Omnitel AppCamp 2010

21 Dec

So week past since Omnitel’s AppCamp 2010. Probably first (or at least most promoted) smartphone app’s development workshop/camp in Lithuania. Our whole squad also participated there. And here are my very personal impressions from it.

 

Friday

Came to event. So far so good: nice badges, free snacks and wine (event was totally free), friendly personnel, nice university camp in Old Town of Vilnius. Idea presentations were held in quite big auditiorium. 3 big screens in front, mid size scene, several microphones - our team’s presenter for Friday was getting more and more nervous... :) Event officially was kicked off 15-or-so minutes late from schedule already. Ordinary greeting speech by Omnitel guy, quite dull from the beginning but interesting later on “motivation” speech by Darius B. from Gaumina.

And the fun began! 53 ideas were presented by couple of dozens of teams and individuals, so presentation limit - only 2 minutes. Not too much, most presenters did not fit into time, some were almost dragged away from scene. Also microphones didn’t seem to work so well, experimenting with them continued till the very end of presentations. But mostly-geek audience cheered, laughed and clapped, atmosphere was very friendly. Somewhere in the middle it started to be a little bit boring: ideas were not so original (5 or so app ideas “events happening now nearby”), presentations were not well polished. Usually, from very first few seconds of presentation it was quite obvious if person is serious about idea and can execute or it’s just some “manager type” which wants to present his “dream” and hopes for full team (developers and designers) to implement it. Most presentations were of latter kind. On Twitter stream of #appcamp tweets like “I want 10 last minutes of my life BACK!” started to appear. Funny.

Omnitel chose to accept all applications and filter them out by public voting. Very transparent approach, but some pre-screening would have made this idea presenting part more enjoyable for spectators. Especially worth considering if next time there will be even more participants and ideas.

Anyway, our idea got voted as one of TOP19. That meant no excessive beer drinking activities. D'oh!
 

Saturday

Work, work, work. Free snacks, fruits, nice conditions for teams to thrive. Only constant problem was unstable Wi-Fi.

High point of Saturday - communicating with mentors. We had dedicated person for this (and it wasn’t me). Still, I managed to overhear some interesting conversations. In general mentors seemed to be quite opinionated (“I know better”), contradicting to each other (“no, no, you should listen to me”), sometimes polite almost to the level of white lie (“OMG, I like it very much! It’s bestest app in the world!”). But what you can’t take away from them - it seemed they really want to help. Thanks for that :)

Few times per day informal checkpoints were organized. First one was interesting, but others - not so much. Most teams were just stating “work is in progress” using slightly different wording.
 

Sunday

Development continued till late afternoon.

Some team members started to prepare for final presentation+demo. 3 minutes for it (and 3 more minutes for questions from panel). Later events showed, that 3 minutes are more than enough. For doing demo part there were 2 options: video camera+real device vs emulator. At first we decided to go with camera, but just before presentations someone from mentors proposed to try emulator, because quality of camera was not good. We switched to emulator approach, but at same time organizers changed camera to better one. Most teams chose camera and it was OK (better than emulator IMHO).

Final results presentations were good, in general much stronger that initial idea presentations on Friday. And results (in sense of [almost] finished apps) were also impressive. Most of teams showed that they can execute. Panel was also good - questions to the point, sharp but polite. During our team’s Q&A most questions were asked  from our TODO feature list. Nice.

Then it came time for the culmination of weekend - announcing the winners. Before the event Omnitel listed criterias for evaluation of applications:

  • Uniqueness for Lithuania;
  • Widest possible audience;
  • Benefit to the consumer;
  • Creativity.

And I’m not sure what happened next (and why), but organizers announced that they are a little bit improvising and thus 3 categories are going to be introduced. Winner of each category will receive a prize.

Final results were:

  • category “with back-end” (apps that were mostly front-end for some existing service, usually website) winner:  “Vaistai.lt” (Drugs, Medicine)
  • category “from scratch” (apps that were done from scratch during appcamp weekend) winner: “Alaus radaras” (Beer Radar)
  • category “hope” (not sure I understood this properly, but it looked like some kind of consolation category; apps which didn’t succeed ... yet) winner: “3 Milijonai Teisėjų” (3 Millions of Referees).

More on that in Lithuanian.

Now, categories itself may not seem as such a bad idea (I liked separating apps “with back-end” from apps “done from scratch”), but this improvisation somehow distracted from initial criterias.

