In the world of development, there’s often a fine line between success and failure. In this second entry of our ‘Devs Doing it Right’ series we chatted with Monotype—Bryan Comeau, Senior Engineering Manager and Vivek Vadakkuppattu, Product Management Director—about the popular app FlipFont and how they went about successfully building, launching and monetizing one of the best font apps that enable users across the globe to personalize their mobile devices.
Monotype is known for the popular FlipFont app. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Vivek: FlipFont provides a fun and easy way for users to personalize their devices through fonts. FlipFont is an app that allows users to change the font on their device (phone, tablet, smartwatch) to something that matches their personality or mood. So, it’s a single app, but each font (that can be used as a part of this app) is available as an individual app by itself, and amounts to 2,500 font apps that are available at the Galaxy Apps store.
You’re one of the world’s best known providers of type-related products, technologies and expertise. Why is choosing the right font so important?
Vivek: Consumer electronics devices are a significant part of a person’s identity; we spend so much time looking at our phones that we want to have something that reflects who we are, and a font can really help us express ourselves. With the working world moving to mobile, fonts can also help people read and process information quickly when they’re in a hurry.
Let’s talk the app build and launch, both from a technical build and marketing perspective. Bryan, when you’re looking to develop a new app, what’s the first thing that you have to take into consideration?
Bryan: When we look at technology on which to develop a new application, one of the things that we’re concerned about is, “Do we have the resources readily available or do we have to outsource and find specialized engineers?” Simplicity and developer adoption are important.
From there, you need to manage your engineering team which actually builds the application. My main concern is keeping my team focused on development and on innovating on new ideas relevant to our app. I don’t want them getting derailed by things like, “How do you get the application up on the store?” or “How are we going to distribute this app?”
Your dev team should be focused on coding, trying out new software and hardware features, etc. As a developer, that’s where your passion, time and energy should be focused.
What was the biggest technical hurdle you faced when building FlipFont?
Bryan: We actually had a couple of difficult technical hurdles that we faced during the development of FlipFont that took a significant amount of time to overcome. The first – and arguably most difficult – was figuring out the fastest/best way to modify the core font rendering software so that the device would not have to be completely rebooted when the font was flipped. The second technical hurdle we faced had to do with device testing and figuring out the most efficient way to test all the various FlipFont apps on the vast array of Samsung devices and resolutions to ensure all our fonts rendered properly.
My best dev tip? Don’t underestimate the amount of testing required for your applications and make sure you plan on testing on multiple devices with different screen configurations.
So that’s the build. Vivek, can you talk us through the process of bringing the app to market? What do you – as a product manager – need to focus on?
Vivek: As a product manager deploying an app, there are three things you need to focus on. First, you want the whole world to be using your app, so channel distribution becomes key. How do you partner with a distributor who has a wide footprint? Ideally, you want as many people as possible to see your app.
The second thing is monetization. The way people monetize apps is much different today than it was even five years ago, so the feedback and insights you get from your channel partners is crucial. Look for a partner that offers a portal that provides you with the flexibility to run promotions that will appeal to your users. Ideally you would have access to a portal that allows you to change the prices very quickly and do discounts. You have to be nimble to maximize your profits. The right expertise coupled with the right infrastructure is crucial.
The last piece of all of this is analytics. Our goal is to make sure our end users are able to express themselves, so we need to know what resonates with people – what kind of fonts do people like? So, a good analytics platform is essential. We need to know how our different fonts are performing, how they are performing in different regions or how they are performing over time, and this helps us continue to build out and invest in developing fonts that people love.
Bryan, as a developer, what new technologies are you most excited about?
Bryan: We’re paying close attention to lots of different and emerging technologies. We’re looking at virtual and augmented reality; we’re playing with machine learning, playing with variable fonts, which is actually an old technology that’s resurging lately, and even to some extent, chatbots. So we’ve got our hands in all sorts of different things and what makes sense for our particular app.
Can you go deeper into your work with variable fonts?
Bryan: Until recently, a font family consisted of a set of fonts. For example, the Helvetica typeface is available in Bold, Roman, Italic, Bold Italic, etc. For each of these instances, a separate font file existed which arguably created duplicate data. Variable fonts is a technology that has been around for some time but recently has come back into focus because it provides the ability to generate font instances through embedded intelligence in the font and font engine to create font variations. In the Helvetica example, we can actually build one font file with all the information in it to generate the Italic instance.
Given Monotype’s business success, what words of wisdom do you have for new developers that are just getting started?
Vivek: From a marketing perspective, I would say it all starts with the end user. For us, we always have an obsessive focus on making sure the user experience is excellent. Once you create a great experience for the user, the revenue will follow. I strongly believe that’s the right approach. You really should put the user first and everything else will follow. Trying to sort out things like financials on day one is not how you build a great product that people love. And, the second thing is seeking out the right expertise. Once you find it, leverage it. You don’t have to go re-invent the wheel.
Bryan: I 100% agree with Vivek. Focus on user experience. Ensure that everything is in place for that user to have a successful first experience. When users fire up an app, it has to work. If there’s even the slightest hint of confusion, you have to redo it so there is no confusion. I think another big part of this is leaving a sense of satisfaction with the user. When a user uses an application and they keep coming back to it, that says a lot about the effort you put into that user interface, that experience. So, again, we spend a lot of time understanding our users and how they feel before, during and after. You have to understand what you’re trying to accomplish with your application, and you need to deliver an experience that enables users to do whatever it is they want to do, seamlessly.
Why did you decide to publish with Galaxy Apps?
Bryan: Our FlipFont project started back in 2011. We were doing some custom work to personalize our app for other mobile devices, and it just made sense to take FlipFont to a much broader audience. Although our FlipFont project started out as custom work, once we chose to move to the Samsung platform, we were able to come up to speed quickly and deliver a high-quality application.
Samsung is a top global brand, particularly in the personal electronics space. From our perspective, it’s an area that we felt pushed not only personalization but also technology. So, for the amount of effort that we were putting into this application and development, we wanted to be able to reach a very, very large group of users in the end. Publishing with Samsung was a no-brainer for us.
Lastly, a question that we’re asking all of ‘Devs Doing it Right’: What features do all great/successful apps have in common?
Bryan: We’ve spent a lot of time playing with applications and understanding what makes an awesome app different from a not-so-awesome app. And I think we’d all agree that it’s solving real, end-user issues. Real pain points. We don’t try to re-invent the wheel. We analyze what our end-users are struggling with, and then go solve those problems.