Swapit iOS App Launched on the Apple App Store

swapit-blog_appleHello iPhone Users!

We’ve just launched our first public version of Swapit on iOS. You can go directly to the App Store or download it from there.

Swapit Download: http://get.swapit.la

It is currently possible to browse the whole Swapit catalog of items, interact with sellers and actually buy items from sellers. It’s not possible to post items yourself yet, but we will be adding that capability soon. Stay tuned!

As an avid reader of our blog, you’ve probably been aware of our Swapit iOS beta, which we’ve been running for a while. We believe in building native apps with a native look and feel for users. In very simple terms: iPhone users who open Swapit on their iPhone for the first time, need to feel right at home. Without any need for a tutorial or instructions, they need to be able to navigate Swapit in the way they are used to navigate other apps. The same counts for Android users who also need to feel right at home, when they’re launching Swapit. Therefore, our iOS app and our Android app look a bit different in terms of user interface. We’ve been discussing a lot about that internally (read To Tab A Bar Or Not To Tab A Bar – on iOS for more).

We’ve also had to overcome many requirements imposed by Apple during the approval process of Swapit. Check out Getting Swapit approved on the Apple App Store is not that easy, for example. While that was only a first taste of their feedback, we’ve had many more conversations with the Apple Review team, but in the end we managed to launch Swapit on the App Store. Here is how it looks like:

So again, if you’re an iPhone user, feel free to download Swapit today: http://get.swapit.la

Getting Swapit approved on the Apple App Store is not that easy

swapit-blog_appleWe’ve been working hard on getting Swapit on iOS launched as soon as possible. Over the many years in the app business, we have some experience in launching apps into app stores — this includes the App Store, of course.

Our initial plan was to bring the Swapit iOS app up to a point where buyers and sellers can trade and then publish the app on the App Store. So we looked at the app’s features, tried to break it down into as many small pieces as possible so we could define a MVP that we can hand out to our beta testers. In fact, we managed to launch that only 1 month after hiring our iOS developer.

We are running our beta test on Apple’s TestFlight for quite a while now. It’s not possible to buy or sell anything, but it is already possible to list items, view details, do spacial queries and interact with items – to some extend at least.

About a month ago we looked at our state of the iOS app and we realized that it’ll take at least another 1-2 months before we could launch a somewhat fully functional iOS app. Now, we’ve got the RISE conference coming up (more news on that here) and we are also constantly talking to investors and users alike, many of which have an iPhone. So we needed to be present on the App Store ASAP.

Landing App – A Crashlanding

Remember the landing app we built for Android? We figured, why not doing the same on iOS? We knew it would literally take us a day to build that; and so we went ahead and created it quickly. We uploaded the app to the App Store and submitted it for review.

Over a week later, we got a reply from the App Store review folks that they denied our app release for the following reason:

Apps that are “demo”, “trial”, or “test” versions will be rejected. Beta Apps may only be submitted through TestFlight and must follow the TestFlight guidelines.

Granted, our landing app was what it was: An app to leave your contact details, so we can reach out to you once the actual app is available. Hence, there was no “real” functionality provided in the app. I’ve argued our case and explained why we did what we did and that our only motivation was to make our (potential) users happy by allowing them to find us on the App Store. Many people I talk to, just go directly to the App Store, search for “Swapit” and want to download the app. At this moment, they can’t find it and that’s a bad experience for them. We merely tried to remedy that situation and make users happy.

That wasn’t enough for the App Store review team. But they did actually ask us to provide a contact number and they would call back. I was surprised. Thinking about the sheer amount of apps that are available on the App Store and all of those require reviewing, I am wondering how many people Apple employs for that — given that they also make phone calls in some cases.

So another 1-2 weeks later, I receive a phone call from the App Store Review Team. I explained everything again, in more detail now, more about our motivation, our background, our traction, and so on. It all didn’t help. The binary we submitted would just not be approved. Period.

Sometimes you just got to suck it up and get back to work. It sucks, but it’s the only way.

