VanillaAPP - A native App for Vanillaforums
I am happy to share a new project with you I have been working on recently: A native iOS app for Vanillaforums OS called "VanillaAPP".
VanillaAPP iOS Demo
In the last 12 months two fellow developers and I created a native app for iOS (based on Swift) and a server-side API (based on PHP and NodeJS) to make something work what I wanted for my communities and many forum managers have been asking on these boards here too.
The app was created to give forum users a faster and better experience on mobile, which makes it easier for them to engage with their preferred community. And I guess every community manager knows what this means: More sign ups, deeper engagement, higher retention and through these facts a more active community. I knew that an app has become inevitable for me to keep my communities healthy.
I also run the app market analysis service APPlyzer.com) and I know how important the app stores are nowadays when it comes to discoverability and user acquisition. Not even speaking about the technological image in front of advertising clients, monetization, the comparability of paid acquisition channels, etc. Ok enough chatter, you get the point it's an entire ecosystem that an app ads to a community in a landscape where mobile usages has surpassed 80%. So... what is VanillaAPP capable of?
The App includes all core functionalities like discussions, categories, conversations, the activity wall and user profiles of Vanillaforums OS. In addition, we included a lot of cool things that make the app very straight forward in usability. For example a very smooth way to jump forward or backward in a discussion by simply sliding left or right in the heading area (to improve/replace rather boring paginations) or the integration of a picture gallery in the user profile where users can see which images they have posted in public discussions or in private messages.
We also integrated a list of add-ons which we keep extending.
• Advanced Editor (Partially, BBCode < that was difficult integration, picture upload, etc.)
• YAGA (partially)
• Post Count
• Facebook Login
• Better Notifications
• Image Gallery (not based on a plugin)
Optimized for iPhones and iPads. Horizontal sliding galleries if someone uploads more than X pictures with lightbox style effect. A sidebar functionality to navigate to your websites, shops, advertisers or anything. Possible integration of Google Firebase and Fabric or Facebook Analytics for measuring community activity and Cost per Install campaigns (i'm at 0,06 cents per user). Terms of Service which need to be accepted by the user. Inside the app there is a functionality to open their Mail client to write to the webmaster/administrator, and some more functionalities.
Important to know: Admin/Moderation functionalities as well as the Dashboard are not integrated in the app. We think this should be done in the web version. It's far to complicated to port this to a mobile app and manage things there.
Why did it take 12 months?
Coding a quality app nowadays which also meets the User Interface Guidelines of Apple is not an easy thing. Seriously, you don't want to push a half-baked app to the app stores. You would want to make it so good that Apple would even consider featuring and show it in front of hundreds of thousands of app store visitors. I know quite something about app marketing being in the field several years and issues like code quality and design along the guidelines are fundamental in Apple's review process. Everyone is better off creating high quality apps to get better ranks in the app store and to create more fresh installs. In addition Vanillaforums has not yet a fully developed API and a lot reverse engineering was mandatory to proceed with the development. Also, raising money for the development (the whole development process cashed a 5 digit number excluding all my work) was an important issue. So there are many things taken in consideration and they stole some time.
I decided to white label the app and to service it to companies and community managers to give back to the community AND to make a coming Android version of the app and continuous development financially possible. The white labelling comes as a SaaS. We can setup the app on every Vanillaforums OS community and adapt colors, logos and images in the app to your needs (further customizations are also possible). And trust me I'm not getting rich with this, it just covers the work and some cocktails afterwards. My business happens in my communities.
On the website you find a scheme for the pricing. I was in talks with some community managers before and I often heard that they are not willing to pay more than 60$ per month or similar. Just to clarify this. Quality software, testing, debugging, support, continuous development, etc. is not possible at prices like that. VanillaAPP is not a transistor radio which can be build with 6 parts available for 3$ each. It's a software made by 2 senior developers and 1 senior designer and project manager who are constantly tackling quality in meetings and calls to make a very good product. Please write me a PM or an email if you are interested in using VanillaAPP for your community.
I'm currently heavily planning the development of an Android app with the same high quality standards too. But as stated above... to get this project going I look for some people who could make use of the iOS white labelling service to then invest the money in the Android development. The app is already in the design stage.
Most of you know me as Vanilla fan since the early days. After running phpBB, Simplemachines and others I came across Vanilla 1 around 2006. Never really a coder, more a designer and community manager I hang around in the community of the Open Source offspring ever since. I run a big parenting network in several countries and many web platforms and a variety of apps.
Thanx go to
The Vanilla Team for being so persistently behind this product, to @Kasper on whose API the VanillaAPP API was extended on, and of course to @R_J who was always helpful to me in this process. It was quite a sweat.
Drop me your thoughts,
- VanillaAPP | iOS & Android App for Vanilla - White label app for Vanilla Forums OS
- VanillaSkins | Plugins, Themes, Graphics and Custom Development for Vanilla
@phreak Great app! Is this open source? Do we need to give your company/you credit for it like copyright? Can we edit the code? What are the legal limits?
