Making a living building mobile apps in Trinidad & Tobago and other stories

This blog post title sounds like a book. 😁.

Back in 20-some-teen, I built a windows phone app called Police Post. It started off as a reasonable idea – provide an offline version of the list of police stations in Trinidad and Tobago, with their locations and contact numbers.

I had some quirky app names back then… they eventually became quirky chatbot names, but more on that some other time.

I later jumped the shark by overlaying the map of police stations with information about murders that happened in the same region as a police station.

Even writing that makes me cringe a little. Back then, I was convinced, “This is a good great idea for the app”. Now, I’m like, “Why…..?

I remembered Police Post while I was preparing to deliver a presentation at the Trinidad and Tobago Intellectual Property Office’s seminar on “How to make a living from mobile apps”. My focus was on the state of the mobile app development in TT.

I found while preparing for the talk that there was a lot to be said about how active trinbagonians are with their mobile devices, but not necessarily with local apps.

So, a stat like this would be familiar to a lot of people who care to do the research. There are lot of phones and a good bit of social media usage on those devices.

And, using the top free apps in the Google Play Store as a proxy, it only confirmed that we really like social (and Google Translate).

Rank Name Category
1 TTPS – Trinidad & Tobago Police Service Social
2 WhatsApp Messenger Communication
3 T&TEC Mobile Communication
4 Free Phone Cleaner – Cache clean & Security Tools
5 Messenger – Text and Video Chat for Free Communication
6 Instagram Social
7 Snapchat Social
8 Facebook Social
9 Wish – Shopping Made Fun Shopping
10 D’Music Music & Audio
11 TikTok – Make Your Day Social
12 CallApp: Caller ID, Call Blocker & Call Recorder Communication
13 King James Bible (KJV) – Free Bible Verses + Audio Books & Reference
14 Google Play Games Entertainment
15 Tubi – Free Movies & TV Shows Entertainment
16 Netflix Entertainment
17 Traffic Cam TT Travel & Local
18 Facebook Lite Social
19 Messenger Lite: Free Calls & Messages Communication
20 Safe Cleaner Plus Tools
21 Google Translate Tools

Since I was concerned about making apps, as opposed to just using apps, I produced a list of the top apps by usage that were made by trinbagonians:

Rank Name Company Category
1 TTPS – Trinidad & Tobago Police Service TTPS Social
3 T&TEC Mobile Milsoft Utility Solutions Communication
10 D’Music Digicel_Group Music & Audio
17 Traffic Cam TT Trini Interactive Travel & Local
41 TT RideShare TT RideShare Travel & Local
45 RBC Caribbean RBC Financial (Caribbean) Limited Finance
46 Pin.tt Larixon Classifieds Shopping
53 My Digicel Digicel_Group Tools
74 Scotiabank Caribbean – Banking Scotiabank Finance
76 bmobile Top-up Powered by eTopUpOnline.com Shopping
96 Caribbean Airlines Caribbean Airlines Limited Travel & Local
98 RepublicMobile RepublicBankLimited Finance

A more diverse list, pretty corporate, but seemingly high on the “getting things done” measure.

Both lists were a snapshot of top apps on November 10, 2019. The TTPS app was released the week before, and people were responding. TTPS seemed to have had a good push behind the app, so that’s good.

This may be why I remembered Police Post. Another reason that brought it into focus may have been because of these sentiments I got from Julie David, a Senior Policy Analyst at NIHERST.

Julie and her team have been working on a sectoral mapping of the software industry in TT, so I thought her insights might be useful.

They certainly were as they gave me a snapshot of the state of affairs that I recognized. Here are a few of those challenges:

  1. Small companies
  2. Lack of strong cohesion between business models & development
  3. Lack of design & UX quality

When I built Police Post, it was a small app, meeting a specific need that made no assumptions about having a business case. So Julie’s feedback to me was on point. Around that time, one of my key goals was simply demonstrating capacity.

I was making the statement, yes, we can build apps, focused, useful ones. Now, I’m here to say, yes, we can build business on top of platforms that include mobile apps.

My presentation concluded with looking at stats on global Internet trends. Mary Meeker’s report on those trends was an excellent resource for this and I hope that we all would use it to inform our next steps.

Funky Azure Functions

Let’s talk about watering plants.

When I was younger, in my family, I was assigned the task of watering the flowering plants around the house. Thinking back on it now, there was easily 50 plants of all shapes and sizes. So, I would have to shuffle around the yard, bucket in hand, dipping and watering. Some plants would get two dips, others one. I couldn’t use the hose, because that might damage the roots of the younger plants. I hated it.

