5 Rules to Build an Amazing App

Building a great app is about following a very rigid discipline that requires insight, planning, execution and constant refining. A well-designed app addresses the user’s needs and keeps users engaged over time. Keep these 5 rules in mind before you set out to building an app.

1. Identify the Problem

It should go without saying that the problem should be well defined in advance. Many companies set out to building an app without having a real problem; a problem that the app uniquely addresses. Having a cool mobile app that does not solve a real problem is a short-lived app and is not a smart reason to invest money, time and effort. Just having the mobile app to supplement your website is not a good idea either as your website should already be responsive. Your app should serve a unique purpose for an existing problem, leveraging unique features suited for mobile devices.

2. Know your Users

Understanding how your targeted users are going to interact with the application is crucial. We use journey maps among other tools to gain in-depth understanding of who is going to use our app. Are users going to be checking your app frequently during the day for short bursts of time, or will they be spending more time with your app opening it a few times a week? Will they be walking while they are trying to read information on your app, or will they primarily be sitting still? The way your app will be used will directly impact the feature set and experience design. Since you only have so much real estate on a mobile device, you need to be able to maximize that space to deliver a clean and user-friendly experience.

3. Create an Amazing User Experience

Users do not want to have to search for things in apps. If your app has a steep learning curve, there is a good possibility that users will delete it before exploring all the app has to offer. Also, experience has shown that functionally overloaded apps do not take off. The Swiss knife principle does not work for mobile apps; it actually has the opposite effect. Easy navigation, shallow view structure and a delightful presentation are our drives. Your app should be something that you would want to use.

4. Integrate Analytics

Decide what and how to measure your app before finishing the initial build phase as you will want to measure how your app is used from the get-go. Setting up and measuring the metrics of your app will allow making additional features and improving the user experience a much easier job. Some of the key metrics are listed below.

  • Users/Session Length. The best way to create deeper engagement is by understanding how many users you are getting on your app and how long they are staying.
  • Time In App. While session length measures each session individually, Time in App will measure how long a user was in your app over a select timeframe.
  • Retention. How many users return to your app? If your retention rate is low, then you need to figure out how to keep users around.
  • Functions Used. What app functionalities are used, how often and which ones are not? These metrics will help determine which functionalities to focus on and which ones are not needed in future releases. Put it simply, it assists with your product roadmap decision-making.

5. Create a Feedback Loop

Apps are created for users, thus why not allowing users to help you to refine your app? Allow users to submit feedback -good or bad- to help you constantly improve your app. Make sure you collect and categorize comments and suggestions and use them as your input for new releases. Users’ needs and demands are constantly evolving. Stay up to date with consumer and app development trends to keep your apps relevant, be ahead of the competition and keep your users engaged.


Our New Home

Dear partners, friends,

Orange Dot moved to a new, bigger office! Watch our sneak preview video.


Orange Dot Recognized as The Fastest Growing ICT Company in Bulgaria

In the 19th edition of Computerworld’s ICT Top 100 ranking, Orange Dot emerged as the fastest growing IT company in Bulgaria. The recognition was received by Vassil Guenov, President and Founder, at the first ICT Top 100 awarding ceremony organized by ICT Media (IDG Bulgaria), publisher of Computerworld Bulgaria.

Since its inception in 2013, Orange Dot has seen an outstanding average annual growth of 157.5%. More importantly, this development was not only quantitative, but also qualitative, as evidenced by the company’s having been recognized as a Top ICT Employer of 2015 in the Small Companies category. This goes hand in hand with a continual quality improvement strategy which involves ever more team members gaining certifications in leading testing, development and cloud technologies.

In 2016, Orange Dot also ranked 8th in terms of profitability in the local market, with an income ratio of 19%; and moved up by three positions in the general revenue-based ranking, taking the 80th place. As the next logical step in its development, the company is already looking to expand its presence into neighboring markets.


Marketing on Steroids

The evolution of marketing continues. The new era of marketing involves big data and hyper segmentation. What does this means? Do we rely on available customer data? No, we enrich our data set with social data and household census data and other relevant data sets. We strive for knowing everything about our customers - you can just imagine the possibilities when we get IoT data integrated with our datasets.

Where does this bringing us to? The communication to our target gets personalized and relevant to the micro-target level; there is no more generalization or segmentation and grouping. This is meaningful and relevant communication in action.

At this point you probably think this is great but wondered what do you need to do to harness big data? How can you know and process all this data? This is where big data and data science come into play. We run our statistical models and machine learning algorithms in order to process all this data. The intend here is to talk about how can you benefit from the Amazon cloud environment (AWS) to get the capacity that you need to process terabytes of data.

