Tap Zapp Software Inc.

12 07 2014

The strong benefit of a database is the synopsis of otherwise widely spread information. Apple’s App Store offers a lot of apps suitable for productive operations but all the information saved by these apps is cut into pieces and saved in app-specific folders. Database management tools manage all the different types of information in just one app.

I’m a programmier for Microsoft Access databases for about 20 years and founded a software company in 1979 in my parent’s basement with a Z80-based Sharp MZ 80K computer, the first publicly available computer in Germany.

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After buying my first Apple devices, an iPhone 3GS and an iPad 3, it was obvious to look for a powerful database app for iOS. Reviewing Bento 4 (which was removed from the App Store in Sep 2013), zBase, and many other apps it turned out that the SQLite-based app Tap Forms by Tap Zapp Software Inc. (Canada) is the best choice by far. I found what I expected …

  • many features wrapped in a plain and self-explaining UI
  • useful field types for all purposes
  • iCloud support
  • a continuos development
  • a fast and friendly support

And it’s not only me rating this app with 5 stars. Check out the March issue of Mac Format Magazine.

Tap Forms was the winner in a shootout between FileMaker Pro, iDatabase, Numbers, Panorama Sheets, and Symphytum. Each database app has its own strengths and weaknesses and are great apps for various purposes. But the conclusion that Tap Forms came out on top was great to see.

“Although picking a winner will always be subjective, for a straight Bento replacement, Tap Forms is the clear winner by a mile. The user interface is beautifully Mac-like, the structuring of data is similar enough to Bento that it offers only a shallow learning curve, it offers a direct import of Bento templates, and the iOS companion app is great.”

My interview with Brendan …

Brendan Duddridge is the founder of Tap Zapp Software Inc., Canada. Sadly there was no way for me to talk to him face to face but thankfully a mail sent from my iPhone and winging its way to Canada and back fixed the problem in a jiffy.

So here is what I asked and what I got back.

01 The way to a successful business sometimes starts in the parent’s garage or basement up to the climate conditions.
What was your way to writing your first line of code?

I wrote my first lines of code by copying code from a magazine about computer programming back in 1979 on a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer that a friend of mine owned. It was in the BASIC programming language. So a very very long time ago. Ever since then I’ve been hooked on programming and have never stopped. There’s always so much to learn and new things to make. Computers and programming was always my hobby, but they are also now my career. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

02 If you look back what were the reasons for learning a programming language?

I was just fascinated to see that typing these strange commands into a computer could make things happen on the screen. I was first amazed by seeing one of my teachers typing out a computer program on the TRS-80 computer we had in our classroom. It was amazing how quickly he typed. At the time it looked like complete nonsense to me. Ever since then I knew that I wanted to be able to make programs myself.

03 Do you think programmers are basically autodidacts?

Well, I have a degree in Computer Science, so I learned a lot about programming from university. However, for the most part I think anyone can learn to program without a formal education in Computer Science. There’s so many learning materials available for free on the Internet these days and through iTunes University that if you have the slightest interest in learning to program, you can basically do it all on your own. It’s also very helpful to work in a team at some point because you can learn a lot from others. I think the main thing is to just be passionate about it. If you’re interested in creating new things and seeing them come to life on screen, then just go for it. Don’t wait until you have that amazing idea. That could take years. Start small and work your way up from there.

04 Founding a company is a quite painful job because you have to focus on many administrative tasks you probably don’t like. Can you give us an estimated value for the time you spent for developing the environment as a percentage of your 24h day?

I’m terrible at the business side of things. I tend to just want to program and I procrastinate a lot on the business side of operating Tap Zapp Software. I mostly just do programming and customer support. I love to program and I love to engage with customers via my blog, my forum, and via email. I usually get incredibly positive feedback from my customers. So much so that it keeps me working as hard as I can because I just have an innate desire to please them as best as I can. After all, when people say nice things to you, you want to do nice things for them. I do have an accountant to do all the nasty accounting work for me and to prepare my taxes. But because I am a one-man shop who works at home, there’s not a lot of overhead involved in running Tap Zapp Software. That’s a great thing because it gives me more time to focus on improving Tap Forms.

05 When did you start with coding your database application Tap Forms?

I started the design of Tap Forms by using Omni Graffle to layout the screens that I thought I would need to make the first version of Tap Forms. I did that probably back in May of 2008. WWDC that year was from June 9 to June 13 so I started thinking about Tap Forms just before then. I knew that I wanted to have an app idea before going to WWDC that year. The initial idea for Tap Forms came about after a friend of mine showed me an app on his Blackberry which he used to keep track of his passwords. I don’t remember the name of the app though, although it was pretty rough.

