dark red, blue, and teal letters.

tanboard

There’s also a gray one with orange, aqua, and green letters.

grayboard

Which do you like best? Tweet to us or comment on the blog. Tell us which is your favorite and why!

A Visitor

12:20 p.m. Clé has warmed up his lunch, which brings a visitor to the office. Hi puppy!

dog

The Tactus Therapy office is a private office in a shared workspace. It’s a great place for freelancers and entrepreneurs to rent a desk or small office to get away from working at home, even for a few hours at a hot desk. There’s a shared kitchenette and lounge with bright windows and heritage details. A space like this has a lively atmosphere, with networking events for the members and after-hours meetings by local Meet-Up and Toastmasters groups. The dog belongs to someone who works in the open room of desks next to the Tactus Therapy office. He roams around, very well-behaved, adding to the shared work experience.

Feedback on Colors

12:45 p.m. Twitter lights up with a few opinions on the boards. Speech-language pathologists who tweet are called the #SLPeeps, and they’re a great group of supporters and friends. @NikkiHeyman reminds the team to consider people who are color-blind in the designs, so Megan puts each screenshot through an online color-blindness simulator. While the vowels aren’t always clearly discernible from the consonants, the letters do stand out from the background in all versions and conditions, which is the most important concern for usability.

There is an issue with the colors not looking the same on different monitors as they are described from the iPad view. Retina vs non-retina screens and different color management systems can contribute to discrepancies in color. This is why when you order clothes online, there’s usually a warning that the screen color may not be the true color of the garment.

A few more #SLPeeps weigh in. @MtMarySLP likes white and tan, but the dark gray makes her eyes hurt. @SLPTanya likes white and dark gray, but not tan, though she might like it better if the blue and teal letters were more different from each other so users can more quickly find the vowels. Later @Kirsten_Lana says she likes the gray one that Mary could barely look at, and @CSchulzRose likes the tan and gray best.

It goes to show that color is both a personal preference and a practical matter. You have to have colors that compliment each other, stand out under impaired vision, and serve a purpose to help you navigate the screen. It also shows that designing by committee doesn’t speed things up 😉

There can be some tweaking, but time is getting away from the team and there’s still lots to be done. Thanks for your input!! The app will definitely have an assortment of color choices, so you can pick what you like best!

Graphic Design

1:25 p.m. Clifford has been working on several iterations of button designs for the info, settings, and board switching buttons using Adobe Illustrator CS6.

buttonoptions

Megan and Ben look over the options and select the subtle effect for the info and settings buttons so they will blend into the top bar and not distract from the main purpose of the app. Megan doesn’t like circles, and Ben prefers a background to none, so the rounded square button is chosen. However, the button to switch between letter and topic boards is meant to be used more frequently, and accessed more by the user than a therapist or family member. It needs to be bigger and brighter than the other function buttons. Clifford goes back to work with ideas in mind on how to enhance his existing design for that one.

Editing the Topics

1:45 p.m. Clé has been working on the topic board while Ben gets the letter board settings in place. Clé has run into a problem though. The design calls for users to be able to edit the topics, re-order them, have blank topics, and allow for duplicate items. Unfortunately, the way it is coming together makes it difficult to have all 4 features working at the same time. Since this part of the programming has already taken several hours, it’s time to decide if sacrifices can be made for the sake of moving forward. If there’s time later on, this problem can be revisited. Ben says, “Anything is possible. It just takes time.” Time is what the team doesn’t have right now.

It’s decided that editing and re-ordering are most important, with blanks being next important. Few people would use duplicate items. However, for a topic cell to appear blank, it has to have something in it, like a space. Without duplicates though, the user can’t just put a space in each blank cell, they’d have to do one space in one, two spaces in another, three in the third, etc. Not ideal for sure, but workable for this stage in the app.

2:30 p.m. Victory!

victory

Clé has figured out the re-ordering and editing. He now has a working list. Duplicates and blanks are still not allowed, so he has to put in error messages to warn users about these things when they occur. His enthusiasm for learning something new is contagious. Everyone is excited!

Ben always talks Clé through the logic of each problem, mentoring him to think critically, search for help when needed, and approach problems from different angles. Ben’s years of experience working in and leading teams of AI programmers in the games industry are a huge asset to Tactus Therapy.

The Implications of Sounds

2:45 p.m. As Megan starts to use the app in its current form, she starts to wonder exactly how having sounds on what is normally a low-tech letter board might change its use. Hearing each letter said aloud as it is selected allows her to spell out a message, or a user to clarify a word, without the conversation partner seeing the letter board screen.

Traditionally, both the speaker and listener have to look at the letter board together, with the speaker pointing to the letters as the listener says them aloud before guessing the intended word. With this app, the listeners can now focus their attention on the speaker, rather than the board, if they prefer.

This means the letter board can now be used as a communication aid over distance, such as across a room, over the phone, or more easily in a video chat. However, the buttons for space, ?, and the smiley make no sounds. If the user touches them, they still light up, but they only add to the conversation if the listener is watching.