Why AWS?

  1. Lower costs
    • No subscriptions
    • Pay as you go
    • No infrastructure investment
    • Pay per use

  2. Easy to use
    • Programmable
    • Fully integrated with existing AWS tools
    • Easy to configure
    • No administration

Amazon has invested a lot in building its sophisticated e-commerce side of the business and as result offers its infrastructure through AWS; a family of products that helps in processing big data. Let’s first explore what is needed in order to process big data:

  1. Acquire – the acquisition of the data that you need
  2. Process – preparation and manipulation of data
  3. Analyze – includes visualization and predictive modeling

We will cover these three phases and explore how AWS can help us in establishing the needed processing power.

1. Acquire
We need the ability to upload huge datasets from various sources. This means uploading data from the application, log files, mobile data, geospatial data, video, audio, web analytics and social network such as Facebook, Tweeter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and so on.

Batch Upload

AWS Import/Export is a solution for moving a large amount of data to the cloud. By shipping portable storage device to Amazon or by using high-speed internet connection we upload data into the AWS environment. The recommendation is to use cheap S3 storage.

AWS Storage Gateway is a service that enables secure data transfer from the organization’s on-premise storage appliance to AWS cost effective storage.

AWS Direct Connect uses industry standard 802.1q VLAN dedicated connection. It enables private to your Amazon VPC.


Real time upload – streaming
In cases where you need streaming data from your application to the analytics environment, you should be looking to use Amazon Kinesis - and on your side, an application that is Kinesis enabled.

This solution is very useful when looking to implement a real-time data analytics solution. The storage options available include the following:

• Amazon S3
• Amazon Glacier
• Amazon EMR – HDFS
• Amazon Redshift
• Amazon DynamoDB
• Amazon RDS
• Amazon Aurora

What storage to use depends on the receiving: structured/transactional data vs. non-structured data. Here are the recommendations:

Transactional Data
• Amazon ElasticCache
• Amazon DynamoDB
• Amazon RDS
• Amazon CloudSearch
• Amazon Aurora
File Data
• Amazon EMR HDFS
• Amazon S3
• Amazon Glacier
Streaming Data
• Amazon Kinesis

2. Process
As we have our data imported into AWS and stored in one of the available storages, it is time for the transformation and processing (slicing and dicing). Really what we are answering here is the question about the meaning of this data. We are answering questions related to analytics, classifications (segmentations), predictions and forecasting. For this purpose we use Amazon Elastic MapReducer (EMR). This can be also managed by utilizing AWS Data Pipeline.

The good thing with the Amazon EMR solution is that when you have a Hadoop cluster, you do not need to worry about its administration as it is done for you.

3. Analyze (Visualization)
This takes place once we are satisfied with the outcome obtained from the data results stored in an Amazon storage solution such as Amazon Redshift or Amazon Aurora. From here, the data is consumed by visualization packages. In order for this to happen, we need to use some of the tools provided by Amazon partners. Here is a list of some of these tools: Jasper Software, SAS, MicroStrategy and Tableau.

Reference Architecture
We are approaching the end of the process. The proposed reference architecture is just one option. We can use -as previously stated- different services to bring data into AWS or different options to store it. It all depends on our needs but also on our ability to manage our cost effectively and use the services that match our needs.


Welcome to Microservices Architectures

Developers are beginning to embrace a new approach to developing applications and web apps: microservices architectures. Their applications are made up of many small components/services that communicate with each other via Rest APIs. This is yet another attempt to decompose application complexity. In past we had solutions such as Service Oriented Architecture, CORBA Architecture and so on.

Leveraging microservices is definitely a good approach to bring order and simplicity to complex solutions. Be careful, however. Examples such as Netflix using this approach and ending up with over 1,600 microservices are plentiful.

Decompose the problem to the level that make sense and provide a benefit to the company in areas of faster and simpler deployments, maintainability of the solutions, extensibility and frequency of production updates, which at the end of the day helps enable continuous delivery and agile development methodologies.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that building reusable service components enables us to build our technology ecosystem that serves the needs of business or our clients.


2016 Technology Trends

At the beginning of every year we spend time analyzing technology trends to ensure that we keep our skillset sharp and our clients informed. These are the top five technologies that grabbed our attention and that are going to make a difference in the years to come.

