Non-developer trying to build an app...
June 17, 2011 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Non-developer trying to build an app that uses locations/times/schedules, similar to a "next bus" utili-tool. What should I know before wasting too much time and energy on something that really ought to be left to the professionals?

School is out and I am bored, so I want to build a mobile application that will help solve my own navigational woes.

The app in question will help people in my city find events (AA meetings in Vancouver, to be exact) near them, based on their current location and the time. I'm trying to make it on the cheap with the BuildAnApp site, and it would be free for downloading. I envision it working like the Translink app, where you can find what transit options are closest to you, and when they run. (Example: you are at the corner of Pender and Burrard at 4pm and need to get to the airport... the closest stops that will take you there are X, Y, and Z, and the next scheduled departure times are etc., etc.)

The meeting finder app will be much simpler, but uses similar information. The two main components will be the schedule (which I have in Excel format) and some kind of map tool to sync up to your location. I don't have a map set up with the locations with their times, since I couldn't seem to get Gmaps to show that extra, non-mappy information. The fields in the schedule Excel file are not great for importing into GeoRSS, but it could with a few hours of hand copy-pasting into new fields for city, postal code and province.

There is one app that does this in the US iTunes store, called FOB Finder. I've contacted the developer about how the app was built, but I also want to ask yee learn'd folk, who are so helpful! (Based on previous cold-emails, I doubt I'll hear from said dev.)

tl;dr: can a n00b build an app like this? If so, then how best to proceed? Tips, hacks, etc. sought. Moral support also appreciated.

Many thanks in advance!
posted by wowbobwow to Computers & Internet (5 answers total)
Why not just do this as a group? They have iphone and android apps with location maps, times, etc.

The only maintenance after that would be adding meeting times to If you want to program something you could try programming some applications using the meetup API.
posted by benzenedream at 6:57 PM on June 17, 2011

tl;dr: can a n00b build an app like this?

Yes, with a minimum of 6 months (plus or minus) of intensive daily study (10-12 hours a day) if you have an IQ in the range of 130 on up. At least a year if less if you're more like everyone else. And of course you have to have an aptitude for programming as well.

Programmers get this all the time. For some reason people believe that it is trivial to create an "app" (as it's called now). It is not.

Check out Craigslist computer gigs - people there who don't have the slightest aptitude or knowledge of programming will actually give time estimates for how much heir gig will take. That's like telling your brain surgeon that your operation should only take 45 minutes and that's how much you're going to pay .... grrrrr......

But rant aside .... creating an IOS program requires several skill sets that will take you hundreds of hours to acquire. After you acquire that knowledge, you will have to tinker with it another few hundred hours to find out all the things that the books do not tell you.

To create what you wish you will have to acquire the following skill sets:
Fundamentals of programming and Metalanguage
Fundamentals of C++ and Objective C programming
Fundamentals of IOS programming
Fundamentals of Geographic Information Systems
The Google Maps API
Fundamentals of User Interface Design and The Apple UI Design Specs

After you learn all the above you still will need hundreds of hours of practical experience before you begin to be any good (think learning about music theory as opposed to actually playing the piano)

You can get a flavor of what some of this knowledge involves by looking at some of the free computer courses you can view through iTunes University. The one that I linked to will require to have existing fundamentals of programming knowledge but you can run through some of the courses and get a flavor for what is involved .
posted by Poet_Lariat at 7:07 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Why would you do this as an IOS app when you could do it as a web app and get multiplatform support? Don't most of the mobile browser now support the geolocation API? Unless you want to charge for the app, I can't think of a good reason not to do it as a web site with a good mobile interface.
posted by hades at 7:51 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Or, to more specifically answer the question: sure, a n00b can write an app like this. Over the summer, even, if you're a quick study. And, hey, since your goal is to alleviate your boredom, it doesn't really matter all that much if you succeed in building the site, as long as you aren't bored.

That BuildAnApp thing looks interesting, but I have zero experience with it. From the brief description I can see without creating an account, it sounds like they're claiming to be able to put together pretty much exactly what you're looking for. Have you started working with their templates and tools to see if it'll work for you?

One benefit of doing it as a web app instead of a native app is that your users wouldn't need smartphones. They could, for example, use a computer at a library.

Potentially useful links, if you haven't seen them already:

+ Google Maps APIs
+ Geolocation
+ Google Maps Mania

As a point of anecdata, I would not call myself a developer, yet I helped create a web app to scrape Craigslist for housing offers for people displaced by hurricane Katrina and show them on a Google map. There were two or three of us working on the project and we had it up and running in an afternoon. Now, I'm not a developer, but I am a systems administrator and general IT troubleshooter, so I know my way around at least ten programming languages. One of us was a developer, but he wasn't the only one writing code. Your mileage may vary. That is to say, if you have any programming experience at all, you might be able to pick up the skills required to do this pretty quickly. If you're starting from zero, it's going to be harder.
posted by hades at 6:35 PM on June 18, 2011

Challenge accepted. This project will be a means of using my free time for a dual purpose: help me learn some things and hopefully produce a useful tool for others in my city. I'm exploring my non-iOS options and will look into the Gmaps links you posted, hades. Thanks!
posted by wowbobwow at 10:42 PM on June 18, 2011

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