What’s new in the new Settle Up for Android?

David Vávra
Oct 10, 2017 · 10 min read

We have been working hard for the past year to bring you the new Settle Up. We decided to redesign the app and change the underlying technology, so it’s rewritten from scratch. Let’s dive deep into most of the changes.

New design and colors

That is probably the most visible aspect, because we now have a new design from a professional designer Michal Feltl. It follows the Material Design Guidelines strictly and adds some playfulness. The main concept is that you should be able to choose a different color for each group. The whole app changes color based on which group you are in. We all love the old brown color, so if you want the app look similar to the previous version, just change the group color to it :) The app is also more vibrant and “yours” with pictures of the members. The most visible element is “group circles” — elegant visualizations of debts in the group. The more you owe, the bigger circle you have. We borrowed this from our iOS app to bring platforms closer together.

Super-charged new expenses

Adding new expenses is the main activity in the app. Over the years, we have discovered that there are many use-cases for splitting costs, so it’s quite hard to design its UI right. We liked the simplicity of the previous design with one screen for everything, but after a lot of research we had to split it into multiple screens. The previous design wasn’t expandable for new features and many things were hidden. With the new design, we can support all these use-cases in a clean way:

  • Multiple flows (now Expenses and Transfers, Incomes coming soon)

Sharing group has never been easier

Sharing via email in the old app is kind of old. Nowadays, people use various messengers and social networks much more than email. It’s common that you don’t have the email address of the people you are travelling with. Sharing group is very important for us — it’s how the app spreads to new users! So it has to be as simple as possible. The simplest solution is a link — you can share this link via any channel you like (WhatsApp, SMS, email, Facebook group etc.) Anyone who clicks the link is automatically forwarded to the App Store on iOS, the Play Store on Android and to our web app on other devices.

Plus we have added an even simpler way for friends who are in the same room. One person can broadcast the group “nearby” and others can join it automagically. It uses ultrasound!

And you can still add permissions manually via email on the Share group screen if the link doesn’t suit you.

Currencies done right

It’s quite common to use Settle Up in multiple currencies while travelling and expect to have the final debts in a single currency. It’s really important that everybody has the same exchange rates and that the debts are the same everywhere. Previously, it was a paid local-only feature and there was one exchange rate for the whole app. Now we made it available for everybody, the exchange rates are finally synchronized and can be different for each expense! This enables use-cases where you pay something with money from the exchange office and something with your card — both with a different exchange rate. Exchange rates are also updated daily so you always get the current exchange rate for that day. You can even use historic exchange rate if you change date of the expense. If you edit an exchange rate, it will stay fixed for future expenses and the automatic exchange rate won’t be applied (unless you choose to).

Receipt photos are not hidden anymore

It’s useful to attach receipt photos to your expenses. But this feature was quite hidden in the old app. It was a local-only feature and some users thought that it was actually a bug. Now it’s visible on the Summary screen and synchronized, of course. However, saving a lot of pictures costs us more on the server side, so we decided to make this feature Premium only.

Permissions and sign in revamped

Permissions were quite confusing in the old app and users often asked us for support regarding them. The main reason of this problem was merging permissions and group members. Members had two emails: one for sending data via email and one for access to the group. We decided to split it completely and make it clearer — group members are people participating in the expenses. They don’t have any email addresses. You can edit them in the Members screen. And permissions are the accounts which have access to the group which you can edit in the Share group screen. This separation allows for nice use-cases:

  • Not every member needs access to the group or use the app at all. Others can manage their expenses.

You can link these and say which member “is you” which will help you see your debts from the group on the Overview and a small visual hint near the member icon.

The level of permissions was quite basic in the old app. We made it more robust with these three levels:

  • The group owner can do everything, can’t leave the group unless the ownership is transferred.

Sign in also has more options now. You can sign in with Google, Facebook or create an email/password account. And you can save all of this to the Smartlock for passwords for an even faster sign-in.

Bullet-proof synchronization

We know from user feedback that the old synchronization was not 100% reliable. In some very rare cases some expense weren’t synchronized which caused discrepancies in the debts. That was really bad for the user’s trust so we were looking for a more robust solution. We found a service called Firebase. Firebase is not only battle-tested on unstable mobile connections, but it’s also super-fast. If you add an expense on one phone, it appears on the other phone almost instantly. No more “Sync now” buttons! Firebase also works fully offline so don’t worry if you are in a foreign country without a data plan.

But since we also need to support the old apps, we had to make both systems work together seamlessly. It’s the main reason why the redesign took so long and the app was in beta for many months. But we believe we have nailed it now and have strong foundations to build on.

In order to support Firebase, we need to convert group data into a new format. This happens when you launch the updated app for the first time. We convert up to 5 groups which were used last. You can convert more of them in the My Groups screen. Don’t worry, you can still use the groups in the old versions and other platforms after the conversion.

New monetization

For historic reasons, our monetization has been quite fragmented. It’s a free app with ads and in-app purchases on Android, paid app with unlimited features on iOS and free web app but with limited features. It stops some users from using the app, because “it’s not fair that my friend on Android doesn’t have to pay”. Also, when you change your phone from iOS to Android, you have to pay again.

We understand it and want to unify the experience across platforms. We also have to pay server costs for all users so we need to monetize all users, not just new ones. We decided to switch to a Basic plan with ads and limited features and a Premium unlimited plan. The Premium plan can be purchased via subscriptions (monthly or yearly).

We are very careful not to annoy users and not to monetize aggressively. We believe that building user trust will benefit us more in the long term. The app should be usable very well in the Basic plan. The ads are shown AFTER you add every third expense. Your task is done and you might be actually interested in the ad. The Premium features are not essential for every day use and they are just something extra:

  • Adding receipt photos

Plus we are offering a free trial for the Premium plan: a month if you update from the old app and 14 days for new users, both with delayed opt-in. This means that you can start the trial whenever it fits you.

We are also grateful for your previous purchases in the old app:

  • If you removed ads in the old app via an in-app purchase, you won’t see ads in the Basic plan.

Other smaller new features

  • Overview of your debts across your groups

What did we remove?

Redesign doesn’t mean only new features, but also some spring cleaning. We had some features which were rarely used, confusing, or too geeky for a regular user. We have simplified the app by removing them. These are:

  • “Dlužníček” in the Czech language — we all love that familiar name, but it’s quite hard to do branding if you have a different app name in a different country. For example, our Facebook page was then weirdly named “Settle Up (Dlužníček)”. We decided to use “Settle Up” in all languages and build a strong brand.

It’s just a beginning

Now that we finally released the new app to everyone, we have some strong foundations for the future. We can update the app and add new features more frequently. We are very committed to build the best expense tracking app for groups. Please give us your feedback and we will continue to refine the experience.

Our priority now is to bring the experience on iOS, Windows and web to the same standard as the Android app. Unify the branding, features, and monetization. We are actually looking for an iOS developer to help us with that, let us know if you are interested. You can still use the old apps on those platforms, they’re fully compatible with the new Android app.

As for the Android app, these features are on our roadmap based on your feedback:

  • Widget for a quick expense. We have heard that the new expense flow is sometimes too many clicks for a simple use-case. We plan to add a widget for the simple use-case. You will be able to add expenses very quickly without even launching the app.

Well, that was quite a long read, but I hope it is a satisfactory answer to “Why did it take you so long?” :) Cheers and try the app!

Step Up Labs

Company blog of Step Up Labs, developers of Settle Up.

David Vávra

Written by

Google Developer Expert for Android, Founder & CEO at Step Up Labs, early adopter.

Step Up Labs

Company blog of Step Up Labs, developers of Settle Up.