Landing App + Browsing Experience

Yet, I got some fruitful information out of the phone call. It would apparently be acceptable to submit an app that is like our landing app (i.e. it asks for the user’s contact information), but there has to be some kind of added value after that. In a very simple case, once it’s possible to actually browse content after leaving your contact details, we should be passing that single requirement, which the Swapit landing app failed during review. However, such a “forced-signup” process during the app start, does in our case create another hurdle. While there might be some apps that really have to require a log in before allowing the user to access any data, Swapit does also contain data, which should be accessible by anyone – no matter if he or she has left any contact information. So in short: It must be possible to skip the sign up process. We’ll make that possible.

No Betas

Furthermore, we are not allowed to mention anything about beta, pre-release, etc. anywhere in the app or the app’s description on the App Store. Well, fine. We can skip that, but yet it won’t present Swapit to potential users in the most transparent way. While we constantly do our best to make sure we don’t have any bugs in Swapit, we still wear the “beta” label. That’s important for us, because we know we are not perfect. Swapit is a work-in-progress app and platform, and we know we will have bugs from time to time. So well, now we just need to skip any notice about this in our iOS app. At the same time, we are working harder to make sure we deliver the best-in-class marketplace on your mobile.

Stay tuned. Keep your iPhones charged! We’ll soon be ready to announce the availability of Swapit on the App Store.

If you have an Android device too, go to http://get.swapit.la and download Swapit today.

The State of the Second-Hand Trading Market in Hong Kong – March 2016

At almost every meeting I take, I am getting asked questions like these:

What are the most popular products on Swapit?

What pre-loved items do people trade?

While there’s not an easy answer to those rather simple questions, we can easily look at the category distribution in Swapit. Remember? We’ve got 18 free and 4 premium categories on Swapit. Usually, my standard answer is:

Our most popular product category is Fashion followed by Mobile Phones & Tablets.

 

swapit-blog_hkScepticism about Second-Hand Trading

From time to time I also get people telling me that they don’t believe there is a market for trading second hand goods in Hong Kong. Usually, those folks are more affluent clientele who personally would not consider purchasing anything second hand.

Personal View. I for my part have a quite distinct view on pre-loved goods. Certain products I would absolutely and already did purchase second hand. My usual example is my daughter’s car seat and her crib, but also a baby gym, a bouncer, a jumperoo, a play pen, mobile phones & tablets (for testing), furniture, a car and property. Yet, there are certain things I do not consider purchasing second hand: mobile phones & tablets (for personal use), computer hardware and cameras & lenses. That’s mainly due to the fact that I buy the best gadgets I can afford. So they’re either so high-spec that no one has them nor sells them. Furthermore, if you pay a small fortune for the highest spec MacBook Pro with all upgrades you can get, you better make sure you get it with as much warranty as possible.

Hong Kong View. The vast majority of local residents are inherently price sensitive. There is some part of Chinese culture that comes with a very distinct understanding of the value of money and that goes through all social layers. Yes, there are many young folks that go out all night, buy $50,000 bottles of champaign in a club (e.g. Boerl & Kroff Magnum), often spending their parents money, though. However, I reckon even they would haggle with you about $5 if you’d try to overcharge them for some soup noodles.

Quality is important, but price efficiency and a good price-value ratio is very important too. So yes, the majority of our traders on Swapit are local Hong Kong residents. Some of them speak some English, but most communicate in Chinese. Luckily Swapit can separate items by language so it’s easy for us non-Chinese speakers.

So while most of our traders are locals, it appears that trading second-hand goods is popular in Hong Kong. It is so popular, that we were actually able to collect a lot of data in that area and compile a great overview for everyone. Before we get to that, let’s look a little bit at some other aspects of trading.

After Work Trading. Once people leave work, eat dinner and arrive at home, that’s the most popular time when they post new items on Swapit. At the same time, we see a constant stream of communication (chat messages and comments) during the course of the day, from morning to late. Of course, during night time there is quite a low engagement time because most folks are asleep.

Signing Up During The Day. Sign ups of new traders usually happens during the course of the whole “awake” day. There is no particular time when more or less people sign up, so that’s quite interesting actually.

Now let’s take a deep dive look at the popular product categories for second hand goods in Hong Kong.