After seeing the original iPhone and seeing which apps it shipped with, the one app which didn’t come installed was some type of database organizer. Sure it came with the Notes app, but you couldn’t really organize notes into different categories and utilize all the different keyboard types for the different types of data you would want to organize.

Well that was a good thing because I had lots of database development experience already and I knew I could build an app that would let people organize all their personal information.

06 When did you upload your first version of Tap Forms to Apple?

I believe the first version I uploaded to Apple was around September 5, 2008. The first version was approved and went live on September 28, 2008.

07 Can you give us the a priority list for the most important three tasks?

I’m sorry, but I’m not sure what you mean by this question. Do you mean what 3 new features I’m working on for Tap Forms? Or do you mean a priority list of tasks that must be completed in order to develop any app?

Sorry, obviously not the best and easiest wording I used.
I mean tasks regarding your profession like brainstorming, testing, coding, staying tuned via social networks, or something like this.

I think of how I’m going to implement new features all the time. I don’t have a team to work with, but that does not mean that I cannot brainstorm new ideas. I can be driving my car or doing other mundane tasks and still be thinking about implementation details for new features. In fact, I’m doing this task almost all the time. As far as staying in tune via social networks, mostly I follow a few iOS developers who are very good and provide some very useful advice. Stack Overflow is also an incredible resource for any developer who’s working on tough problems. There are some very smart people on there. I answer questions from time to time if I feel confident I can provide a good answer. I get a really good feeling if I am able to help someone else out with a problem they’re having.

08 Many of my blogs are app reviews. At the time I installed about 150 apps on my iOS devices. Nearly every day I get an update notification and in many cases an app was already updated some days ago. The description always contains the word ‘Bugfixing’.
Can you give us a brief overview of your internal control system for testing apps before launching?

I utilize the excellent TestFlight system for distributing Tap Forms to my beta testers and translators. I also have a private forum on my website where authorized beta testers can provide me with bug reports and feedback. I also have a feedback button on my home page which links to UserVoice where I also receive bug reports, feature requests, and other feedback. Many customers also just email me with their bug reports, feedback, and feature requests. I get a lot of help from my translators and beta testers for making sure that Tap Forms is functioning properly. I also do a lot of testing myself of course.

09 Do you think maths is an important part of education for a developer?

I think it’s important to have an analytical mind to be able to develop applications. But I think you can have that without having a strong mathematics background. I had to take some crazy math courses in university, but for the most part I haven’t had to use them very much for the types of apps that I program. If you’re programming games you may need to know some math, but even today a lot of libraries are provided for you that handle the complex math that you would need. Now you can just type in a value and tell an object how much gravitational force is applied to it and it will do all the math for you and your object drops to the ground and bounces around a bit. It’s amazing what is available for free for developers these days. In fact, an app that I recently helped to develop (in between work on Tap Forms) is called PencilCase by Robots and Pencils (www.pencilcase.io). PencilCase lets you build an app using objects by dragging and dropping them onto a canvas. You can apply physics to objects, have them collide with each other, prompt the user for information, display web sites, etc. All without writing a single line of code. You can even publish a PencilCase to the App Store! So there’s lots of tools available now for developers of all skill levels. No maths required :-)

10 Do you think a developer should be experienced in more than one programming language?

I’ve personally learned about a dozen languages over the years. I think it’s important to learn a few in order to give you a broader idea of the capabilities of different languages. It also helps when you’re wanting to communicate with other systems. For example, you would most likely write a web application using Java, Ruby, Python, or Perl, but write your mobile app client in Objective-C or Java. So I do think it’s important to know more than one language. It opens up opportunities for you.

11 Tell us, what’s on your work desk?

Not much actually. I don’t actually program at a desk. Because I work at home, I pretty much just use the armrest of the couch. It’s quite comfortable :-) I program using a Retina MacBook Pro 15” with 16 GB of RAM and a 768 GB SSD drive. I backup everything over Time Machine to a Synology NAS drive.

12 Your hobbies are?

Strangely enough, my hobbies are programming. Although I do enjoy watching movies, but I’m not sure that can be considered a hobby. In the summer time I like to drive my Pontiac Solstice GXP convertible sports car as much as I can. I occasionally make modifications to it to enhance its appearance or performance. So I guess that’s kind of my hobby.

