How four Canadian iOS app developers are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic
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With Apple’s all-digital annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) fast approaching, we sat down with four Canadian iOS app developers to learn how they have adapted to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as what they’re looking forward to getting out WWDC this year.

WWDC 2020 is set to start at 1pm ET/10am PT on June 22nd with a ‘Special Event Keynote’ followed by a ‘Platform State of the Union’ at 5pm ET/2pm PT.

For a more detailed look at WWDC 2020’s schedule that includes information related to developer sessions, follow this link.

Ipnos

Montreal-based Ipnos’ Relax Melodies relaxation-focused iOS app, which has been around for 11 years and has amassed over 50 million downloads, has understandably experienced a significant uptick in downloads amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since the pandemic began, people have been actively looking for ways to relax & sleep better. We definitely saw this reflected in download increases over the past few months. We were featured by Apple several times as a recommended app to combat COVID-19 stress, and we were the App of Day in over 100 countries,” said Relax Melodies CEO Simon Alex Bérubé.

The developer’s mobile app offers a library of sleep sounds, meditations, music and bedtime stories, as well as a new ‘Retreat’ section of completely free content designed specifically to relieve pandemic-related stress. The app is also currently free to all Quebec businesses.

“Apps like ours play a very important role for increased wellbeing in these uncertain times. We offer a tool that can help people unwind quickly from the comfort and safety of home. Ninety percent of users report a better quality of life after using the app — we see this as a testament to the real benefits and effectiveness of our platform,” said Bérubé.

Relax Melodies

Unlike a lot of companies, Bérubé says that the transition to working from home has been relatively smooth for Ipnos given the option to work from home has always been part of the company’s workplace culture. That said, Bérubé does state that the Ipnos has helped its team put together at-home studios to continue creating new weekly meditation content.

Regarding WWDC 2020 specifically, Bérubé says that he’s looking forward to Apple’s annual Swift Student challenge.

“It’s inspiring to see what young people are developing. I’m excited to see any new iOS and iPadOS features that could help us push our product even further and improve the user experience,” said Bérubé.

Relax Melodies is available for free but features in-app purchases. The app is also on Android.

KO_OP

Montreal-based developer KO_OP, the studio behind award-winning puzzle game GNOG and add-on to Square Enix Montreal’s critically acclaimed mobile game, Lara Croft Go: The Mirror of Spirits, explained that the ongoing pandemic has changed how information flows at the company.

“I’d say it’s a bit slower to answer some requests since in the office you can just interrupt and straight away ask someone. Our channels are definitely busier and we need to pay attention more to the flow of information in there not to miss anything. Back in the office someone could just ask for attention, now the same thing happens but in the middle of a big chat where you need to scroll to make sure you didn’t miss it!,” said Samuel Boucher, artist/game designed at KO_OP.

In terms of difficulties, Boucher explains that testing upcoming titles on multiple devices has been a challenge for the studio.

Winding Worlds

“Now only key members have testing devices and replicating bugs gets a bit hard when only a few can test them. I’d say overall it stayed pretty smooth,” said Boucher.

KO_OP recently released Winding Worlds, a mobile puzzle game focused on the journey of a character named Willow that travels through multiple planets. Winding Worlds is part of Apple Arcade, the tech giant’s monthly subscription video game subscription platform.

Boucher says that he’s looking forward to any surprises Apple might have in store for this year’s WWDC, along with expanded iOS accessibility options and augmented reality apps. Regarding the shift to an all-digital format amid the pandemic, Boucher explained that he feels that in some ways this is a good thing given that it has the potential to open up WWDC to a wider audience.

Winding Worlds is currently available in Apple’s App Store through a $6.99 per month Apple Arcade subscription.

Manavata

Pranav Karthik, a 14-year-old student and former WWDC scholarship winner, built an iOS app for India-based Manavata, a charity that supports COVID-19 relief efforts in the UK, India and Asia.

Karthik says that the app, which has the same name as the charity, took a total of two to three months to develop.

