Pricecheckah was my first foray into web and mobile app development.
It was conceived by a friend of mine and I originally as a web app prior to Apple opening up at the App Store. My friend did all of the UI/UX design work on it and I did all of the coding for it. Originally it was simply a bunch of scripts that went out and searched websites (Amazon, eBay, Froogle, Buy.com & Walmart) for a keyword or UPC code given by the user. The scripts were written in Perl and generally used the APIs allowed by the sites. But a couple of them didn’t have them, so I had to setup a screen scrape of sorts that would snag the items image, name, price and URL. It worked well, as long as the website didn’t change it’s layout. Which would happen every so often.
Once the app went live, it did fairly well and was even selected by Apple on the “Employees picks” page. This generated enough traffic to the site that it caused our shared server to crash. I quickly migrated to a new server, which also allowed for us to add more features to the app.
One of the things I found was that users were searching on their phone in the store and then going home to re-search for them there as well. I built a back end database (MySQL) that allowed people to create an account and keep a running history of their searches. Not surprisingly, there was a big uptick in our affiliate sales once this feature was added.
After the website was up for a year, Apple opened the App Store and allowed 3rd party developers to submit applications to it. At this point, the site was doing well enough that I felt we needed to move it into a native application. So I picked up an Objective-C book and taught myself how to develop in it.
Initially, the app was a very generic version of the website and simply used a UIWebView to just run html code in the native app. Initially, it did the very basics that the web app did. Create an account, searches, save searches, etc. However, as the app got bigger and bigger, more features were added it to. Such as the ability to turn off certain sites, email your results and even add your own site to search.
It was also around this time that UK stores were added to the application as well. Luckily, most sites that we had to screen scrape were using the same formats, so it was pretty easy to port it over from one retailer to the next. It was almost as if one B2B for retailers was able to sell their setup to all of these different sites. This was also how it was easy to let people add their own favorite retailers into the mix.
The application did well enough for a couple of years, but after a while, the upkeep on maintaining the data collection was too much to bear and the whole thing was shut down. In the end, there were over 4,000 registered users and 5 million searches. Not too bad for something that was thought up over a phone conversation one afternoon on the drive home from work.
Some of the cool recognition it got was:
- it was picked up by ABC News as a Top 5 Money making app (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/top-apps-save-money-holiday-shopping/story?id=12347284)
- it was listed first on the Daily Mail’s “Top Money Saving apps for the iPhone” – (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/article-1290687/Top-money-saving-apps-new-iPhone.html)
- It was listed in the Cult Of Mac in their “Best Apps To Help You Save Money” article – (http://www.cultofmac.com/best-apps-to-help-you-save-money-new-years-resolutions/75827#more-75827)
- it was selected as an “Employee Pick” by Apple