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13 Steve Jobs founded Apple and his philosophy was the key to success.
What duo you think are the main points also valid for you personally?

I like Steve’s philosophy on design. Make it simple and beautiful to use. Steve surrounded himself with brilliant people who he could command to do the best work of their lives. I don’t have that luxury so I just try to build the best and easiest to use app that I can possibly think of.

14 Steve Jobs’ philosophy is often summarized in ‘Focus’, ‘Say No’, ‘Connect the dots’, ‘Secrecy’. Can you put it in an order for us?

I’m not as big on secrecy as Apple is of course. But I kind of operate under the radar. Apple has all eyes on them with every little move they make, so they have no choice but to keep everything a secret for as long as possible. Occasionally I’ll mention a new feature on my forum that I’m working on or let a customer know that the issue they’re having has been fixed in the next update.

I do get requests from customers for features which would be great to have, but for only a minor subset of Tap Forms customers, so I have to politely decline some feature requests. After all, I can’t possibly put every feature into the app, not just because I am only one person working on it, but because I don’t want Tap Forms to become a bloated mess. But still, there are many new features which I have planned for Tap Forms that I believe will delight current and future customers for years to come.

15 What are your thoughts about the Android platform?

I don’t particularly like the Android platform. It just feels clunky to me. It’s not a very smooth experience navigating around. Perhaps that’s because of it’s Java roots. I don’t know. Or perhaps it’s because they’ve had to work around Apple’s patents on scrolling and bounce-back and other aspects of iOS. And just because you can add a setting for this and a setting for that and add this feature or add that feature, doesn’t mean that you should. Some people may feel like it gives you a choice, but I believe that giving people too many choices just makes your product bloated and inelegant. I’ve been asked to make Tap Forms for Android, but I have no intentions on doing that at this time. If the iOS and Mac eco-system ever deteriorates enough so that I need to switch platforms then I will at that time. But for now Tap Forms is doing exceptionally well. Before writing for iOS and Mac, I used to be a Java developer. So developing for Android wouldn’t be much of a stretch for me. I just choose not to do it right now.

16 What’s your strategy for the future?

My strategy for the future is to just build the best version of Tap Forms that I possibly can. There are so many features that customers have requested that it gives me an endless pool of things that I can draw from in order to improve Tap Forms. Of course I can’t add every feature requested, but I can certainly add the best features that I believe will be of most value to the majority of my current and future Tap Forms customers.

Brendan, thanks a lot for taking your time.

Features of Tap Forms …

Brendan brought a powerful database management system to Apple’s mobiles and the Mac following this guideline

Simplicity is often equated with minimalism. Yet true simplicity is so much more than just the absence of clutter or the removal of decoration. It’s about offering up the right things, in the right place, right when you need them. It’s about bringing order to complexity. And it’s about making something that always seems to “just work.” When you pick something up for the first time and already know how to do the things you want to do, that’s simplicity.
(Sir Jonathan Ive)

So even users without special knowledge about databases are able to organize their data.

Here is a mind map visualizing all features of Tap Forms. It was created for a comparison of Tap Forms with the competing app zBase (see the full post under ‘Related links’).

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Feel free to download this map from my Box account.

The alternative file formats have been created with iThoughts HD for iPad (.ITMZ file format). Compatibility to other tools is limited. The DOCX file format is suggested for those who don’t use a mind mapping tool. The file contains the image as well as a detailed outline of all topics.

Application File format
Adobe Reader PDF
Apple iWork/Microsoft Office DOCX
iThoughts ITMZ
MindManager MMAP
XMind XMIND

Summary …

An exciting insight in the work of an engaged company developing the best available database for devices running on iOS and OSX.

Thanks a lot Brendan. Keep on coding at it’s best, drive carefully and stay on track with your Pontiac Solstice GXP.

Related links …

About the company…

Tap Zapp Software Inc., Canada

About the desktop companion of Tap Forms …

Tap Forms for Mac

An application of Tap Forms …

Go Paperless with Tap Forms

About app development …

App Development and Marketing

About the usage of databases …

DBMS on iOS devices (1)

DBMS on iOS devices (2)

DBMS on iOS devices (3)

DBMS on iOS devices (4)

DBMS on iOS devices (5)

Importing Data

From Access To Tap Forms

zBase vs Tap Forms

Thanks a lot for visiting my blog.


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