Also, with the letters being heard, there might be more of a need for a backspace button that makes a sound. Usually users show through a hand gesture or facial expression that they’ve made an error, but if the listener isn’t paying close attention to where the finger is pointing, these cues could be missed.

Should these buttons make a sound? Should space say “space”? Should the smiley laugh? What would the question mark say? Does the app need a backspace button, and if so, what sound should it make? AAC experts, users, and families – please weigh in!

Info Screen

3:30 p.m. Megan has been so busy blogging, giving feedback, and interacting on Twitter, she hasn’t completed many of the tasks on post-its under her name. Time to get going on writing up how to use this app.

The info screen on the other Tactus Therapy apps are quite long, which is why they are now offered on the website for reading while using the apps (for example, the Naming TherAppy Resources page). For this app, Megan wants to keep it shorter. As you might imagine, it’s difficult for a SLP to keep things brief.

This app is likely to end up being purchased by a number of people without the benefit of a comprehensive speech-language evaluation and recommendation. It’s not ideal, but it is the reality of apps available on the App Store. Not everyone with a communication disorder is currently receiving therapy, so many families are left to their own judgement on what might help. This means that everything Tactus Therapy puts out about the app (website, app description, info screen) should be aimed at both professionals and laymen so nobody is mistaken about what the app does or how to use it.

For professionals and the public looking for the right AAC app for their client or themselves, there are a few good resources available. Spectronics and Jane Farrall in Australia are great resources. There is also an app called AAC Ferret to help you search by feature through these massive lists of AAC apps.

Topic Board

4:45 p.m. It’s getting late, but Ben is still hard at work trying to get the topic board in place. There are 6 rows of 4 columns to produce 24 topic boxes. The topic database Megan put together has words of varying lengths, ranging from “food” to “communication”. First he lets the programming figure out the font size, maximizing it to fit the box. This results in a screen full of words of different sizes that looks a bit messy.

After discussing the options with Megan, they agree to keep the topics on a single line, and go with the font size of the longest item for all items. This means that if someone puts in a topic that is really long, all the topics will appear in a small font. Installing a character limit for the topics will ensure that there is a minimum readable size for the topics. They’ll have to try a few to see what looks best. For those who require larger text, there will be an option to have just 12 topics, so the font will be larger for those.

The idea of a topic board is to give the general topic of the utterance, not to have a complete sentence that is read aloud for the user. Sometimes topics are written around the edges of a letter board, or they’re used as a separate board that might be on the back of the letter board. A word or short phrase gives the context so the listener knows what types of words to expect.

For an amazing discussion of speech supplementation strategies and free Powerpoint letter and topic cards for you to customize and print at home, check out PrAACtical AAC.

5:20 p.m. Lively discussion and programming successes kept the team a bit past 5. Time to head home and start fresh in the morning. Only 3 days left to go and a million tiny things still to do.

 


Day 3:

Fundamental Changes

9:03 a.m. Ben is already at his computer coding away furiously when Megan and Clé arrive. Sensing he shouldn’t be interrupted, they set up and get to work quietly. Suddenly, Ben spins around in his chair and announces, “So, we normally wouldn’t do this in a one-week project, but we need to make some fundamental changes to the code.”

He explains that overnight it occurred to him that rather than having a screen for the letter board and a screen for the topic board, with most of the code for handling activation, sounds, and layout duplicated between them, it would be better to have one screen with different sets of objects appearing on it. This will be easier to maintain, be cleaner code, and will make the transition between the letters and topics a lot smoother. Rewriting the code in this way without changing what appears is called refactoring.

The first thing that needs to happen is to merge what Clé has been working on (error codes for the list edits) with what Ben has done, then Ben can take an hour or so to refactor the code. In the meantime, Clé can work on the settings screen.

These overnight inspirations are one reason it doesn’t make sense to rush an app. The brain works at problems when we aren’t thinking about them, and down-time is an important part of the creative and logical process.

Settings

9:55 a.m. Ben, Clé, and Megan discuss the remaining settings. Ben will put in the default startup screen setting along with the letter order, then pass it over to Clé to put in the letter case setting and number of topics. There’s a brief discussion and search for the difference between “capital letters” and “upper case letters.” Seems to not matter much, though upper case tends to be more popular now. Speech FlipBook uses uppercase, while Writing TherAppy uses capital, so consistency is already an issue. They decide on upper case, and will adjust the other apps to match as they’re updated.

Megan writes up the order and wording of all the settings and sends it around. She’ll next have to write descriptions of what each setting does. These will be placed in info pop-ups next to each setting on the settings screen. The settings are worded in a way that should make sense to non-speechies, and arranged in an order of most likely to be used. Colors goes at the top, while adjusting the touch method for selecting goes at the bottom.

Clé arranges the settings in the new order, and programs the app to ‘remember’ the settings between uses.

