“MV Octagon”: Octagon’s new app underway
Uncovering the setbacks, benefits and takeaways of the ongoing creation of Octagon’s iOS app
By Annie Zhang
“MV Octagon,” Octagon’s anticipated iOS app, is under works. Developed by junior Ritvik Banakar and senior Siddhant Kumar using the Xcode user interface and the Swift coding language, the app underwent several trials of testing and modifications and encountered a number of issues with the database’s code. Once a series of paper sketches of squares, the once “lingering” thought of an app that ensured event attendance integrity became a reality; from idea proposals to prototype models to iterations, the app morphed into a five month long ongoing project due to code complications.
According to vice president and junior Nicholas Hsieh and director of technology sophomore Shreya Mantripragada, the two primary Octagon coordinators of the app’s progress, MV Octagon was created to ensure volunteer attendance integrity. In the past, Octagon officers found that volunteers wouldn’t come to an event, but still receive the hours for the event. Although an officer typically attends every event, there is generally no means of ensuring check-ins if an officer does not show up.
Taking this idea into account, Banakar brought up the issue to the Octagon officers, prompting the creation of the app. Near the end of the last school year, Banakar called Kumar with the idea of an Octagon app in mind — the pair began working on MV Octagon this summer.
“Being a fellow member of Octagon, I felt that it was kind of difficult, especially for having check-ins [and] check-outs, I think was a big part [as to why we developed the app],” Banakar said. “Because I saw that people would just pretend to be at the event and still get hours, which [to me] felt unjust and not fair to [the] people who are putting the time in. So that was what I primarily wanted the app for, but I figured it could be expanded to be a more generic thing that could just benefit the club for ease of convenience.”
According to Kumar, the pair kickstarted the framework of the app layout with paper and pencil — a quick diagram sketch on a piece of paper with a couple of squares outlining each screen that the app was going to have. After a screen arrangement was put into place, Kumar coded the composition into a prototype, while Banakar coded the backend of the app. Combining those two components yielded one of the many screens of the application. Afterward, it was a matter of repeating this process for multiple app screens.
This coming Thanksgiving break, Banakar and Kumar will be launching a significant app redesign and aren’t sure how much the user interface will change; the backend, however, will be “quite different.”
According to Mantripragada, the app was set to release a couple of months ago, but the release date was pushed back due to complications with the app code — app perception, maximizing app efficiency, merging databases and GPS tracking.
As of now, Mantripragada and Hsieh aren’t sure approximately when the app will be released. In terms of the coding process, both Banakar and Kumar believe there is a contrast between consumer perception and the inner workings of code complexity.
“When you see an application … most people don’t understand how much work it takes to just create a simple animation or even something as simple as saving your user data or even just logging into the app itself,” Kumar said. “So, that took us a little bit by surprise, given that this was one of our first applications that was a full flagged application.”
To Banakar, setting up the backend was difficult coding-wise, as people tend to focus on the exterior look of an app — the actuality of coding the behind the scenes of the app was difficult.
“With code … we needed a secure database that would allow us to store information in an organized and proper structure that we could quickly access, read and write through the application,” Banakar said. “That was definitely the most challenging part.”
Another major setback in the app creation process was maximizing app efficiency in order to process the most amount of information with the least amount of data.
“One major setback we had specifically was the database design — so how can we design the database to be as efficient as possible when it comes to writing and reading large amounts of data,” Kumar said. “So how [we can] do this as quickly as possible without using up a lot of data, and how [we can] write data to the database as fast as possible.”
To resolve this problem, Kumar ran the program through several iterations and started from square one — transferring ideas from paper to program.
“I believe it was [Banakar] who designed the initial database, and then after that, we put in just some mock data into the database and wrote a little bit of code that would write and read to see how complicated that process was,” Kumar said. “And once we got down to the point where we had the fewest lines of code doing the same reading and writing process as our first iteration, we decided, ‘Okay, this is the most efficient database structure.’ And then we took that and then put that into the real app.”
According to Banakar, a key issue that is still in the works is merging the app to the website’s backend code. Because the website has been out to the public for a longer time, it was a matter of merging together new technology and old technology into one common database.
“We have a website with the database for the website, and we have the app’s database,” Hsieh said. “We need the [databases] connected because if someone signs up on the app, it won’t show on the website; [changes in] the website wouldn’t show on the app. They have to be connected for it to work because not everyone has an iOS device — people with Android [devices] won’t be able to use the app if we only use the app’s database.”
A primary function of MV Octagon is the location tracking feature that will allow officers to determine whether or not a volunteer is at an event through coordinate matching, which will mitigate the problem that Banakar originally saw the app solving. The GPS tracker will detect a volunteer’s location and see if the person is at the venue where the event is going to take place — if they are at the event, the member will get the hours.
Banakar notes that a problem the pair ran into was creating events, as they had difficulties being able to type in the address, which to Banakar seemed “pretty trivial in GPS application.” Additionally, this was Kumar’s first time coding a GPS tracker, as he has used the map’s API or application programming interface, and the GPS tracking before, but not together for this specific purpose.
“In terms of doing the GPS tracking, I think it took about eight iterations to get the final GPS tracking,” Kumar said. “And then there was also a lot of parsing through it through data. Because when you ask the GPS For your information, it’ll give you absolutely everything — your country, state, city, county, all of that, but the part that we really needed was just your GPS coordinates. So that was a little bit tricky.”
THE BENEFITS TO OCTAGON
To Banakar, a big benefit that the app will bring to Octagon besides helping maintain check-in integrity is its convenience to both volunteers and Octagon officers alike through mobile technology.
“We live in the smartphone era … a lot of people often just have their phones on them at all times,” Banakar said. “We want it to be a way for people to quickly check their events, see when they need to … go for an event without having to pull out a laptop, go to the website or go to the website through their phone and have that kind of issue. Also, we want to as we expand the application, be able to have it be a messaging hub for people at a certain event, for example, that could quickly get information.”
Hsieh agrees with this sentiment, noting that the app’s release will bring more ease to the Octagon officer team with respect to ensuring attendance.
“Right now … almost all our events have an officer at it because we need to make sure that the volunteers are showing up, and you just can’t get free hours,” Hsieh said. “There’s a location feature on the app, so if you go to the location of the event and you click and check in, then it will notify the officers that you’ve actually gone to the event. So there won’t be a need for an officer at every event, and that could allow us to do way more events and help out the community more.”
THE TAKEAWAYS: HEAR IT FROM THE CODERS
To Banakar, coding the app allowed him to apply his coding skills and computer programming knowledge in a real-world scenario and also helped improve his communicative assets.
“With the databases, coding something for, say, a hackathon … that just needs to work for 24 hours compared to something that’s going to be running in the real world are two separate things and you have to be careful with things such as security, stability,” Banakar said. “[This also] helped us communicate and know how to communicate because we had to go back and forth with officers a lot and just talk about what they wanted versus what we wanted, come to a compromise — those kinds of things.”
From this ongoing project, both Banakar and Kumar gleaned a broader proficiency with using the Xcode user interface and the Swift language, as they have used such software before, but not to such a great extent.
“While submitting this app, I found that there were multiple settings in Xcode that we had never played with before, but we’d come to realize that these were a thing,” Kumar said. “Additionally, it also just helped us learn new coding techniques — when we’d go online to search for tutorials for, say, the GPS, we found things that we’d never known before. So we’re hoping in the future that we can implement these technologies into our future.”