 

Most Popular Product Categories on Swapit

For the month of March 2016, we’ve taken a much closer look at that distribution and created a beautiful chart to visualize our most popular categories. Let’s have a look at it:

swapit_trade-stats_2016-03_1440x1080

March 2016 Category Distribution on Swapit (click image to zoom)

So in March 2016 the most popular product category on Swapit was Consumer Electronics followed by Fashion and Home Appliances.

Fashion is particularly popular because we have a lot of fashionable female professionals using Swapit. They have great sense of fashion and like to trade dresses, shoes, hand bags jewellery and accessories. Consumer Electronics on the other hand is always a great product category. Mobile phones and tablets are popular nowadays and require an upgrade pretty much every year. The 1 year old devices usually still work fine and are in a decent condition. So it is just natural that their owners prefer to sell them to recover some of the cost of those devices.

Overall, we’re very excited about the prospects of trading pre-loved goods — especially with people nearby. Swapit is the only app that offers this and we are working on bringing other great benefits to Swapit very soon.

 

About the Chart Data

The chart above is based on the total number of items posted in March 2016 and put into relation to each other. Please note that the chart does not show the actual value posted in each category, but rather the number of items. We have also seen some people mistakingly posting their items in the wrong category which distorts the data a little bit. It is obvious in the chart above that the “Other” category has been heavily overused by many people even though chances to close a sale are much higher when posting an item in the correct category.

Perhaps in a month’s time, we will look at the same data again and see how preferences for trading pre-loved goods in Hong Kong has changed. For now it seems to be very promising and the number of items on Swapit are rapidly growing every day.

 

Have you used Swapit yet? It’s free. Download it from: http://get.swapit.la

To Tab A Bar Or Not To Tab A Bar – on iOS

swapit-blog_appleAs you might have guessed from our last blog post and the one before, we are already working on the iOS app of Swapit. Unlike many of our competitors, we decided not to use any of the cross-platform development tools out there, but to go real native and build the app for each platform from scratch. We believe, this is by far the best way to provide the stellar user experience everyone expects from Swapit – may it be on Android or iOS.

This approach does come with challenges, but also with opportunities. One of the great freedoms we have, when going native on each platform, is to create a custom user interface design that fits perfectly to the target platform. On Android for example, we did a deep dive into the Material Design Guidelines published by Google to ensure all Android users feel right at home when they’re opening the app.

For example, on Android we implemented the standard left side slide out navigation drawer as well as the “+” floating button to create new posts. Those concepts feel very natural to Android users and they feel right at home when they’re using Swapit.

Now, we did some tests by handing our Swapit Android app to some iPhone users. They immediately felt lost, didn’t know what to do and started clicking randomly around the screen, trying to find something useful to do. Especially the floating button at the bottom right corner was something rather unusual for them. So to us it was obvious that we need to cater much more to the standard user behavior of iPhone users in our iOS app.

Last Friday, we finished our very first internal beta of the Swapit iOS app. It can only list items nearby the user’s location and show details of each item. There is not much interaction possible in the app yet. So we started a very small internal beta test of about 10 friends and family folks who have iPhones. Just to see if the app starts up properly on different iPhone models, OS versions, network carriers, locations, indoors/outdoors. Conclusion thus far: it’s lookin’ good!

(Note: Everyone who signed up for our Swapit iOS Beta will get an email when the next version is ready. Stay tuned!)

The Tab Bar Discussion

Two days ago, we had a very heated discussion about the general structure of Swapit on iOS. I’d like to share some details because I feel it might give everyone some insight in our thought and decision making process.

The main question was: should we use a tab bar at the bottom of our standard list screen or should we not use it, but rather bring over the left side navigation pane, which we use in Swapit on Android. Such a tab bar is very common in many standard iOS apps. Just go and check the App Store, iTunes, Safari, Notes, etc. They all have a tab bar. Usually that’s being used to switch between tabs, but sometimes there are also some “actions” in there, which are not particularly switching tabs, but perform a certain action. For example: the Notes app has a “New Folder” action in that bar.

We a camp of people that was for a tab bar and one against it. I personally was against the tab bar, mainly because I feel having a tab bar constantly there, wastes screen real estate, which I’d prefer to use for displaying content. Think, cinematic feel of an app.