The charity has several ongoing efforts aimed at helping several causes. For instance, the charity aids migrant workers in India who have lost their jobs and also helps people who are impoverished and do not have access to food during the pandemic. The app includes a link to donate to these relief programs.

“Manavata has a COVID-19 helpline to help people get reliable information and aid if they need it, which we planned to include within the application. Unfortunately, we cannot include a connection to COVID-19 within the app because of restrictions,” said Karthik.

The charity is also focused on spirituality, such as yoga and healthy eating, which are subjects that are explored within the app. For instance, there are videos and guides for people to follow to maintain a healthy diet and perform yoga. The app also includes a daily schedule feature that allows users to monitor and plan their day-to-day activities.

Despite having to release the app amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Karthik says he didn’t face any major challenges during the development process. He notes that the development and launch of the app was actually efficient.

“I had other activities I was partaking in, as well as a harder workload from school, before the pandemic. When it did start, I had a much more flexible workload from school, as well as more time on my hands to work on the app, which led to a faster release,” said Karthik.

Karthik also recently launched another app exclusively for the App Store called Trackr, a user-friendly assignment manager. He says that it aims to help students remember when to complete and submit their assignments. The app also includes other features to help maximize productivity.

In terms of WWDC 2020, Karthik says he is looking forward to learning about the new features that will be introduced in iOS 14. In particular, he is most excited about the new features that will pertain to developers.

Manavata is available in the iOS App Store for free.

Maple

Maple is an app that allows users to virtually connect with Canadian doctors for medical care through their devices and receive prescriptions when necessary.

The company’s CEO and founder, Dr. Brett Belchetz, says that the app saw an increase in users even before Canada moved towards lockdown measures, as people started to look for ways to receive healthcare virtually.

“When physicians started closing their offices or reducing the number of appointments per day, we were uniquely positioned to help Canadians reach doctors and also help physicians move their clinics online to continue delivering care,” Dr. Belchetz told MobileSyrup.

He says Maple was designed to be able to drastically increase volumes without an increase in wait times. In response to COVID-19, the company built a COVID-19 screening service that is covered by OHIP in Ontario.

The screening program connects people to licensed doctors who then evaluate symptoms and the risk of exposure to the virus. Physicians then direct patients to the next course of action, whether that is self-isolation or going to a testing centre.

“With different rumours and stories coming out every day, it was very important to us to connect people directly to doctors via phone or video,” said Dr. Belchetz.

Maple also partnered with Shoppers Drug Mart to have its general practitioner services fully covered for a number of weeks in jurisdictions that don’t have public coverage. Maple also expanded its employer and insurer partnerships.

Maple

In terms of the user experience, the first thing a patient sees when they open the app is a dashboard that allows them to upload medical records, check back on previous consultations and add family members to their account.

Once you select the “See doctor” button, you’ll be given a list of healthcare providers that you can have a virtual appointment with. This includes general practitioners, dermatologists, psychotherapists, pediatricians and more.

After you select a healthcare provider, you have to fill out a checklist of symptoms, add in any additional information and then submit your request. Dr. Belchetz notes that some of Maple’s specialists have scheduled appointments, but most of the time users are matched with the next available doctor. He says it usually takes under two minutes to be matched to a general practitioner.

“Once matched, you can talk to the doctor by text, video, or phone. You can also upload images and documents within the consultation room to help the doctor reach their diagnosis,” he explained.

If the physician needs to provide a prescription, it’s done through the app. You have the choice to accept the prescription then send it off to your local pharmacy.

“The end-to-end process for a general practitioner visit takes 16 minutes on average and we’ve worked with thousands of patients over the last five years to enhance the app to make it as easy as possible to use,” he said.

In terms of WWDC 2020, Dr. Belchetz says Maple is excited to see new health apps and new health features that leverage the Apple ecosystem, specifically the Apple Watch. He says that since there has been a surge in consumers’ interest in a complete healthcare experience at home, the company wants to see more home-monitoring options for vitals, such as blood oxygen levels.

Further, Maple is looking forward to more options for its patients to be proactive with their health through their devices, and more developers supporting integrations with telemedicine services like its own.

Maple is available for free in the iOS App Store.

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