Accessible Design

10:45 a.m. Ben is done refactoring the code, and Clifford arrives to get started. Graphics for this app are relatively simple and few, but there are a few new pop-ups to design, an app icon to create, and buttons to finalize.

Megan has checked each of the color schemes with the built-in accessibility options to increase contrast and invert colors. There still isn’t a really high-contrast version for very low vision, so she picks a shade of yellow and green to go on a black background along with white text. This will be the 4th color option.

An app like this can be used by a number of different people with various disabilities and conditions. For those with low vision, the color options may help increase visibility, and the sounds will confirm what’s been touched. The “follow finger” setting (the disco floor option) will allow users to see what they’re touching before selecting it too.

settings

For those with physical access issues, there are 3 ways of selecting letters or topics in this app. You can now select on touch down (regular touch), touch up (drag your finger around and select by releasing it), or long press (touch and hold, or dwell). The long press also has a slider to select how long the user will keep their finger on the letter/topic before it is selected, between 0 and 5 seconds.

For the hearing impaired, the visual highlight is a helpful cue to know the sound has played. Limiting the topics to 12 instead of the default 24 does a few things: it increases the font size for those who need larger print, and it limits the selection options to be less overwhelming for those who have trouble scanning through many options.

Letter order is another accessibility feature, as it allows the alphabetical letter board to turn to frequency order. At this point, the app can arrange the letters in the order they most frequently appear in English, allowing for less movement around the screen. The team is also considering adding the frequency of letters as they occur as the first letter of a word in English. Since the letter board is meant to be used just to give a hint to the word, rather than spelling out full words, this could be useful.

The numbers at the left edge allow users with little to no access abilities to use the board using scanning, indicating with eye blinks, nods, or vocalizations when the number of the row they want is called. This method of scanning can be used by people with locked-in syndrome. Did you know that Jean-Dominique Bauby wrote The Diving Bell and the Butterfly with just left eye-blinks using a French frequency-ordered alphabet with partner-assisted scanning?

Allowing the sound to be turned off, or just use click sounds, can allow the board to be used more traditionally and take a lesser role in the conversation. Some users with autism or brain injury may be too stimulated by the sounds and press them repeatedly rather than functionally, so it’s always a good idea to be able to turn off sounds.

The topics will be read aloud using the built-in text-to-speech voice, like Siri, but that voice can be quite fast for some people (users or conversation partners). There will be a slider to adjust the rate of the voice within the settings.

Finally, the start-up screen setting will allow users to pick whether they want the app to open with the letter board or topic board. This is an AAC app, so it needs to open and work – no navigation to get started. Some users may want to start by selecting the topic, then using the letters; others might want to jump right into the letters. By giving users a setting, it makes the app more useful to more people – which is exactly what accessibility is.

Assistive Technology experts – what are we missing? Is there anything we could add that would help? Do we have something a little funny? Tweet to us or comment on the blog to help improve this app’s accessibility.

Why to Use this AAC App

12:30 p.m. Now that everyone is hard at work on their respective tasks or eating lunch, it’s a good opportunity to explain a bit about how this app will help people communicate.

People with aphasia, or damage to the language areas of the brain, can use the topic board to narrow down the general topic they want to talk about. This makes their agrammatic speech (language that is heavy on nouns and verbs but missing function words) or paraphasias (words that are related in meaning or sound to the intended word) easier to understand, since there is now a context.

Those with aphasia can also use the letter board to help them think of words too. When you’re having trouble remembering someone’s name or what something is called, a very effective strategy is to go through the alphabet mentally to see if any of the letters triggers the word. When a person has aphasia, remembering the alphabet can be hard, and holding the thought in mind while also mentally scanning makes it harder. Looking at the letter board in this app can make it easier to use an alphabetic search strategy for anomia, or word-finding problems. SLPs have long given clients alphabet cards to carry, so this a high-tech version of that.

For people with Parkinson’s disease, the letter board not only helps to clarify unclear speech and specify the topic, but it also slows down the fast rate of speech that occurs as part of the hypokinetic dysarthria.  When you have to touch the first letter of each word as you say it, you have to slow down since your finger can’t move as fast as your mouth. Just slowing down is a great way to improve intelligibility, but it can be difficult to remember to slow down without an external reminder, like a letter board.

The other most common AAC users for an app like this are likely to be people who have unclear speech because of cerebral palsy, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), or TBI (traumatic brain injury). Simply pointing to the topic and first letter will give the listener context for what natural speech they hear, making the conversation flow faster.

But what about text prediction? Doesn’t that speed things up? Well, the answer is: sometimes.

