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The Making of Hipmunk on Android

I am an Android developer, not a blogger, but I know that when Danilo built and launched our iOS app last February, we got a tons of fans clamoring to hear the intricate details of how he landed at Hipmunk and how he built the iOS app. His response is here, and below is my shot at doing the same.

We released Hipmunk for Android a little over two weeks ago. It’s been my sole focus since I started on June 13, less than a month after I graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and it’s definitely been a wild ride so far…

I’ve always been a big fan of Hipmunk, and have been building Android apps since I got the original Droid, on its release day, November 6th, 2009. So two weeks before my graduation, when I saw Hipmunk was looking for an Android developer, I knew I had to apply. My phone interview with Steve was sandwiched between two finals resulting in an in-person the next week. I was offered the job while in San Francisco and flew home as Hipmunk’s (ecstatic) Android Developer. A little over two weeks and a drive across the country later, I showed up for my first day at Hipmunk.

I had built Android apps before—my first being a Tetris clone which got ~400,000 downloads in three months before the real Tetris company sent a DMCA to Google and got me kicked off the market—but I knew building a flight search service, rather than a game, would be a completely different challenge.
 
When I started working, I had one major goal: to make a really good Android app that wouldn’t look second rate compared to our iOS app. This was super important because as an avid Android user, I’ve often been disappointed by the quality of the Android version of an app that’s already on iOS.
 
Since our iOS app already did everything I wanted the Android app do, I knew exactly what I was up against. It was a unique situation to find myself in as a developer—and it meant the only thing between me and my goal was the code I had to write and the interface I needed to design.
 
Our iOS app has a fantastic user experience and a lot of thought went into it. In order to make the Android app just as good, I did my best to bring the same functionality to Android, but do it in a uniquely Android way.
 
An example of one Android feature I brought into Hipmunk’s Android app is panels. If you’re an Android user, you know what I mean – these panels pop up over an application’s screen content and can be interacted with. Here’s a screenshot with the flight details as a panel over the flight search results:

 

You’ll notice the distinct difference in the iOS version below, which slides over to a new window (rather than pop up a panel) and has a graphical “back” button at the top:

Panels are great because they are fast, the back button makes dismissing them super easy and natural, and, most importantly, the user stays within the same “context.” Meaning, for example, the user can look at more information about a flight without leaving the flight options screen. It’s something I think iPhone users are missing out on.
 
On the design side, I worked closely with Danilo, our iOS developer and a real Apple fanboy. He helped design Hipmunk’s Android experience so that it remained as he puts it “a spiritual cousin to the iOS app.” I imagine he never expected to design an Android app, but we’re both really proud of the app’s feel.

On a much geekier note, we also dealt with some fragmentation issues. Android’s fragmentation is a hot topic among developers, and typically, it refers to the different versions of the operating system, screen resolutions/devices, and UIs from manufacturers that are all under the Android umbrella. If you’re going to build an Android app, it’s just something you have to overcome. Here’s how we did it:
 
Android OS Version Issues:

  • We chose to target Android 2.2, which means we support 85% of active Android phones
  • In using 2.2, I was able to access most of the newer and valuable features for developers that have been recently added to Android

Variety of Screen Resolutions / Devices:

  • We designed what it should look like at 480×800 and then we made sure it would look like that on all of the key resolutions (For phones these are 320×480, 480×800, 480×854, 540×960. For tablets, 1024×600 and 1280×800)
  • To make it look right, I used a lot of 9-patch images, an Android concept called density-independent pixels, and some raw Canvas drawing
  • While it would have been nice to have one resolution to worry about, this didn’t make designing that much more difficult

Manufacturer’s UI Skins:

  • This was by far the most annoying thing we dealt with when polishing the app
  • The customizations that make a certain manufacturer’s Android flavor different from another made it unnecessarily difficult to offer a consistently amazing and polished appearance
  • Irritating differences were found in animations between activities, different colored glows and other UI elements, and different padding and styling to basic building blocks like Dialogs
  • These skins were my personal pain points and prevented me from ever feeling like the app was perfect. There is always more you can do, but the benefit just kept shrinking, and it was time to give Android users the app.

Now that our Android app is out, I’m quite relieved to be honest :) And while I’m incredibly proud of what was built, we will still continue to iterate and update the app.
 
Our next challenge is to bring hotels into the experience. It’s an important part of travel planning, and we know booking hotels issomething users want to be able to do on-the-go. We also know it’s nowhere near as easy as it should be on mobile devices right now, and we plan to change that.

- Ryan Oldenburg
 
Haven’t tried our free Android app yet? Grab it from the Android Market. And if you’ve got a few minutes to kill, watch a demo. Got an iPhone? Grab our iPhone app from the AppStore.

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New: Android Users Rejoice!

We are so excited to announce that today we launched our Android app bringing our unique visual flight search and Agony sort to hundreds of millions of mobile devices. And, the reviews have been glowing so far! Check out what GigaOm, LifeHacker, Mashable and TechCrunch have said.

We hired Ryan Oldenburg just a couple weeks after his graduation from University of Wisconsin and got him building this app right away. It was really important we kept true to the Hipmunk spirit by providing our users with the same clean interface and search experience they know and love.

We didn’t want to simply clone our iOS app, which wouldn’t look or feel compatible on Android. Unfortunately, that happens a lot and paints a bad picture of Android apps. As an avid Android user, Ryan was determined to prove that Android apps could be just as good, if not better, than iOS apps. He built this app from the ground up and designed it to feel and function comfortably on Android.

We knew Ryan was the guy to do it, and we are so proud of what he’s made.

Here’s a quick walk through of what you’ll see:

A slick, continuous calendar removing the agony of clicking between two separate calendars to pic departure and return dates:

Hipmunk keeps you company while searching for your flights, and we give you a tip so you can better use the app now and in the future:

Note the same visual timeline from our site, which shows the length of flight, any layovers, departure / arrival times, the airline, and if a flight will have WiFi:

The flight details pop up to show even more information:

We give you the option to book through the airline, email the itinerary and link to a friend, family member or colleague, or receive a finish code so that you can pull up that same itinerary on a desktop computer.

You can download the Hipmunk Android app in the Android Market or by navigating here: hipmunk.com/android

Download it, test it out, and let us know what you think!

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It’s Our Birthday! Looking Back on Hipmunk’s 1st Year

It’s been a year since we’ve opened our doors, and launched Hipmunk flight search, and boy, has it been a huge year for us!

In the past twelve months, we’ve rolled out ten innovative products and features, including Time Sliders, Hotels, our iPhone/iPad app, and the ability to narrow hotels by neighborhood. And we’ve got you guys—our fans and loyal users—to thank for all your feedback and suggestions! Every time you email, tweet, comment, or Live Chat with us, we listen and take to heart which features you want. We can’t even thank you enough for taking the time to tell us what would make your travel planning experience better.

As a company, we’ve grown tremendously over the past year: we’ve raised a round of funding from an amazing lineup of investors, now have ten employees, hundreds of thousands of unique visitors, and moved from Steve and Adam’s apartment to real office space :) 

It looks like you’ve been quite busy as well! In the past year, you’ve searched for over 1,000,000 flights and hotels, and after crunching the numbers, we’ve saved you over 150,000 hours of Agony from your travel planning. Hopefully you’ll spend that extra time with friends, family, traveling, studying, working, playing, and generally enjoying life!

So, that’s where’s we’ve been, but we want to hear what you’ve been up to. In the past year, how have you grown and where have your travels taken you?

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