However, this is not about what I feel makes sense – in the end, I am not actually a real world iPhone user. Yet, given our experience and the feedback we collected from iPhone users trying to use our Android app, it was clear that we need to cater directly to those iPhone users – no matter what.

On top of that very simple discussion came contextual discussions about the general workflow and where, from a contextual point of view, it will make sense to put certain modules of content in Swapit. Let me give you a quick overview of the top level user interface elements that are accessible right from the main screen in the Swapit Android today:

  1. My User Profile (left navigation drawer)
  2. Swapits Nearby (left navigation drawer)
  3. Inbox (left navigation drawer)
  4. Settings (left navigation drawer)
  5. Invite Friends (left navigation drawer)
  6. Write a Review (left navigation drawer)
  7. Stats (left navigation drawer)
  8. Website (left navigation drawer)
  9. Blog (left navigation drawer)
  10. About (left navigation drawer)
  11. Map (top toolbar, right)
  12. Search (top toolbar, right)
  13. Filters (top toolbar, right)
  14. Post Item (bottom right floating button)

Obviously, it would not be possible to move all such elements into a tab bar on iOS. Adding a left navigation drawer like on Android might be a solution, but it is not standard iOS design — even though some popular apps on iOS have that. To make Swapit’s feel for iOS users as native as possible, we decided to integrate a tab bar at the bottom. It still bugs me personally that we are wasting that screen real estate for this, but if it results in a higher user engagement in the end, then it was the right move.

Now the next question was about what to put into that tab bar and how to order it. Contextually seen, the tab bar’s purpose is to allow the user to switch between tabs. Usually, those are content-related tabs. For example, on the Apple App Store you can switch between Featured Apps, Top Charts of Apps, Categories of Apps, Search of Apps, Updates of Apps. It’s obvious, those tabs switch between viewing apps in a different way or it just orders apps differently.

For Swapit, we want to make sure our users have quick access to the content of the app. Thus, we put all important content-related tabs in the first 4 elements of the tab bar:

  1. Swapits Nearby (left)
  2. My User Profile (center-left)
  3. Sell/Post Item (center)
  4. Search (center-right)

This is how a quick sketch of that looks like:

IMG_20160314_1322531_cropped

Assuming the majority of our users are right-handed, we needed to make sure that the tabs we want the users to use most, are reachable with their thumb when holding the phone in their right hand. One very important goal of Swapit is to encourage people to post their items quickly — in under 30 seconds. That includes finding that “Sell/Post Item” action right away. Therefore, we put that in the center of the tab bar. In this case “Sell/Post Item” is actually a bit of a deviation from the content-related purpose of switching tabs. However, it is essential to have this action right here in the middle to make it as obvious as possible to users on how to post items.

The three other directly accessible tabs here, are essential tab-switches between different ways of viewing items on Swapit. The standard tab that will open when the app starts is the most left “Nearby” tab. You can easily open up your own profile, which also lists your own items. The search field is within a 1-click reach as well. Additional content-related tab switches as well as other functions (About, Website, Blog, etc.) are then accessible through the “More” tab at the bottom right corner.

2016-03-15_android_filtersNow we needed to cover two other important functions:

  1. Inbox
  2. Filters

Filters. We offer very sophisticated filters in Swapit, so you can easily find what you are looking for. As you can see from the Android screen shot (on the right), that’s a rather complex and busy panel, which we might be able to improve/simplify a bit, but in the end it will always have a lot of options. Therefore, we need to reserve a whole panel for our filters on iOS as well. So similarly to Android, the filters panel will be accessible through the top right corner of the top toolbar.

Inbox. The Inbox on the other hand is – from a contextual point of view – very different to most other screens on Swapit. It’s a communication center which combines all notifications you receive through Swapit. May it be comments to items, new item notifications, interested buyers or most importantly chat messages. Furthermore, it is important to know, that the main entry point of users to the inbox is not expected to be through the Swapit app itself. Generally, people enter the inbox through a notification they receive in their Notification Center. So from a navigational point of view, it is absolutely fine to put the inbox at top left corner, like shown in the sketch above. If you would be accessing it a lot from within Swapit’s navigation, it might be cumbersome to reach the Inbox, but in our case that should not happen too often.