Apps like Verbally and Predictable predict words as users type, a function also built into iOS8. This is a rate enhancement strategy, as it makes typing faster in many cases. However, for people who are speaking while they’re typing, there is something that seems to happen quite a bit:

Speaker: “—ay i– We——.”
Listener: “Sorry, I don’t understand. Can you use your device?”
Speaker: [starts typing T, O, D]
Listener: “Oh, today! Today is Wednesday!”
Speaker: [keeps typing A, Y, I, S, W, E, N, backspace, D, N, E, S, D, A, Y, hits Speak]
Listener: [has moved on to something else since the message has already been received]

There’s something about seeing the message spelled out and then having the device speak it that can be quite satisfying. Once you start something, you want to see it through. There will likely be errors. The person may or may not use the text prediction since it’s on a different part of the screen and they’re busy scanning the keyboard for the next letter. In situations like these, a full featured app with text prediction, a message widow, and text-to-speech can actually slow down the conversation.

The point of augmentative communication is to improve communication – the exchange of ideas. If an AAC tool isn’t improving how clearly, quickly, or efficiently the person is transferring their ideas from their brain to the listener’s brain, it’s not effective. Removing some of the bells and whistles seen in popular AAC apps can be an advantage. Remember the old saying: “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

krispykremebaconcheeseburgerposter_thumb[2]

Search for Sounds

2:30 p.m. The crowdsourced feedback on the questions about sounds was strongly in favor of giving each button a sound. The team has divided the space bar to create room for a backspace button. This means they need to find sounds for space, backspace, smiley, and question mark.

They have a recording of the same voice artist saying “space” that will work. He recorded over 2,300 single-syllable words for Speech FlipBook, so it’s a good collection. Megan begins searching through sound effect libraries online to look for a good laugh for the smiley, mmm? for the ?, and d’oh or whoops for the backspace sound. The search is difficult. Lots of horrible sounds, cartoony sounds, and ones that are just too long.

Text-to-Speech Control

3:10 p.m. Clé and Ben have been hard at work all day with the topic screen, settings, and text-to-speech. Ben has fixed the code for editing the list of topics so it now allows blanks and duplicates. Hooray! No awkward error messages reminding people to put in a unique number of spaces to create a blank cell.

tactusteamoffice

As Megan looks at the topics that are now speaking, she notices that “where I live” is pronounced “where I lie-v”, as in “live” TV. This will need to be changed to “my home” to avoid this pronunciation error. Also, the slider for rate goes from .1 to 1.0, but everything over 0.5 is ridiculously fast.

She asks Clé to adjust the scale of the slider to only go up to 0.6 and allow for adjustments of 0.01. Ben’s rule of thumb for settings values is to figure out what seems reasonable, then add more on either side to allow for needs that the team can’t envision but may exist.

Lookin’ Good

4:10 p.m. The team has just had their first look at all the graphics in place, and something just doesn’t seem right. Clifford tried some different effects that looked good, but took away the flat look. After playing around a bit more, he hit on something everyone liked. He now has to recreate the 8 buttons with the new effect in 4 different colors, save at regular resolution and 2x resolution for retina screens, and upload them to Box, the shared cloud drive the team uses for file sharing. He decides to head home to do this, since his make-shift folding chair isn’t very comfortable.

When Apple came out with the Retina screen, they required developers to submit apps with 2 versions of every image – regular and 2x. This makes every app bigger in terms of the space it takes up. When apps become optimized for iPhone 6 and 6+, they will need 3x graphics too. Next time you buy a new device, get the biggest one you can afford since the apps you currently use are likely to get bigger!

4:28 p.m. The board is slowly getting cleared, as tasks move from rows 1 and 2 to names to the “done” column. Ben is implementing the last of the essential settings and Clé is starting the iPhone version.

boardclearing

The team really needs to be done programming tomorrow. Any changes on Friday need to be bug fixes only, with most of the time spent testing. Piles 3 and 4 of wishes and dreams for this app are still sitting on the window sill.

What’s in a Name?

4:45 p.m. Most of the work Megan has left to do has to do with marketing the app. She needs to prepare the screenshots for the App Store, but the app isn’t in final form yet. She needs to write the app description, but the final features aren’t settled yet. The info screen is also waiting on a few final features. What’s a girl to do but keep on blogging?

megancomputer

The glaring task left to do is to decide on the app name. It’s been called “letter board” as a working title, but it’s more than just a letter board. However “letter and topic board” is not such a catchy title. The Tactus Therapy apps are moving away from the TherAppy name, and this isn’t a therapy app.

For App Store optimization, putting key search terms in the title is essential. While you can designate other keywords, the ones in the title are given more weight. Therefore, having AAC in the tittle is a good idea since people looking for an app like this will likely search for AAC apps.

Alphabetically early is also a good idea, since a lot of sites, lists, and searches will list apps alphabetically. Spelling a word differently in the title may look cool, but it makes it hard for people to find when they’ve only heard the name of the app, so something like “EhEhSea” wouldn’t be a good idea. The only other thing to check is if another app already has the same name.

