Featured Developers – OpenRest

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OpenRestToday’s featured developer story comes from the guys at OpenRest. OpenRest was founded in 2010 with the intent of revolutionizing mobile online food ordering. With the help of Titanium, Danny Leshem and Yoav Amit have delivered over 300 restaurant apps. Read more about their story and how they’re leveraging Titanium.

Interview with Danny Leshem and Yoav Amit from OpenRest

What is your background as mobile developers?

OpenRest was founded by Danny Leshem and Yoav Amit in late 2010 in order to revolutionize online food ordering. The company originally focused on web development, but quickly realized that the future of the business was in mobile and that a tremendous opportunity exists for great products in this field.
With an amazing team and a clear vision, OpenRest entered the mobile development world in late 2011 and never looked back. We currently have over 300 restaurant apps live on the appstore.
All software developers at OpenRest have a strong background in writing enterprise systems, from embedded code that’s executed on millions of TVs worldwide to security products that are now part of Microsoft’s enterprise solutions. We look for developers who see new programming languages and new platforms as opportunities and not as barriers, which may be the reason why we do things a bit differently.
As the name suggests, OpenRest strives on an open atmosphere. New ideas are implemented and released just as quickly as they are brought up, in two week sprints. We believe in giving back to the development community and encourage our developers to answer questions in forums and to open-source our internal non-core tools and libraries. OpenRest’s R&D is in sunny Israel, “the startup nation” – our office has a great view of the Tel Aviv beach.

So tell us a little bit about your apps

OpenRest builds the smartest online ordering portals. Simply put, our platform lets anyone operate their own “Seamless” or “GrubHub” like food ordering portal. Our clients are local food portals that see the value in having the best technology and in offering their users the best experience, all under their own brand. Obviously, mobile apps are an important part of the platform.
Furthermore, our product also lets portal owners create white-label online ordering websites and mobile apps for the restaurants they service. Using a simple graphical interface, portal owners enter the restaurant’s information, customize its design, upload images and a few clicks later a unique restaurant app is generated and distributed to the App Store and to Google Play. It’s as simple as that.
Our existing clients in Israel, Belgium, Canada, the UK and the US use this platform to create and distribute their portal apps, as well as hundreds of white-label restaurant apps. Every day, thousands of people order food deliveries and take-outs using our apps and websites.

Why did you pick Titanium for your app development?

The first version of our restaurant app was actually developed in pure Objective C, and we released several apps based on it.
When we decided to expand to more platforms, we started looking for frameworks that would allow us to share code between iOS, Android, and the web. We didn’t mind dumping our existing code as we figured that in the long run the time saved by a unified codebase would well cover the one-time cost of the rewrite.
Our top requirements from such framework were:

  • Performance: in online ordering, a fluid user experience directly correlates to revenues. This meant we had to focus on native frameworks rather than on HTML5.
  • Multi-platform: at the very least iOS and Android (extra bonus points for web).
  • Support: large and active development community (extra bonus points for open-source).

We found Titanium to be a perfect fit.

What were some of the highlights of Titanium development for you?

First and foremost, by implementing a Model-View-Presenter design our entire line of client-side products is now based on a unified JavaScript codebase: native mobile (utilizing Titanium), mobile-web (utilizing “The M Project”) and desktop web (utilizing jQuery). This translates to huge time savings that allow us to focus on innovation rather than on maintenance.
Second, the large community behind Titanium means that we are never left hanging. On rare occasions when we didn’t get answers from the community, a quick look at Titanium’s source code was enough.
Last, Titanium enabled us to create self updating native apps. We use this extensively during development to eliminate the constant need for long and tiresome deployments, and in our production Android apps.

How many people worked on it? How long did it take to design, implement, and test?

Our app development is ongoing as we continuously add more features, and our unified codebase approach means that all OpenRest developers occasionally write Titanium code. Still, the majority of our Titanium-specific code was written by two people over the course of a few months.
It takes us far less time to design and implement apps in JavaScript using Titanium than in standard native code – mainly thanks to code sharing, but also because it is much easier to find good JavaScript resources and developers.