1. The Internet of Me
As everyday objects are going online (thermostats, door lockers, security, scales, lights, etc.), so too are experiences—creating an abundance of digital channels that reach deep into every aspect of individuals’ lives. Forward-thinking businesses are changing the ways they build new applications, products, and services. To gain control over these points of access, they are creating highly personalized experiences that engage and exhilarate consumers without breaching their trust. The companies that succeed in this new ’Internet of Me’ will become the next generation of household names.

2. The Device Mesh
The device mesh refers to an expanding set of devices/sensors people use to access applications and information or interact with people, social communities, governments and businesses. The device mesh includes mobile devices, wearable, consumer and home electronic devices, automotive devices and environmental devices — such as sensors in the IoT. While devices are increasingly connected to back-end systems through various networks, they are often operated in isolation from one another. Lately this is changing and more and more various devices are connecting and cooperating.

3. Information of Everything
Everything in the digital mesh produces, uses and transmits information. This information goes beyond textual, audio and video information to include sensory and contextual information. Information of everything addresses this influx with strategies and technologies to link data from all these different data sources. Information has always existed everywhere but has often been isolated, incomplete, unavailable or unintelligible. Advances in semantic tools such as graph databases as well as other emerging data classification and information analysis techniques will bring meaning to the often chaotic and overwhelming amount of information.

4. Advanced Machine Learning
In advanced machine learning, deep learning, artificially intelligent computers are now capable of deep learning using neural networks, which you can think of as brain-inspired systems capable of translating pixels into English. Deep neural nets move beyond classic computing and information management to create systems that can autonomously learn to perceive the world, on their own. For example IBM Watson. The explosion of data sources and complexity of information makes manual classification and analysis infeasible and uneconomic. Deep neural nets automate these tasks and make it possible to address key challenges related to the information of everything trend. Deep neural nets (an advanced form of machine learning particularly applicable to large, complex datasets) is what makes smart machines appear "intelligent." Deep neural nets enable hardware or software based machines to learn for themselves all the features in their environment, from the finest details to broad sweeping abstract classes of content. This area is evolving quickly, and organizations must assess how they can apply these technologies to gain competitive advantage. Toward the end of 2014, Google researchers unveiled a new project that uses neural networks and deep learning to identify multiple elements of a scene without human assistance. Its software “learned” how to think by processing vast quantities of data. For example, deep learning will eventually allow robots to recognize objects they haven’t seen before and navigate to new locations on their own. Deep learning intersects with numerous fields, and it will soon aid in manufacturing, medicine, retail, utilities, and beyond.

5. Autonomous Agents and Things
Machine learning gives rise to a spectrum of smart machine implementations — including robots, autonomous vehicles, virtual personal assistants and smart advisors — that act in an autonomous (or at least semiautonomous) manner. While advances in physical smart machines such as robots get a great deal of attention, the software-based smart machines have a more near-term and broader impact. Virtual personal assistants such as Google Now, Microsoft's Cortana and Apple's Siri are becoming smarter and are precursors to autonomous agents. The emerging notion of assistance feeds into the ambient user experience in which an autonomous agent becomes the main user interface. Instead of interacting with menus, forms and buttons on a smartphone, the user speaks to an app, which is really an intelligent agent.


Out with the Old, In with the New

On 16th December, the team of Orange Dot gathered at the Road 66 bar in Sofia to see off the old year of 2015.

We were happy to go back to quite a few firsts on our list of achievements. Firstly, there was our debut among the top ICT companies in the Bulgarian market based on annual revenue, company growth and employee efficiency. Next came our landing an unprecedented first place in the Small Companies category of the Top ICT Employer contest. We aced our first-time assignments for the brands of Uncle Ben’s and Samsung. We found Rossy, our new Technology Lead starting early January; and Lalita from Ghaziabad in India joined us as the very first owner of a Bulgarian ‘blue card’ on the team.

Over the year, there was many a challenge to brave, too. This was a time of numerous organizational transformations within the team of our strategic client and partner, The Marketing Store (TMS). As a result we had to say goodbye to professionals of exceptional qualities that we had developed warm working relations with and fond feelings for. What is more, we were called upon to serve as the focal point of technologic know-how and facilitate the on-boarding process of the newcomers on the side of TMS, with Nissan and Infiniti projects rolling out one after the other without even a breather.

Our expectations for next year run higher than ever, work-wise and otherwise. As for the work part of the equation, quite predictably, overdelivering is the order of the day. But on top of this, we will be going all out for Work/Life fitness, each of us armed with a Fitbit tracker to digitally measure our progress.