The name should be memorable, communicate what the app does, and be relatively short. Keywords can be added to the end like a description. A few ideas:

  • AAC LetterBoard
  • AAC Letter & Topic Board
  • AugComm Board
  • Auggie – the AAC Communication Board
  • Tactus Letter Board
  • Alpha Board
  • Alphie – AAC Letter and Topic Board
  • AlphaChat
  • ABC AAC Boards

What do you suggest? What name will capture what this app does? Do you like any of these? Do you have an idea? Let us know! Tweet with the #SLPApp tag or comment on this blog.

5:05 p.m. Time to head home. Two days left to go, lots of details to sort out, and a big interruption scheduled for tomorrow. See you then!

 


Day 4:

Universal Design

9:10 a.m. Work is underway on the penultimate day of the project. Ben is working through a list of known problems, such as saving custom topics, allowing the text-to-speech voice to be interrupted, smoothing out how the keyboard behaves when inputting custom text, and limiting the character length.

Clé is working on the iPhone version of the app. This app will be a universal app, meaning it will work on both iPhone/iPod touch and iPad. The main differences are how the screens are laid out, since there is far less room on the iPhone than the iPad. However, with the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, there’s more room, so the layout can be adjusted. The iPhone 4 is smaller and a different ratio from the 5 and 6 as well, meaning more variations to layout and test. The app uses the same code as the iPad version, so layout is the main concern, and a few new graphics will be needed.

Fortunately, iPad mini and iPad are the same aspect ratio, so no changes need to be made for the mini. One of the major headaches of programming for Android devices is how many display sizes there are. Apple used to be much better, but with each new device, resolution, and ratio, it adds to the work of developers for both new apps and updates. It’s no wonder many older free or low-cost apps don’t get updated when the minimum design and functionality requirements keep increasing.

iphone-size-comparison

Tactus Therapy apps are nearly all universal apps, working on large and small screens. Only Visual Attention Therapy is for iPad only for how impractical it would be to use on a small screen. The Soundable game app is optimized for iPhone, given the target user is a student or professional more likely to be using a phone than tablet to play turns on the go.

Sound Solution?

9:30 a.m. After looking for sound effects online and coming up short, then after hearing how brutal the text-to-speech voice sounds for a question inflection or laugh, the team decided yesterday to contact their voice artist to see if he could generate a few sounds on short notice. And…he can! Or rather, he’ll try.

They decide it best to give him some direction on the backspace, laugh, and question sounds, let him record a series of different versions, and then the team can select the best one of each and edit the sound file. This will have to be done early tomorrow since the voice artist won’t be able to record until he’s home from work tonight. He also has two small children, so anything could go wrong. There is no Plan B at this point.

Value Judgement

10:00 a.m. It’s time to discuss pricing. The developer can set their price for an app, and Apple adjusts the currency for each country and takes a 30% cut to cover handling all the actual sales and distribution, including all the local sales taxes, refunds, and infrastructure of the App Store. It’s a pretty fair price, since most app developers would not be in business if it weren’t for Apple providing that support, not to mention the relatively good piracy protection.

Unfortunately, digital goods are not valued as highly as physical goods by the market. Early apps were free, setting up an expectation that apps should be free. Nearly all the top-grossing apps are now “freemium,” meaning free to download, then offering or even requiring in-app purchases for more content, lives, or use. This freemium model works well for games, but not so well for therapy or augmentative communication software. For more on why speech apps can’t truly be free, the Speech Dudes give good insight.

One place to start is a competition analysis. What’s already out there, what does it cost, and is it selling? App Annie is a free app marketplace statistics service that lets you get a glimpse into app rankings and keywords. AAC Ferret helped the team find one closely related app, a letter board and phrase board app that has no message assembly window or word prediction.

competition

This competing app has almost no functionality – just two screens that flip back and forth. No sounds, customization, visual highlights, settings, or features. It is very much like two pieces of paper you can switch between. It only works on iPad and sells for $2.99 USD, but not very often according to App Annie. It has also never been updated since its release in 2013, still sitting at version 1.0.

Another perspective on pricing is value to the end user. What does the app do for them and is it worthwhile? Apps that provide hundreds of hours of therapy exercises that help restore a person’s ability to communicate are worth quite a lot to people. Apps that save therapists time in planning, organizing, and documenting their sessions are often worth several dollars to the employers and clinicians.  This AAC app should help people communicate more clearly and efficiently, but what is that worth in actual dollars?

Of course, it’s good to ask what value does the app bring to the company? Does it cross-promote other apps in the developer’s line? Does it bring in a new market segment that will then be exposed to the other apps? Many developers price a few apps lower than others to introduce reluctant buyers to the brand. This app currently has no advertisements for cross promotion, only links to the developer’s website and social media on the info screen. Ads in a communication app, if done at all, would need to be non-invasive and not take users out of the app unintentionally.

From a cost recovery perspective, each member of the Tactus Therapy team needs to earn a living. They are all highly skilled professionals, so their incomes needs to be competitive with what they could earn elsewhere. The company also has to pay for equipment, software, space, digital storage, a website, and marketing. They would need to sell thousands of copies of an app at 70% of $2.99 just to recover the costs of the week programming it, and then thousands more to cover the planning, marketing, updates, and customer support that have already happened or will come.

