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Developing Minds Want to Know: Q&A with Martin Nilsson of Zinply

by Brad Spirrison

The Google Play Store features a  bevy of digital magazine applications, many of which consolidate your magazine subscriptions in one place, and picking the right one can be a daunting task. Zinply, a company based in Sweden, keeps track of all your subscriptions using a sleek, fine-tuned interface. With their app, you can bookmark articles, share what you’re reading, and always pick up and read an article exactly where you left off.

In this edition of Developing Minds Want to Know, we interviewed Martin Nilsson, chief technology officer and co-owner of Zinply. He talks about how he got into app development, innovation, and the technical constraints of working with Android devices.

Key Company Facts

Name and Title: Martin Nilsson, CTO

Company: Zinply

Location: Karlstad, Sweden

Size (Revenue and/or Employees): 10 employees

Primary Apps/Platforms: iPad, Android

APPOLICIOUS: What inspired you to become an app creator?

Martin Nilsson: As a gamer my interest started in game development. There were a bunch of online web games and I wasn't happy with how they worked, so I decided to build my own.  I learned programming for web and later realized I could solve a whole bunch of other problems that I and others experienced using programming.

To me it is very much creative (no matter what the code monkeys say) just as much as it is technical and, having a desire to be involved with both allows me to cater to that need as well. The ability to affect the day-to-day lives of people positively on an incredibly large scale pushes me to keep doing what I am doing. After working alone for several years, the urge to work with others and an opportunity to join Zinply allowed me to build a team of like-minded developers where we can inspire each other and build great products together.

APPO: How long have you been developing apps, and what is the most significant difference between now and when you began?

MN: I have been building games and apps for about eight years. However, I began with mobile apps roughly three years ago. There were minimal tools available to the general public to aid in mobile development back then, as well as a much steeper learning curve to get started. iOS and Android were unheard of, and their introduction completely changed the game for developers. When it comes to the web, there were only a handful of non-enterprise services one could use. Amazon Web Services didn't exist, and you had to specifically purchase space in a data center. For example, if you wanted to send off emails, you would literally launch an SMTP server yourself, whereas today thousands of services (Mailchimp, Sendgrid, etc.) are already built to save you time and scale with your product.

APPO: What apps (outside of those that you develop) inspire you the most and why?

MN: Many of the big, widely used apps like Spotify, Flipboard and  Pinterest, inspire me. I find myself most inspired by browsing around different app and design pages such as Dribbble to find new and upcoming solutions to problems with a smart and useful UX in mind.

APPO: Where do you see the most innovation in the app sector?

MN: There are a lot of tools lowering the threshold to speedily get ideas to version 1.0. Hosting that scales with your app (such as Heroku, and AWS) in addition to the ability to cross-compile over several mobile platforms is becoming increasingly popular. With Android finally maturing, I’m also looking forward to seeing new innovations pop up. Not to mention the release of Windows 8, which I hope will bring Microsoft into the game.

APPO: How do you harness that innovation in your own titles?

MN: At Zinply we use a whole bunch of services from different great companies like App Annie, MixPanel, Google Analytics, Amazon Web Services, MailChimp, Urban Airship and the list goes on...

Combined we use these innovations to build a very reliable and measurable platform in the fraction of time it would take to build just one of these services. Heroku did something great for Ruby and as we are using mostly PHP in our web services I'm very much looking forward to see how the PaaS market for PHP, namely Fortrabbit, dotCloud, PHP Fog and so on will evolve.

APPO: In such a crowded space, explain how you generate awareness and drive downloads to your applications?

MN: One of the biggest challenges in the global app marketplace is getting your apps to stand out. One of the most important ways we’ve been able to increase our competitiveness is by tracking app performance, so that we can adjust promotion, distribution and monetization strategies as needed. There are various tools to track in-app and store analytics, but we’ve come to rely on the store analytics and quality market data provided by App Annie. By tracking downloads, revenue and reviews across the app ecosystem, we are aware of developing trends in real time, and we’re armed with the data we need to make agile, and informed decisions. We also use MixPanel for insights on how people are using our app so that we can optimize our app funnels and in turn increase our conversion rates. Zinply is available for iPad and Android, download your free apps here.

APPO: What are the biggest technical constraints that exist today in the app sector?

MN: Zinply is a digital magazine subscription service, and it’s critical that we provide a high quality graphical experience across devices. One of the biggest challenges with Google Play is that with so many devices out there, we need to test across many devices to make sure that our graphics maintain high quality – no matter the screen size or resolution. Another challenge we’ve faced is that when we tested Google’s scaling architecture, (Density Independent Pixels) we found it could lead to unpredictable results. To address this, we implemented our own advanced system which gives us full control, as well as being able to scale independently. We wrote about the problem, as well as our solution in an article you can find here.

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