Update – 10th February 2016:

In the weeks following the party, certain people started skipping the weekly team breakfast and demonstrated religious devotion to the corporate fitness program. Others, however, were often caught gesturing desperately in an attempt to fool their Fitbit devices into tracking an occasional active minute or two. We all know you can do better than this, guys!

Stay tuned to find out how our wellness experiment is – no pun intended – moving.


Team Building for the Brave of Heart and Hearing

In the wake of the Top ICT Employer awarding ceremony, our team headed out for a weekend getaway in the Borovets resort in the mountain of Rila. Our agenda was simple as ABC. Firstly, we meant to celebrate in good measure. Secondly, to get to know each other better outside of work. Last but not least, we planned to dive into bonding activities focusing on the key factors that contribute to employee engagement levels according to the latest survey by IDG and JobTiger: leadership, empowerment, knowledge transfer, recognition and communication.

Under the guidance of our friends from Agenda Training Solutions, our team braced up to step out of our comfort zone. We had to build rickety rafts to cross imaginary rivers; then literally pulled our weight, and, as true team-players, the weight of the occasional team mate on top of that as well. There was also a web involved. As in ‘spider web’. And we created what was easily the clumsiest caterpillar to have ever crawled the face of Earth. Software engineers kept banging their heads over hardware problems, sweating it over 3D puzzles. We had to build a square out of a piece of rope while blindfolded, which, reportedly, felt similar to coding without specs. And once all formal bonding activities were out of the way, the day was crowned by a spectacular performance of drone acrobatics. Luckily, no drones or developers were harmed in the process.

In the evening, an impromptu karaoke session revealed further unsuspected superpowers of the Orange Dot staffers. Not necessarily in the music department, however. It was all about being super supportive and encouraging to each other. Well done, Team!


Orange Dot Wins in the Small Companies Category of the Top ICT Employer Ranking of 2015

Orange Dot was titled Top ICT Employer of 2015 in the Small Companies category in the latest edition of a joint national initiative of ICT Media and the JobTiger careers portal. The prize was received by Vassil Guenov, Founder and President of the Company.

Starting in 2012, the Top ICT Employer project aims to identify the most prominent employers in the sector of information and communication technologies (ICT) in Bulgaria, based on employee engagement and satisfaction. The multi-component initiative spans a survey among thousands of respondents, a public roundtable discussion and the recognition of top employers in five categories.

Of the 31 contestants in 2015, only 21 companies qualified for the final stages of the competition. Participants were ranked based on employee feedback, diverse performance indicators, HR policies and practices. As part of the project, each employer had to submit a strategy for enhancing team engagement and satisfaction based on research findings.

This year, the Top ICT Employer initiative was implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Association of Information Technologies and the Bulgarian Association for People Management.

Photo: ICT Media


The Summer Service Sweepstakes by Nissan and Infiniti Run at Full Speed

Following 3 months of all-out development, the Orange Dot team is immensely proud to have seen the launch of the latest online campaigns by Nissan and Infiniti. Until 30th September, three separate mini-sites will be hosting the traditional summer service sweepstakes for privileged clients of the automobile brands to enjoy. All three sites are driven by a shared Node.js-based backend with an API service layer that taps into a millions-strong database of vehicle owners in the North-American market.

The multi-platform, multi-lingual sweepstakes solution we were tasked with had to measure up to a total of 7 successful summer service campaigns in the past. With a project team spanning three separate companies and locations, we set out to make “convenience, service expertise and exciting prizes come together”, in line with the spirit of the campaigns. True to our trademark resolution to overdeliver on the client’s expectations, we developed a reusable responsive platform that stands out with flexibility and scalability, featuring SMS communication using Twilio and Google Geocoding API integration.

In the end, this awe-inspiring assignment emerged as one of our most rewarding projects so far. Thank-you emails were plentiful and heart-warming. The end-client complimented the Orange Dot team on these being the smoothest execution and highest quality sites in these past 8 years.

We, on our part, are already looking forward to more sweepstakes campaigns to leverage on the full scope of possibilities offered by our latest brainchild.


Orange Dot ranks among Bulgaria's Top 100 ICT Companies of 2014

Within just 2 years of its launch, Orange Dot made it into the most prestigious national ICT annual ranking - Computerworld Bulgaria's Top 100, and garnered the 83rd place.

Orange Dot emerged as the fastest growing ICT company of Bulgaria for 2014, based on a 256% YoY increase in net sales, and a profit comparable to that of established players in the local industry.

Computerworld's ICT Top 100 also recognized Orange Dot as one of the "most generous employers" of Bulgaria for 2014. This must have paid off well, too, since based on its team's efficiency, Orange Dot assumes a pride of place among the leading 50 corporations in the local market.