The app needs a price that will allow the people who need it to afford it and think it good value, a price that has a chance of recovering the expense of production, and a price that will allow for discounts at the introduction and during special sales.

What would you pay for this app? What do you think its value is?

App Expertise

12:00 p.m. Megan is getting nervous because she’s going to have to leave soon. She made a prior commitment to teach an 80 minute lecture to the first-year grad students in speech-language pathology at the University of British Columbia today. She’ll be lecturing on the use of apps in aphasia treatment, communication support, and life participation. This means she’ll be stepping away from the blog, and the team, most of the afternoon.

Megan has spoken at several local, national, and international conferences on the topic of integrating technology into therapy for acquired communication disorders. She has worked at an aphasia camp and an intensive aphasia program, focusing on brining technology into the lives of people who can benefit from extra practice and support. Megan has presented her work in posters at the Stroke Congress and ASHA Convention, and will present a poster at the life-participation themed Aphasia Access leadership summit next month. She will be presenting a webinar for SpeechPathology.com on apps for aphasia in June that will remain archived on the site for at least a year.

megposter

Much of this content is available in the Knowledge Center on this website, or on the blog. As the year moves forward, the team will work to freely share more information for clinicians and families through the newsletter, blog, website, and videos. The more educated people are about the conditions and treatments the Tactus Therapy apps support, they more efficiently they can use the apps for better outcomes.

Geek Soap Opera

1:15 p.m. T-15 min to Megan leaving the team. The good news is that there is now an app name and an app icon! They will be revealed tomorrow….how’s that for suspense?

Those who are following along live have suggested the live blog experience would be improved with more drama – serving as a ‘geek soap opera’ There were nearly some tears earlier this morning as WordPress lost connectivity with the Internet and 30 minutes of writing about value and price was lost. Does that count? Sadly, no photos to share.

What will the final app name be? What will the app icon look like? Will the team finish programming and testing in time to submit the app tomorrow? Will Ben take up the blog while Megan is away? Stay tuned!

The Task Nobody Wants to Do

4:00 p.m. As the team approaches the end of day 4, the app is feature-complete. This means that barring an urgent need or a moment of inspiration, the team won’t be adding any extra functionality. ‘But you’ve got a whole day left?!’ you cry. While that’s certainly true, there is still a lot to do that most people never consider. The biggest part of that is testing.

Earlier you read about the number of devices Apple now has available, and Tactus Therapy prides themselves on their apps looking and performing well on all of them. Making that happen takes time. While Ben and Clé would love to pretend that their code is completely without problems, any programmer who tells you that isn’t being honest. There are always issues. The first trick is finding them; the second trick is being able to remember what you did to get the bug so the programmer can reproduce them.

Testing is an art form. When you develop an app, you get used to using it in a certain way – the way you think it’s meant to be used.  This means you often don’t see the problems another person might experience right away since they might use it differently. That’s why it’s so important to get as many trustworthy people as possible to look at an app, both while it is in development and as you approach the end and think you’re finished. Tactus Therapy has a team of trusted beta testers and quality assurance testers,  but given the timeline, this time the testing will fall only on the 4 team members.

Testing your own app is hard. At the end the development process,  it’s common to have a mindset of ‘I just want to get it out and see it on the App Store’, especially if it has been a particularly arduous process. More likely though is the ‘it’s just so boring’ feeling. To test an app you need to be methodical and patient. You need to repeat the same thing over again on all the different devices and in as many combinations as possible. Touch a button on the iPad in iOS 8. Does it work? Great! Does it work on iOS 7? Does it work if you touch it after touching this other button? Does it work if you hold the button down rather than tap it? How about if you hold the button down then move your finger off the button? Does it activate then? How about if you rotate the device? Now how about on iPhone 4? iPhone 5? iPhone 6?

To counter this, Ben and Clé usually create test plans that are step by step guides on how they think the app should be tested. It is usually better to get the programmer to create the plans, then have someone else follow them. The people who wrote the code will have a good idea of things that might be able to break it, how it interacts with the other areas of the app and any features that are hidden away or hard to find. Unfortunately, the Tactus Therapy programmers don’t have time to write a detailed test plan during this week, so they’ll have to wing it. When it’s time to update the app, writing a test plan is one of the first things that will be done.

Anyway, enough blogging, time to get on with trying to break the app!  ^Ben

 


Day 5:

Graphic Tweaks

9:00 a.m. Last day!! Ben is already hard at work making changes Megan recommended late last night to increase the font size on the board. The challenge is making the size work for both the regular letter display and the mixed case setting, where letters appear with both upper and lower case side-by-side. After looking at a few options, they settle on a workable size.

biggerletters

9:15 a.m. Now that all the letters are bigger, the smiley face needs to be larger. Clifford gets onto resizing it. He also offers to make a graphic of the text for the space button, since the current font size spreads the word out to the far edges of the cell. Once it’s in place, he’ll know if he also needs to create a version for iPhone or if the iPad one will scale down.

