I’m like most app developers.
Every year at the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple shows us what they’ve been working on since the year previous and what they’d like us to work on until the next.
I watch the keynote. I watch the Platforms State of the Union. I watch as many of the sessions as I find interesting and for which I can make time.
This year, with the introduction of iOS 10, Apple had a veritable ocean liner full of new APIs and features to debut. There were a ton of new opportunity paths laid out among all of their platforms. But between iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and macOS, there were really far too many opportunities for any single person to learn and build for between WWDC in June and the expected releases in September.
So I decided to focus on just one.
Apple introduced a plethora of new types of Extensions that were coming to iOS 10, but posed iMessage Apps as “perhaps the most exciting” Extension type. I was convinced.
However, gauging the responses of some of my peers on Twitter, many of them developers of what I’d call serious software, it looked like they were questioning the rationale behind making “Sticker apps”.
My very first app for the iPhone was a game for kids and teens (and nostalgic grown-ups) called MASH. It fit squarely in the realm of what’s sometimes called pop software. This type of software isn’t concerned with serious stuff like finance or medical research. It’s often a (super) casual game or a voice changer or a silly photo editor that you use to make your friends look like puppies.
Experience told me something my peers might not have considered at the time: kids and teens love the iPhone, and iMessage has an absolutely huge user base. By some estimates the number of monthly active users for iMessage is in the neighborhood of 450 million people. (I don’t believe Apple has stated numbers publicly for this stat, but it seems plausible. Regardless, there are a lot of iMessage users.)
Over the Fourth of July weekend, on the car ride to our family’s lake cottage, I was talking to my wife about iMessage apps and how they were probably going to be a big deal. I’ve had a lot of conversations with her like this, and she’s always been very patient listening to my hare-brained schemes. I told her some of the ideas I had.
The idea for making MASH was hers, and MASH ended up being an incredibly successful early App Store title. So when she suggested casually, “What about Two Truths and a Lie?”, I quickly de-prioritized all of my other ideas and embraced that one. For those not familiar: Two Truths and a Lie is an ice-breaker/party game where someone says two things about himself that are true, and one that’s a lie, and others have to guess which of the statements is untrue. It seemed perfect for an iMessage app.
Too Many Secrets
I like to keep what I’m working on a secret until it’s closer to being ready to share. In my view, sharing an idea with people too early invites either overly encouraging or overly critical comments. If I think an idea has merit, I’m not likely to tell you until I can show you. This is the way I developed both MASH and SketchParty TV.
Any time I have a new product idea the first thing I do is think of a name and imagine what the logo, type, and colors might look like. I was a designer before I was a developer, and I started my career working in advertising. This makes keeping secret what I’m working on easy, because I can handle nearly every aspect of product development end-to-end.
I decided on the name Truth Truth Lie, with the intention of abbreviating it to just TTL, and began sketching concepts for the branding and identity. It was going to be an app that let users record three short video clips: two true, one a lie, and then re-arrange them and send them as a single composited video to friends via iMessage. The recipients (individuals or a group message) would then guess which clip in the sequence was the lie.
Sketching the Logo and UI
The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, along with Paper by 53, make for one of the best early design sketching tools I’ve ever used.
I sketched some fast logo concepts, and an almost Emoji-like “Halo and Horns” design quickly emerged. Red, gold, and possibly a shade of bright blue were going to be the colors. The illustration shows one of the concepts.
Next, still using Paper, I began sketching the main views of the app. Again, the following illustration depicts the early concept, with a compact view, a compose view for re-arranging the clips, and a record view with a prompt. The final design is largely the same, with the exception of the Compact view. There are some technical limitations that are going to push that functionality out for awhile.
Research and Development
Next, I began research into Messages apps and how they work. I watched the two WWDC 2016 videos on iMessage apps, making mental notes that a Stickers app might be fun to make, too.
From a technical standpoint, I decided on a few things, with the goal of learning and improving my skill set. I decided that the app would be written in Swift 3. That I would develop it using Test Driven Development methodologies, something I’d not really done on personal projects in the past. And that I’d get it done quickly.
Very early on, I prototyped the video concept using Apple Motion. I knew what I wanted the final videos to look like, with a triptych of portrait-oriented clips arranged in a sequence across a wide format HD video, adorned with various decorative graphic elements. Using Motion helped me get something put together that I could drop into the Xcode project and use to mock up the “sending” section of the app.
I’m a fairly busy guy. I work as an iOS development consultant for a large corporation by day, and I have a fairly large family, including a brand new puppy. So the month of July was far too full to make much progress on the new app.
I didn’t really begin in earnest on writing code until about mid-August. The best laid plans are laid to waste and all. I only spent about two and a half weeks of after hours work in Xcode writing unit tests and wiring up layout constraints and outlets for the Storyboards and writing Swift code to get my first TestFlight beta out. It was the definition of an MVP.
I received some great feedback from the beta test I conducted using TestFlight. Before Apple purchased TestFlight, I generally only used it for beta testing with consulting clients. Apple’s improvements to it have been wonderful. Today, I can’t imagine launching an app without doing a beta with TestFlight first.
App Review and Launch
I sent Truth Truth Lie to Apple for review (much) later the same day as Apple’s September 7th media event, when the final Xcode 8 GM was released. And after about a day, I got a notification with those four little words every developer loves to read:
Pending an Apple Release
Truth Truth Lie releases on Tuesday, September 13th (UPDATE: it’s out now!) on the iMessage App Store. It’s totally free, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. I hope you’ll give it a try. And find out:
How well do your friends know you?
App Preview Video
I just filmed and edited this app preview video today. I think it turned out pretty great!
Truth Truth Lie
So that’s Truth Truth Lie (TTL). It’ll be available this Tuesday on the iMessage App Store to iOS 10 users, and it’s going to be totally free (UPDATE: it’s out now!). My goal is for everyone who uses iMessage to play this with their friends and families and just to have a great time. I hope you’ll get it!
UPDATE 2: Apple just added Top Charts to the iMessage App Store. TTL is number 22 in Top Free iPhone Message Apps! https://twitter.com/mattbraun/status/775891505571586048
UPDATE 3: Reports are now available for iOS 10 release day downloads. Here’s a Bezos Chart of the spike in downloads:
UPDATE 4: On the rise! Day 2 reports show a 3.5x increase in volume.
UPDATE 5: The previous month’s daily downloads for my other apps (before the release of TTL) barely register on the graph. It almost appears to be a flat line by comparison.
UPDATE 6: In the first two weeks after launch, Truth Truth Lie for iMessage has been downloaded 115,000 times. I’m totally stunned by the response! Thank you to everyone for downloading it. (Can it hit 1 million? 😇)