Today I am pleased to announce that the Clear Books Mobile app is released in beta.

Contents

Clear Books Mobile Beta

About the Beta Trial

We will be conducting a limited field trial with a select number of beta testers based on a first come first served basis, which we will increase in stages over the course of the trial. To take part you must:

  • Be an existing Clear Books paying customer.
  • Be an admin on at least one or more Clear Books accounts (also known as passport groups).
  • Accept the terms and conditions of the beta trial.

How to Apply

If you are interested in helping us to field test the Clear Books Mobile App then follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Login to your Clear Books account.
  2. Navigate to the new ‘Labs’ module by selecting it from the modules dropdown menu (located at the top of the page next to the logout link).
  3. Request Clear Books Mobile access for your account by clicking the ‘Turn On’ button.*
  4. Once activated, visit www.clearbooks.co.uk in your smartphones web browser (see app requirements). Note that you must be on a phone to view the app.

*Note that if the button says ‘Request Invite’ it means that the current phase of testing has reached its capacity. Your details will be added to the queue and you will be notified via e-mail when a space becomes available for participation.

About Clear Books Mobile

Clear Books Mobile Requirements

In order to run the Clear Books mobile app you must be using a touch enabled smart phone (tablet devices aren’t supported yet, but will be in the future) through a web kit enabled web browser, such as Safari or Google Chrome on one of the following operating systems:

  • iOS 4+
  • Android 2+
  • Blackberry OS 6+

Other operating systems / devices may work but have not yet been tested so at this point in time we cannot verify. Performance will vary from device to device depending on your device’s hardware specifications.

Roadmap

During the duration of the beta test we will be gradually enabling new features as and when they are ready to be field tested. So for the initial launch of the app you will only be able to view data, as we are still in a process of in house Alpha testing for operations which submit data from the app such as creating invoices.

Known Issues

  • Caching
    We are currently not providing any caching on the app during the beta phase of testing, so exiting the app and then entering the app again will cause the browser to re-request all of the resources. This will not be the case once the app is out of beta testing.
  • Android Back Button
    Some views are not being re-created correctly when using the physical back button on Android devices. We suggest until this issue is fixed to use the in-app navigation controls.
  • Search
    We have not yet implemented the search feature yet so this control at present doesn’t do anything.
  • Varying Performance
    Performance will vary depending on the hardware specs of your device, we are currently trying to compile as much data as possible to form a “recommended spec”. Performance of the app though will increase when we release caching.
  • Loading lots of data is slow
    Need to implement paging requests to limit the amount of data pulled back.

If you discover an issue and it is not listed here please report it on our Get Satisfaction support forum.

The Future

The app is far from being complete though at this stage we feel that it is stable enough to release under beta to our users so that we can begin gathering early feedback so that going forward with its development will be taken in the right direction. As it has been mentioned many times before it is You, our users, whom shape the products we build. We value any and all feedback you can give us, but please bear in mind that this is a beta test of the Clear Books mobile app, problems, errors and bugs are to be expected.

History

A Difficult Birth

The Clear Books mobile app has had a difficult birth it has to be said. For over a year now it has been the most popular idea on our community support forum with 82 people (at the time of writing) liking the idea for an “iPhone App”. We originally outsourced the development of an iPhone application to an external mobile development company, but the cost of maintaining the app through a third party made it an unfeasible option in both time, money and future dependency. We made the decision to bring development of the app in-house.

Bringing the development in house was a big task to take on, the development team had very little if no experience in writing mobile applications, and only a single developer had a basic knowledge of Objective-C (the language which all iOS apps are written in). Nevertheless we persevered and built a very basic app which was able to talk to our API. However the app had numerous bugs, memory leaks and overall generally felt quite clunky and cumbersome to use.

During this time Android exploded onto the market and was proving to be a real contender to iOS and the other smartphone operating systems. Having looked at the analytical stats about devices and Operating Systems accessing Clear Books, coupled with the growing comments asking for the mobile app to support Android as well as other devices, it became clear to us that providing one native mobile app was not going to be a solution which would benefit all of our customers. This left us with two choices:

  • Continue pursuing the development of a native iOS app and begin separate development on an Android native app and a further separate developments for other devices.
  • Or alternatively develop the app as HTML5 + CSS3.

Bye Bye Native. Hello Web App.

In the end we decided that the cost of maintaining three or more separate code bases of the Clear Books mobile app was going to be too great. It would also have meant that we would have needed to invest even more time and effort learning each of the different languages in order to build each separate native app, so we opted to go for a Web App. The real advantage of this option though was that we could begin work immediately, as we would be using technologies which we were already familiar with.

I was tasked with taking over the project at this point.

Clear Books Mobile ≠ Clear Books

The biggest problem I identified with the first attempts made at building a mobile app was that we were attempting to recreate Clear Books but just on a smaller screen. So when it came to designing and deciding which features we would be including in the app I simply asked myself the following question: “How and why would this be used in a mobile context?” If I couldn’t come up with an answer and a sufficient use case to support it then the feature didn’t go into the app. This may seem like quite an extreme way of choosing what the app should do, but what it enabled us to develop was an effective design and technical spec tailored specifically for use in a mobile context.

While what we were developing was a web app, I was keen for the app to maintain a native look and feel thus making the app very user friendly and immediately intuitive. So began the first part of the project; choosing a framework to use. Our initial go to was to use the newly released jQuery Mobile framework – since we use jQuery as our Javascript framework of choice in all of our existing products and it is a framework which all developers at Clear Books are very familiar with. Sadly I was disappointed with what jQuery Mobile had to offer, although I must say that at the time of testing it was only in a alpha release but as such the framework proved too unstable for production use. I have since re-reviewed jQuery Mobile, the framework is now in a beta phase – but it still lacks the native feel I seeked.

We then came across Sencha Touch, a Javascript framework based largely on the Ext.JS framework tailored purely for mobile application development. The demos and initial tests conducted showed great promise, and I decided that this would be the framework to use. The only downside to this choice though meant that I would have to learn the ins and outs of the framework from scratch with no knowledge or previous experience of Ext.JS development – to which was largely very different to the way in which jQuery as a Javascript library functions.

However after many months of development and refinement I am happy with the results the framework has enabled us to deliver. It truly does feel like you are using a native app, but with the added benefit that this web app will run on any webkit enabled browser on any touch device – enabling us to bring the benefit of accessing Clear Books from a mobile device to a much larger audience.

Comments

Please leave us your thoughts and comments below, we would love to hear what you think about the Clear Books Mobile app. For support queries and bug reports please post them on our GetSatisfaction Community Support Forum. When commenting or reporting a bug, please include details about your device, the OS + version you’re running on the device, and the browser + version you used to access the app, for example:

Device: iPhone 4
OS: iOS 4.2.1
Browser: Safari Mobile

Posted by Darren Taylor

Darren is a Marketing Manager specialising in Digital Marketing

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