Sound Decision

9:45 a.m. Great news!! Aaron of Major 8 Productions has come through with some amazing sounds for the 3 function keys. He gave the team 12 options for laughs, 25 for backspace, and 8 for the question. They’ve narrowed it down to the best laugh for the smiley, the clearest rising intonation for the question, but are stuck on which variation of the backspace to go with.

After ruling out the more grunt-like sounds that conveyed frustration at making a mistake, and then getting rid of the “uh-uh” type sounds, they’re stuck between a humorous “d’oh” and a clear “oops.” While the oops conveys a mistake has been made quite clearly, the d’oh is a friendly and funny way of expressing an error. They wonder if it will appeal to everyone though, so perhaps better to go with the safer oops. What do you think??

Icon and Automation

10:30 a.m. Ben tries to upload the icons Clifford has created, but there’s a problem with transparency in the files. Apple requires 15 different sizes of the icon to display in various places on the App Store, iPhone, and iPad. Clifford has created the icons with rounded corners, but since Apple automatically rounds them, they need to be square. However, Megan needs rounded icons for the website and other marketing purposes. He needs to rename all 15 icons to include the word “round” in the title and then save 15 new ones that are square.

alphatopicsicon72          alphatopicsiconround72

Ben asks if he knows how to use Automator to rename large numbers of files at once. Everyone in the room is interested since nobody has done this. Ben shows the team how the built-in app Automator works by loading in files, setting up a rule to change the name by adding a word or replacing one part of the name with another name, and within 30 seconds of starting, all the files are renamed.  Wow!! So cool and such a time saver! It can be used for so many things too. Definitely going to have to read up on this!

automator           automatorfiles

Getting Close

12:20 p.m. It’s only last-minute details now. Adding a link to the info screen. Putting in a description for Pinterest. Checking to make sure Guided Access will work well. Taking screenshots. Testing. Lots and lots of testing.

User Feedback

Normally the app would be sent out via TestFlight to SLPs and AAC specialists to give feedback and use with clients. Megan would take it with her to a rehab centre and find willing test subjects to watch how they use it and get their feedback. Testing with the end user is very important, but in this project, there simply isn’t time.

For this app, the initial release will have to serve as the beta test, with feedback from users informing future updates and design tweaks. Any bugs, problems, suggestions, improvements, or comments are greatly appreciated. The team is responsive to these comments, and while not every suggestion can be implemented, they are all considered.

Your feedback is important to make the app better, and to let others know what you think. Positive comments on the App Store are a great way to let others know that an app is worth the money or provides good value. If you run into a problem, it’s best to first contact the developer to see if you can get a quick resolution instead of leaving negative public feedback.

You can write about the app, what you learned from the live blog, or how you’re using it on your own blog, or check Yapp Guru for opinions from trusted app reviewers.

Your Feedback

1:00 p.m. The feedback, support and participation on Twitter and in the comments has been fantastic! So many people have contributed ideas, preferences, and expertise. The Speech Dudes remind us to factor in sustainability into our pricing. Cyndee Bowen suggests tAACtus Letter Board for the name. Very clever! Though difficult to type as auto-correct keeps trying to fix it! You’ll likely be seeing that in the marketing.

This idea was inspired by the PrAACtical AAC blog, and blog writer Carole Zangari, PhD, provided expert advice to consider alternate layouts for those who use switch scanning rather than partner-assisted scanning to get them to higher frequency letters faster. A great idea for an update! Hopefully the user statistics will let us see how many people are actually using external switches. Carole’s input and support have been fantastic and are much appreciated.

John McCarthy, another AAC professor, valued supporter, and #SLPeep, suggests a display to show the selected letter upside down on the screen for the conversation partner to see, much like the Lightwriter device has 2 screens or how the Flip Writer AAC app works. He even suggests a free partner app that would show the selected letter on another person’s phone to work across a room or classroom. These ideas are great, though not practical for the timeframe the team has for this project. That’s why there’s always updates to a good app – improvements and fixes to keep it going strong.

Because of your feedback, the team has added sounds to the function buttons (laugh, oops, and hmm?) and has offered a choice of colors for different tastes.

Thank you for your input, energy, and support. An event like this is a bit scary – pulling back the curtain on the process opens up the team to judgement and criticism from colleagues, competitors, and customers. The enforced deadline puts limits on the app that aren’t always good. However, it appears as though the educational value has been worth the risk.

However, it’s not done yet!! Still work to do on screenshots to get this app ready to submit! And would you like to know the name and price? Or see it?

We’d Like to Introduce….