Conclusion

After a two hours of a discussion involving pretty much everyone, we settled for the above main structure of Swapit on Android. It is very important to create a clear path for this early on. You don’t want to waste time designing something that people won’t use. Personally, I still prefer Android’s Material Design more because it offers us more screen real estate. Our discussion got heated, emotional and brought out everyone’s passion for Swapit’s success. Yet, in the end we found a solution, that I believe works best for iOS users.

Are you an iOS user? What do you think? Does our reasoning make sense to you?

 

Do you have an Android phone and want to try Swapit? Download it from: http://get.swapit.la

Do you have an iPhone and want to test our Swapit beta? Join the Swapit iOS beta here: Get Yourself on the List Today!

 

Swapit is Featured as Recommended App on Google Play

swapit-google-play-featured_new-updatedSince last Friday Swapit has been featured in the “New and Updated Apps” category on Google Play. It is absolutely great to see Swapit in there, getting some recognition and coverage in our local home market.

Google Play has been a great app store for us so far. We’ve been able to push out new updates quickly. While we only announce larger app updates here on our blog, we did actually publish over 30 app binaries on Google Play over the past year. That’s almost one app update every one and half weeks on average! Many of those updates are based on our user’s feedback — especially when we introduce new product features which require refinement after wards. Being able to launch app updates and new innovative features quickly, is essential for us to being at the vanguard of innovation.

We are currently working on a new update of Swapit and will launch it very soon, actually. If you want to check out the current list of all recommended apps on Google Play, you can go to: https://play.google.com/store/recommended
(only when opening that link in Hong Kong, you’ll see Swapit in that list)

At this point, I’d like to personally thank the Google developer relations and Google Play team who helped us a lot with their feedback on Swapit. Because of their honest feedback, we were able to identify crucial points for improvement on Swapit in terms of Material Design principles as well as user experience / onboarding workflow. We know Swapit is still not perfect, but we are on a very good track on getting there. Thanks a lot! We do very much appreciate your help.

Do you use Swapit it? You can download it right here: http://get.swapit.la

Preparing for a Major Release

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been working hard on a new release of Swapit. If you follow us on Twitter (@swapitla) or Facebook (fb.com/swapitla) you probably saw some of our sneak peeks already.

Our current efforts in improving Swapit is geared largely at

  1. increasing market share
  2. increasing engagement inside Swapit
  3. increasing the close rate for sales
  4. increasing the number of items posted
  5. improving the user experience when posting items, i.e. decreasing the time needed to post an item – significantly

While our upcoming new features are still secret, we are getting ready to launch a new update very soon.

Over the weekend, we’ve already upgraded our backend infrastructure and we were actually testing a release candidate. There is still some minor polishing to be done, to ensure ease of use. We are currently working hard on getting that release out the door as soon as possible.

Following that current upcoming release, we are planning also planning a fairly significant campaign geared towards the upcoming Chinese / Lunar New Year celebrations. We’ve got some exciting surprises ready for all of our users. So please stay tuned and make sure you got the latest version of Swapit installed.

Download Swapit for free from http://get.swapit.la

Swapit got accepted into the TGN BootCamp 2015 – and turned it down

swapit-blog_tuspark-gnTwo days ago, the TGN BootCamp 2015 started. A while back, we had applied for the boot camp, because it looked really interesting. It’s practically a 5 day boot camp that started on September 30th and runs until October 4th. Every day, you have the chance to listen to mentors and find out more about their experience over the past years. There is usually also a chance to mingle with those mentors late on each day. You can view the full schedule here.

There was a selection process ran by the TGN folks and about 2 weeks ago we got informed that Swapit got accepted to the TGN Boot Camp. After a lot of thinking and talking about it, we decided to turn down this opportunity.

To be honest, the most interesting part of the Boot Camp, was the demo day on their last day. That would have given us access to a group of investors we haven’t reached out to yet. As we are currently raising funding, this would have fit nicely into our plan.