What resources did you use to learn and develop with Titanium?

Coming from native development background, we found Titanium to be very easy and intuitive to learn.
We started by studying the KitchenSink code and various online tutorials, and today we mainly use the API documentation, the developer forums and StackOverflow. When needed, we also dive into the native code.
All our developers follow Appcelerator’s blog for platform updates.

Do you have plans for updates to the OpenRest Platform or future Titanium apps? Care to share some details?

We continuously update our platform and our apps with new features, designs and bug fixes requested by our clients. Right now we’re closing our mobile-web version, which will also be integrated into several 3rd-party apps that wish to leverage our affiliate program.
Looking forward we plan to expand our mobile apps beyond online ordering, to help our clients keep their commanding positions as technology leaders in their respective markets. We’ll also be the first to support any new platform – for that we are counting on Titanium’s quick response to new emerging technologies.

Any additional thoughts or notes on Titanium development?

Our apps keep pushing the limits for performance, and lately we started feeling that we have reached the barrier with our Titanium-based apps. We are anxiously waiting for Titanium’s new ListView implementation which should boost performance across all our apps. We’d also love to see official cross-platform support for background threads in future versions of Titanium, e.g. based on the web worker interface.
Another feature that all Titanium users should benefit from are ready-made integrations with mobile ad networks. Effective marketing is a major contributor to mobile apps’ success, so giving Titanium developers the tools to support such efforts would be highly advantageous for everyone.

Why is being a mobile developer the coolest job on the planet?

On the grand scheme of things, mobile developers can instantly share their creations with millions of people by simply uploading an app to the appstore. Mobile is the “new frontier” for software developers, and everyone (and we mean EVERYONE) has “the next awesome idea for a mobile app”. This is unparalleled in our history.
On a day to day basis, it’s just fun to wake up in the morning, meet clients, designers and marketing people, and create cool apps that your users love (and they keep telling you that in appstore rankings). There’s just something special about sitting somewhere and noticing a random person take out their iPhone and casually use something you created. Oh, and the pay is great! 🙂
Developing mobile apps is much more challenging than, say, developing standard web applications. In fact, it has a lot in common with writing embedded code when it comes to the limitations you have to face. Finding creative solutions for these limitations is a big part of the fun.

What is the most exciting problem that you’ve attacked as a mobile developer?

We want our apps to deliver an amazing experience as it directly correlates to usage and popularity, but achieving this on mobile devices is difficult due to limitations in screen size, processing power and network latency. Alas, this doesn’t prevent our users from having extremely high expectations!
Getting there requires us to continuously combine good-old-fashioned code optimizations and a variety of UX tricks. It’s a problem that can’t be solved by simply programming the right way or having a great design, but by finding smart ways to combine the two. It requires all the brains in the company working together to find creative solutions.

What advice do you have for companies that want to delight their users with mobile?

First, go native. The future of mobile apps may (or may not) be HTML5, but delivering the best experience to your users right now requires you to write native apps (Titanium apps included, of course)
Second, don’t underestimate the power of design. Good programming is only half of what makes a great app. For your app to spread like wildfire, for people to talk about it, use it again and again and give it high ratings – the app must be beautiful. And that requires great designers… and just a bit of luck 🙂
Finally, you must have good analytics. Define success metrics, measure user engagement and continuously identify your app’s hot spots. Understand how users actually use the app, and use this knowledge to make their experience better.

What inspires you about the future of mobile?

The rate of change is simply overwhelming. Do you realize that the first iPhone was released less than 6 years ago, and that 3 years ago we didn’t have iPads? Every year brings new paradigm shifting technologies that rapidly spread worldwide. These are very exciting times to be living in!

Do you have an interesting story to tell about your development on Titanium? We would love to hear it.

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