4:03 p.m. Please meet our newest app, AlphaTopics!

alphatopics1ipad copy

Megan has spent the past 2 hours creating screenshots for the App Store that feature the app in several different layouts, along with the key features that buyers may be interested in.

alphatopics3ipad copy

alphatopics2ipad copy

It’s important to communicate the value that the app gives to the end user, not just the features.

alphatopics5ipad copy

 

While Apple recommends the screenshots only show what’s in the app, bright backgrounds and added text help to communicate the functionality and features. Catching people’s attention is crucial, and once you have it, you have to make sure they like what they see.

alphatopics4ipad copy

The app will be submitted to the App Store, where it will likely take around 8 days waiting in a queue to be evaluated and approved. If it gets approval on the first pass, it can be in the App Store in 1-2 weeks. The waiting process is painful. There are no updates, no indications of when it might happen, just a guiding percentage for current new apps and update.  Things look really slow right now with only 32% of new iOS apps being approved within 5 days.

Apple looks for apps that clearly don’t work or aren’t to a certain standard. They also look to see that their guidelines are followed.

4:26 p.m. Ben submits the app through the iTunes Connect web portal. He has to set a price, choose an availability date, pick a category of the App Store, and make sure everything is in order.

The price will be an introductory $2.99 USD on release until the end of February. On March 1, the price will go up to its normal $4.99 USD to see how well the app will sell at that price point. This app will also likely  join the Tactus Complete Therapy Toolkit app bundle for a larger discount when buying all the apps.

Success!

4:45 p.m. The app is done! It has been submitted and is in the hands of Apple to approve before being available to the world. They did it. The Tactus team, through hard work and collaboration, managed to pull off their mission. Create a “simple” AAC app in just 5 business days while the world watches.

doneboard

All the tasks have moved to the “Done” column!

 

The very last message intended by this experience and live blog is to say that making apps is easy and you can make a good app in just a week. NO. NOT TRUE.

But you just watched it happen! How is that not true?

Here are 10 ways why this project was different than most other app projects and processes, in no particular order:

1) This was not a “new” idea. Letter and topic boards have been around for ages and are well-researched, so the concept did not require a ton of creative planning.

2) That being said, weeks of designing and months of thought went into this project before this week. The SLP designing the app based it on what she has seen and experienced with many clients over 10 years of clinical practice. She has been reading the evidence and researching the different types of boards for many weeks prior to this event.

3) The app is “simple” in that it really has only 2 screens (plus settings, info, and edit topics). It does not calculate anything. It does not pull images, sounds, and pictures from a giant database. It does not interface with a server, store a history, or export in fancy formats.

4) Unlike the other Tactus Therapy apps, there is no large database that had to be written. There were no photographs to source and download. There were no scripts to be recorded (aside from 3 new sounds). These can, and often do, take months all on their own.

5) It was not written from scratch. The team re-used a TON of code from previous apps that have been well-tested and researched, so they were known to work.

6) The team knows what they’re doing. While Clé is newer to programming and the company, the rest of the team have worked together for a long time and know each other well. They know their jobs and how to work together. They have high standards, good skills, and a strong work ethic.

7) This is one of many apps in the Tactus Therapy collection. AlphaTopics is title #21 on the App Store for this developer, when you look at all the apps, bundles, and lite versions. Sales of other apps have funded this adventure, with much of the equipment, processes, and supports already paid for and in place. Tactus Therapy started as most indie developers do – working on apps nights and weekends from home while holding down other full-time jobs to pay the bills. This 1-week intensive process is not a practical way to start out in the app development world.

8) This app isn’t finished. They rarely are. This is the minimum viable product for release. Based on user feedback, use by the team, and the changes in the app marketplace, there will be updates with fixes, adaptations to new devices and operating systems, and new features.

9) It was a helluva week. The team worked through lunches, eating at their desks, and took no real breaks. Work was done, as needed, in the evenings to manage support emails about other apps, prepare for lectures, write app descriptions, resize images, and fix bits of code. Megan split time between blogging, actually working on the app, and publicizing the blog. It was more of a blogathon than an appathon with this post coming in at nearly 12,000 words!

10) It was done in the interest of education and sharing. This is not a practical way to work: rushing while writing about it. This live blog was meant to educate the public, speech professionals, and indie developers about what goes into making an app. Hopefully you learned something. The team definitely learned a few things about communicating with one another and the efficiencies of being in the same room. They also had a few good laughs – basically anytime someone pressed the smiley button!

tactusteam

The Tactus Therapy team members all want to thank you for participating, for following along, and for your help (in advance) in helping us get the word out about this experience and the new app. We’ll let you know as soon as it’s available via the blog, newsletter, Facebook, and Twitter. Hopefully you’re following at least one of those outlets, if not all of them.

Please, let us know what you found valuable or what you think of the app development process. Keep the conversation going. In the meantime, we’ll be getting the marketing ready for the app release, continue working on our next huge update project (watch for it!), and go back to making apps the slow and steady way, with several new ones planned for 2015.

From Ben, Clé, Clifford, and Megan, thank you for reading. 🙂

 


 

The live blog has finished, but you can still add your comments to this post or tweet them out using #SLPApp.

Update: The AlphaTopics app is now available! Download it on the App Store now!