Ever the creative, I used to come up with outlandish ideas to solve the predicament. Sadly, I never implemented any of them. Thus, I was left to water these plants by hand.

Last week, for Caribbean Developer Week, I came up with a demo, featuring Azure Functions, that is the nearest to a solution to my plant watering needs back then that I have ever come.

I built three Azure Functions:

  1. Setup Waterer
  2. GuidEnqueuer
  3. Plant Waterer

Setup Waterer actually created more Azure Functions. Those would be Timer functions, each potentially able to run their own schedule.

GuidEnqueuer, alas poorly named, but good at pretending to be a plant food source, would receive an Http post and enqueue it. Plant Waterer would pick this up and display on a console. No actual plants benefited from this demo.

As I gushed previously, I created the Setup Waterer function on top of the Azure Fluent SDK and it worked fine. Functions making functions. That’s what I wanted to show really, and things worked well.

The code is available on my repo here.

Hello World 2.0

Hey,

Last year, I saw this:

And I thought, “Aye, I would love to contribute to that!” So, I sent a session proposal and it was accepted!

Now, I get to join an impressive lineup of my peers and share on technologies I find to be exciting, relevant and impactful. I’ll be talking about topics I’ve been working with for a while now, including chat-bots, AI, language understanding and other cloud services.

What’s also groovy is that for this week, there’s a pretty sweet discount on attendance:

Registrants can save 40% on attendance. All Access tickets will be priced at $2495 TTD + VAT and a 1 Day Pass at $1495 TTD + VAT. This means that registrants can get a Full Access ticket for less than the cost of a regularly priced 1 Day Pass.

You can get more details of the conference here.

I saw the guys at Microsoft Build do this, and I loved the idea, so I’m doing a version of it here, it’s a “Convince Your Boss” template that’s amazing:

Convince Your Boss!

Dear <Insert Manager/Boss/Supervisor Name>

I’m really glad that we’ve been exploring ways for me to stay current with all the new technologies that could significantly make how we work more efficient, robust and competitive. I think I’ve found a place that helps us advance those goals.

In May, the signature gathering of ICT minds in TT and the region is happening, it’s called ICT Pro TT and it looks amazing. There’ll be talks from local luminaries, researchers and professionals in the ICT space, talking on Cloud, BI, AI and Leadership. 

They’ll be joined by award winning professors, international speakers and representatives from IBM, Google and Microsoft who will share a breadth of experience and expertise in some of the same areas we are considering for our next steps.

But one of the best reasons for me to attend is that this will provide a place for me to find and mingle with the community of seekers in our local ICT space. I want to see and hear from my peers who are actively trying to advance the nation by building great companies and organizations that are data-driven, willing to make new things and learn along the way.

Normally, we’d have to consider the expense of travel, accommodation and other amenities to access all this goodness in one space. ICT Pro TT helps remove all that and brings the value here. Thus, I’d love if you strongly consider having <Company Name> send me to this event.

Basket of (open data) goods

Last year, Anand, Nigel and I won the Trinidad and Tobago leg of the Caribbean Open Data Sprint. (woohoo!)
It was Anand and my second or third time at the event. We didn’t expect to do so well, we largely went for the vibes, bounced up Nigel there and it was nice.

This year, there apparently won’t be a Trinidad and Tobago leg for the first time since the thing started.Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 12.38.46 AM However, getting involved in Open Data projects never needs invitation or formalities. If the data’s there, people will try to make magic.

Trinidad and Tobago is in a recession. So, people have been more price conscious than usual. Not just people but even ministries in government and their units.

One such unit, the Consumer Affairs Division, released a booklet that tracks the cost of goods across a range of grocery stores around the country.

The data was locked in a PDF-formatted file, across 32 pages.

I grabbed the file and spent sometime thinking about how it could be liberated and what could be done after that.

Fortunately, because the PDF itself was structured fairly well, an online service was able to render it as excel.
From there, we converted it to a more app and website friendly format – json.

A small site was built which provided a view of the data, and works fine in a desktop browser. The site can be seen here:

http://irwinwilliams.github.io/price-range/#/prices

I was motivated to do this because it was a good demonstration of the innovation possible as more and more data becomes available.

Edit (April 30, 2016) [and super-technical note]:

I really wanted to start some sort of basket functionality on this PoC, and so I just added the start of that functionality into price range.  Ideally, it should do a version of what “Knapsack” does, which is, for a given set of items in the basket, what is the best place to get all the items? #KnapsackInRealLife