While qualifying for Computerworld's Top 100 is an achievement in itself, it is all the more fulfilling given the young age of the company, the maturity of the market and the relentless competition in the software development and outsourcing sectors, where Orange Dot has set out to make a name for itself.


Behavior-Driven Development, Agile and Automated Testing are the Order of the Day

Earlier this summer Krasen, Senior QA Analyst at Orange Dot, set out for the expo:QA’15 conference in Madrid to rub elbows with QA gurus from all over the world and soak in the latest trends in software testing technologies. Less than a week later, he landed back in Sofia eager to share with our team his latest findings and ideas.

One key conference takeaway of Krasen’s is that the agile methodology and automated testing are radically gaining on recognition among leading professionals in the field. Given the unlimited performance and processing capacity of computers, automation emerges as the foremost approach in software testing in this fast-paced, complex world of today. The agile process, in turn, is ever more favored for its advantage of bringing together diverse points of view and fields of expertise along every step of the way. Admittedly, however, old-school manual testing still holds its ground in a limited number of ad-hoc, small-scale projects.

In the wake of the conference, Krasen is passionate to a fault about behavior-driven development. In the BDD trend, he sees a lasting shift in the competence models of both business analysts and QA analysts. Software testing is now increasingly being understood as an intrinsic part of business analysis. Indeed, a failure to recognize the significance of the roles of both business and QA analysts is known to lead to long development hours and last-minute modifications that put entire projects at risk.

Currently, the R&D efforts of the QA unit are channeled into transitioning to behavior-driven development and automating as many project stages as reasonably possible. This comes at a time when we have already gathered momentum in implementing agile testing practices in our ongoing work as part of our long-term strategy for continuous improvement.


Orange Dot is now a member of the Bulgarian Association of Software Companies (BASSCOM)

On 26th May 2015, Orange Dot Ltd. was unanimously voted a member of BASSCOM, the Bulgarian Association of Software Companies, at the Annual General Assembly of the highly influential organization of leading software development companies.

BASSCOM's mission is to "promote competitive advantages and long-term traditions in software development as well as to encourage acquisition of best practices to raise company excellence". Its member-companies are recognised for the quality of the services provided, their expertise and trustworthiness as professional business partners.

It is an honor and a privilege for the team of Orange Dot to assume its rightful place among the industry front-runners.


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2015

In December the Orange Dot team celebrated the end of a landmark year in company development.

In a roundup of major company developments in 2014 at the party at the Orisha bar in Sofia, our General Manager Vassil Guenov raised a toast to the launch of a brand-new PHP/Front-end team, and the doubling in size of the company's QA forces.

"Without any doubt, the QA division at Orange Dot is the best one I have ever come across in my entire career," complimented Vassil Guenov our QA Team Lead Emil Monchev.

A highlight of 2014 was the closing of a strategic agreement with our partners at The Marketing Store, which guaranteed the long-term engagement of our team on large-scale projects for multinational corporations in the automotive industry. This was a vital boost of confidence and security for a young business like ours. It allowed us to dream big, plan boldly and slingshot the development of the team way past the 20-people mark.

And here is what the year looked like for our team:

Boris Toninski, Java Team Lead:
"It was a break-through year in terms of streamlining the collaboration with our partners. Now, we are looking forward to more deliveries to make us proud."

Dimitar Zhelev, .NET Team Lead:
"We, at the .NET team, took our time expanding. This ensured the perfect fit of each of the newcomers within our corporate culture. We believe this is the key to sustainable development of the team."

Dimitar Isusov, PHP Team Lead:
"Last year, building a solid and robust core team was a priority. In 2015, we will be focusing on expanding our technologies know-how to increase the scope of our service offerings."

Warm thanks to our partners, clients and friends for their precious support, and kudos to an all-star team for their hard work and dedication!


A warm welcome to Plamena and Krasen to the QA team of Orange Dot

Among a team of confirmed overachievers, the QA department consistently stands out. This is the fastest-growing unit at Orange Dot, numbering 7 people already.

This month, the team gained a reinforcement of 2 proven professionals – Plamena Zlateva and Krasen Raynov. To help integrate our new colleagues, Indika Perera, QA Manager at The Marketing Store, came to Sofia for a bootcamp training that did magic for process standardization and work-flow management within the team.

Indika was also our special guest at our Halloween celebration and an honorary judge in our pumpkin carving competition, which made for a truly multinational October at Orange Dot.