I would say, that creativity and uniqueness points were not very defining: everyone was somehow creative, but I saw no exceptionally creative ideas/teams during this event. Uniqueness was also easy to hit: not so many really local apps yet. So other 2 criterias seemed to be most important. And I couldn’t say that winners were really best in that.

Vaistai.lt had solid database (big percentage of drug stores covered) to offer. It was promised that by using this site (and now iPhone app) user could find closest drug store which has drug in question. So audience should be someone who is often ill (elder?) but have smart-phone (youngster?) Hmm, looks like a contradiction... And who can read prescriptions of doctor anyway?! ;). My personal experience: I didn’t know about vaistai.lt at all, but if there would be Android version, I would like to have it. Just in case. Will I use it? Probably not. No real use-case in my life so far :) Also I tried playing with vaistai.lt page, but couldn’t find few common drugs (probably need to know exact spelling). Tried to find rare immunotherapy drug I know only 2 stores in Vilnius have. None found. D’oh!..
So can it be widely used? Probably not. Can it be useful? In some rare cases - yes - it may even save your life. ;)

I would say, that both eTaksi (ordering taxi using unified, simple interface) and TV Gidas (fancy tv guide) apps could have much wider audience and would be more useful in everyday life.

Alaus Radaras (Beer Radar) is funny app to find bars by location or beer name (plus some jokes/games). Can it have wide audience? Probably not, because it covers only Vilnius  (Kaunas is promised), targets only dudes (no women, no teens), which have specific taste for beers but not really familiar with local bars.. Some strange kind of bar surfers, maybe British tourists? Niche app, hopefully will build group of loyal followers.
Personal experience: I am a beer person, so I find this app useful. It’s good that guys gathered quite a lot information on the topic. But first thing I’ve done when I installed it, I tried to search for my favourite Grimbergen beer. One bar was found, but not the one I usually visit. This one is not listed at all. And speaking realistically, will it be updated in future? For me this app is interesting only for that long, for how long information is valid.. Is it beneficial for its consumer? Kinda, from time to time, if drinking game guide can be really beneficial...

In this category LT InMobile app (some open camera’s video stream aggregating solution) seemed more technically challenging and interesting from both audience and usefulness perspective. But not so simple and not so polished.

Last category from the very beginning was a joke. When name “Hope” was introduced, grin started to fill my face. “Hope - mother of fools”, “Is this some flavour of Special Olympics?” were first two thoughts. And it appeared I couldn’t be more right. It was some strange way to congratulate teams which IMHO were total failures: naive ideas, little-to-no execution, chaotic presentations. Even during final presentations they looked quite uncomfortable, questions from panel were nailing their weaknesses down. I remember feeling slightly sorry for those guys being embarassed in front of us all. But it ended like a fairy tale about third silly brother who wins the kingdom (and the princess). So who’s fool now? :D

3 milijonai teisėjų app itself was a game with strange bits of humor and info. Game part - one of many clones of basketball shoot-out game. I tried few such in old days of iPhone 3G. Didn’t liked it at all, and I think such games are not a good fit for current smartphones in general. It’s like playing fishing simulator game on PC - can’t get much more stupid. :D Plus this exact game was planned to have cheasy graphics and comments from Lithuanian celebrities as humour part. And for info part comes... photos of arenas where Eurobasket 2011 will be held. Smooth... :D
But I don’t want to be too hard on author of idea. During both presentations he was rather funny and naive. And creative in some non-IT way. Clearly had some kind of charisma :)

Serious part is that this project was not even started properly during this event. As I understood, only few hours before author of idea found some developer, who agreed [maybe] to work on. And they received same prize (5k LTL) as other winner teams. So single real fat minus to organizers goes for this “category”.

So after announcing winners, real criterias seemed to be:

  • Execution - how well team executed. Both Vaistai.lt and Alaus Radaras teams were probably biggest ones (~6-7 members each) and their apps were really nice, reasonably well polished. In Alaus Radaras case they had resources to put app in Android Market, gather info from many bars, even put a simple web page.
  • Presentation - confident, relaxed one. Being funny is a big plus. Being friendly to panel is a plus.
  • or being “3rd brother”

My top list of apps by initial Omnitel's criterias would have been:

 

Aftermath

Event resulted for us as a big plus. We had a very productive weekend, implemented one of our ideas (proof-of-concept version), got lots of feedback, attracted one more team member. And now we continue working on next version (v2), have plans for Estonia with this app.

Many thanks to Omnitel’s Idėjų fabrikas for this event. It was really good as a first one of such kind in their portfolio. Way to go! ;)

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