@poins: It is not Open Source. A lot of money and uncountable hours have gone into it and the SaaS model fee will go into the continuous development of the iOS version and the development of an upcoming Android version. APP is not the WEB, development and keeping up to date with App Store guidelines and regulations is a must or you just get sorted out and remain on the bottom floor of the app store ocean. To provide this quality it has a price tag that goes 100% (besides 3 cocktails equaling 30$ a month ) into the development. Apps are not a one time thing you work steady on that. Find more info on the website.
Current roadmap sees:
@phreak would we have to give your company/you credit like copyright etc.?
@poins: It will be a clean white label (no copyright or credits from us) and a fully working version of the app. But you will not have access to the codebase itself. You get a ready made file to submit to the app store under your account – prepared and setup by us to your needs. Plus frequent updates of the app, when we improve or add functionalities or when we fix bugs.
Special customizations of the app are possible but extra – if they are offside the roadmap (For example if you want to integrate a quiz that is wired with your websites database, or want to present a clients advert between posts, or anything that comes to your mind).
@phreak , thanks for the help, but it is too expensive for me. Thanks.
Dear Vanilla Inc, purchase this software from this team for at least $200K. Then pay him another $200K+ for the android version. Then hire them as full time Vanilla subcontractors to support and continue development of these apps.
Take over the forum universe and profit. Its ripe for the taking, but no one in the forum world is innovating, and are standing still.
Or not.... and let facebook wipe you out.
This app is a great achievement. Kudos to @phreak for taking that complex challenge!
i register here just to see this post.
its a must that forum have app like this. user engagement is the very important now days.
any open donation for android will be help for you to boost the development.
@poins: Sure. Let me know when you would like to pickup on it at a later point.
@jackjitsu: Hehe, thanks.
@rbrahmson: Thank you, I bow to your plugin work too mate!
@mgilang: I would accept donations if an app wouldn't be such a complex thing to develop. That is why I took the approach of a recurring payment. Software is never done and the app stores "asks" for many functionality integrations of Apple and Google. It keeps your app in good sight in the app store search and category rankings so it doesn't get lost within those millions of apps.
With very little effort the VanillaAPP forums I have set up ranks in the top 200 positions of the category "Social" on the Apple App Store. That is relevant for customer aquisition through the store.
Here a small update for everyone. I'd like to make some additions to the roadmap which are currently in concept or development stage:
If anyone is interested in running an iOS and/or Android instance of Vanillaforums OS or knows someone who is, let us now.
Woa..this is great. I hope every forum CMS becomes white labelled by 2018. Discourse is already doing it for both Android and iOS. @phreak all the best. by the way, how much will the Android version cost?
Hi @Chiprang, we will see how much interest will show up for the Android app to determine the price. It shouldn't be a big hit on profitable forum makers. We just want to cover more or less the continuous development costs of both apps.
Exciting times. Any news on this? Esp.. the Android app?
And what sort of pricing is materializing?
Exactly. App interface, especially with push notifications, is vital to compete with all the noise.
And it is the one place where it can bring forums somewhat on par with Facebook.
@Tjeef: Jep. With a little delay we are in internal BETA on our own forums. Ironing out the last bugs to have it ready in the first half of June.
RSS feed integration for a news stream from blogs or wherever alongside the forum functions is implemented on iOS.
@phreak Allright. I wish for your success.
Do you need any assistance with beta testing etc. - feel free to hit me up.
I am interested in how this is going.
I would like to see VF succeed more (as it is a forum built for the future - with embedding and integration in mind - not something from year 2000 trying to hang on).
BBS's are what gave the rise to the internet in the first place. Back when people still sat with slow dial-up connections and were only online for a short while in the day.
They logged on to "meet somebody". Even if that person was not online at the same time.
They deserve a revival and to be brought into the current communication arena (mobile etc.) - so that all is not left to FB groups (where everything just slides by - without much continuity, structure, searchability and history) and shiny objects on other social media.
@Tjeef: Thanks for your message. I have quiet the same viewpoint that is why I put all my blood, sweat and money into an app for Vanilla.
The medium is the massage. Facebook shall burn! Only forum-like proven community methodologies obtain deep knowledge and can provide this extensive flow of communication to create this specific kind of information and value to us children of the early internet.
Halt and catch fire!
What benefit does the app give a user over just using the mobile version of the site from a mobile browser?
There are several Pro's over a mobile website and some of them are of course dependent on a probable business model (if there is one behind). So I wouldn't only take it from a users view as also from a community owners perspective. Growing your community means generating more revenue.
Revenue is important for me. As it gives me the ability to invest more of that money in my communities growth.
Vanilla APP now has a themeing option. Users of your forum can now change the app to their prefered colors. Our users are very happy about it. In a custom setup for your community we are able to integrate your color variations. As seen in the image below we integrated some nice gradients.
We have more in the pipe. Check it out by downloading the demo app on the iOS app store.