On the other hand, we already have quite good leads for our fund raising round, but hey … it’s always great to get more feedback. One of the reasons for turning down this opportunity was, that we would have to be present at the TGN Boot Camp location every day. As we are currently heavily involved in product development (e.g. launching our latest Swapit update), talking to our investor leads and are working on our marketplace liquidity, our time during the day is very limited. At the same time, the Boot Camp runs through public holidays and weekends, which I (personally) prefer to spend with my wife and infant daughter (read “A personal take on quitting the matrix” about that). It might feel selfish, but if I don’t have much time to spend with them during the week, I at least need to make the best of it during weekends. So to be frank, that was a factor too.

We all need strike balances in our lives. Sometimes, you just got to do what you got to do. Yet sometimes, you just got to say “no” and move on.

With pretty much everything, I am doing a cost-benefit analysis — where sometimes it can’t be measured in monetary value. In this case, I believe it would have been great for Swapit to get into contact with more potential investors on the Demo Day. It would have also been very valuable to get insights from those great speakers they managed to engage for the 5 boot camp days. I will be trying to connect with them through LinkedIn instead and see if I can get some private meetings. Hopefully, for some folks that’ll work out.

Friday Counter Fun

It’s always great to have some metrics to measure your product’s success. Today is Friday, the end of the week, the day we’re having our group lunch and the day to do some silly things. So our Customer Happiness Officer William dug into his programming skills and hacked a quick ‘n dirty counter for the office. Here is how it looks like:

Granted, it could be “fancied” up a bit. Maybe soon? Who knows.

But just showing the numbers wasn’t enough. We needed sounds! Every time some stats change in the counter, it plays a sound – for different interactions, different sounds. So for example, if someone posts a new item on swapit, a lovely lady says “swapit la!”. If a new user signs up, a “success” ring plays. If someone sends a chat message, a short “ping” sound plays. Sometimes, when people go crazy chatting around, it can get really loud in the office then.

I love the stats counter, though. It keeps us always up to date with everything happening inside swapit. It’s a great way to stay on top of your game!

Swapit® – Registered Trade Mark with a Story

swapit-blog_registered-trademarkLong story short: Swapit is now a Registered Trade Mark!

Protecting your intellectual property is essential for every business. So right after we started working on swapit, we filed our trade mark application on January 8th, 2015. That was even before I published our first blog post. On September 8th, 2015 we have now received the official registration document and we are proud owners of the “SWAPIT” trade mark.

2015-09-16_ipd_screenshot_22015-09-08_s4bb_ipd_trademark-registration_swapit

As usual, all such documents are public record and can be viewed at the Intellectual Property Department.

This now allows us to protect our business against anyone who tries to use our name to associate themselves with us, or even to impersonate us. It is absolutely essential to ensure, that swapit is the synonyme for trading pre-loved items in Hong Kong with your mobile. If you don’t have your trade mark registered, do it now. It’s rather straight forward and a good first step on protecting your business.

Check out swapit today: http://get.swapit.la


The Longer Story

In fact, there is a bit of a longer story behind the successful registration of our swapit trade mark. Just from the time frames you can see that there was some delay:

  • Date of filing: 2015-01-08
  • Date of publication: 2015-03-27
  • Date of actual registration: 2015-09-08

Based on the usual opposition period of 3 months, which starts at the date of application, we should have received the trade mark on 2015-06-27. Just before that opposition period came to an end, a potential opponent to our trade mark, applied for an extension of the opposition period. We were notified and had the chance to ask for a hearing to present our case on wether or not the Registrar of Trade Marks should allow such an extension. We have forfeited our right for that hearing due to certain internal considerations. In the end, the opposition period was extended by two months, which means the total period for opposing our trade mark ended on 2015-08-26. That potential opponent, who asked for the extension of the opposition period, must have realized that (s)he does not have any grounds for opposing our trade mark application and did not file for opposition. Therefore, we have now received our official notice of Trade Mark registration.

(There is an even longer and more detailed story behind this, which is best being told in a pub over a pint of fresh beer. Ask me if you like.)

Entrepreneurs, Startups and Youth Groups Encourage Entrepreneurship

It was great fun to shoot this video with the team of the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups. We hope it inspires more young people to become entrepreneurs and launch their own careers in independence. Enjoy:

Have you tried swapit yet? You can download it for free at: http://get.swapit.la