At around 9am on a very sunny Saturday morning we joined 100 developers and designers at Shoreditch Studios for what was set to be a weekend of great ideas, great people, some serious coding, little sleep and far too much Red Bull! Located under the railway arches, Shoreditch Studios was our home for the next +28hours! 

Isobar Create London (together with O2) is the UK’s first developer event or 'hackathon' that will challenge people to pioneer new and innovative uses of Near Field Communications (NFC) technology. NFC is a technology which has been around for a few years, and one that I personally have been looking forward to the day it becomes common place in our lives. It has the ability to change the way we use our mobile phones to interact with the world around us (as this weekend has demonstrated), however it has been slow to reach the wide market. But as more manufactures add the technology to their new devices, and applications using it become available, its popularity can only grow! 

The Team

We came to the event as a pair of developers from London Metropolitan University:

Myself who has been following NFC technology for a few years and developing for iOS and Android. 

Beatriz Juárez who works in NFC and develops for Android and iOS.

We then teamed up with two designers from the School of Communication Arts 2.0 who we had met on the event Facebook group: 

Imogen Weathered and Tom Evans who are both creatives looking to learn more about what is involved with the design process of creating a mobile application, and working closely with developers. 

Day 1

The morning started with some introductions, and talks from Google, Proxama, Diagio and Isobar showing us the potential of NFC, how its used currently and what they want to achieve from the weekend. 

We entered the event with a very open mind, and although we had a few potential ideas, we sat down as a team and spent the first hour brainstorming some ideas. We soon realised how many different applications NFC can be applied to. Everything from mobile payments, to an alternative to GPS location services. It turned out some of our initial ideas had already been done in one form or another, so we opted for something which seemed fairly unique, and would offer advantages to both the user, and a commercial advantage to the companies involved. 

The idea began as a queueing system, to allow users to reserve a virtual place in the queue with their NFC device, then come back once it was their turn. This quickly progressed into an application for theme parks, which includes a full end-to-end experience for the user, from purchasing their ticket, queueing, and payments whilst at the park. 

We decided to take advantage of the BlueVia API's in order to facilitate the mobile payments required for the user to top-up their virtual wallet. I wont go too much into the application in this blog as there will be more material about this at a later date. 

By around midday the whole room was buzzing with a hive of activity, ideas now starting to become reality with developers hard at work to get their supplied Samsung Galaxy S2's, NFC tags, and readers all communicating. Apart from a few wifi troubles the event was in full swing, throughout the day we were fuelled with Ice Cream from a cart outside, sweets, and catering which wouldn't look out of place in a top hotel. There was even entertainment put on during the evening with instruction on hula-hooping and prizes including galaxy tabs and O2 music tickets for those who did the best.  You could tell that the organisers had really thought hard about how to make this experience excellent for everyone involved. I have been to previous hackathon's but none of them come close to this one.

We made fairly good progress on the first day although we spent a lot of time trying to get a phone to reader communication working, before deciding that the application could do the phone-server communication via the network, and just use tags instead of readers. 

Our design team were working hard but having a few problems of their own with Photoshop not behaving as it should. Considering this was their first experiences producing graphics for a mobile application, once they got the hang of the concept, the android design guidelines and how buttons, 9-patches worked they were away. 

By around midnight there were only a few teams still up and working, so we all decided to head off home for a few hours kip (minus 1hr for daylight savings!) then come back fresh in the morning. 




Day 2

So after what was a very broken 4 hours of sleep; much of it dreaming of code, and planning my presentation. We regrouped for 8am and began the final push to get the app and presentation ready for the 4pm deadline. 

One piece of advice which I have always been told for hackathons, and have even told people myself, is to keep it simple. Our application however had grown to something which was not 
very simple, it involved NFC, payment systems, web services, list views, and lots of screens. An application which I would probably plan to spent over a week developing fully. So while Bea continued on with the NFC work, I began bringing everything together and implementing the BlueVia payment API's. I'd like to say a big thank you to Andres at BlueVia for helping out with implementing this. In the short time we had we were able to get setup with API keys, and have the OAuth working and processing dummy payments for our application. 

We had set ourselves our own deadline of 3pm for the application, and at 3.10pm we did our final code merge and prayed there were no issues. There weren't, we had a working application bar a few small bugs but more than enough time for Bea to fix those while I got the presentation ready. 

Throughout the day Tom and Imogen had been working hard on the illustrations for the presentation. We all knew as a team how this application could change the customers experience, but with just 3 minutes to present and demo, we needed to get this across to the audience and judges in the best way. So I decided to tell a story. A story about Bob, the user, and take everyone on a journey of his day and how he used the application. I had explained to Tom in the morning my plan and the story I was going to tell, and wanted him to illustrate it. What he produced was exactly what I had imagined and it really made the presentation. 

4pm and we were all told to stop. Presentations were collected up, code deployed to phones, and after a quick break to compose ourselves and do a final run through of the presentation we were ready. By this time the lack of sleep and the countless cans of red bull were starting to take affect, I have done presentations before, but nothing quite like the stress of this one, 3 minutes to get across 28hours worth of work and next to no sleep! 

With our presentation put to the back of my mind, I was able to finally see all the great ideas which the other teams had produced. There were apps for sport stadiums, trading contact details, trading card games, gamifying drug taking (legal medications!!), connecting to wifi, interacting with advertising. It just shows what potential NFC has and I'm excited to see applications like this in the future. 

The Prize's

Every application which was presented deserved to win something. But there were set categories and and the full winner list will be available on the isobar site soon. 

Our application was in the Leisure and Entertainment category, and also the BlueVia category. We (team Roller coaster) went on to win the BlueVia category and get KickStarter fund to develop our idea further. When we began the whole process I hoped to learn lots, have fun and maybe walk away with an android tablet or some concert tickets. I never thought for one moment we would go on to win the BlueVia prize. It was so overwhelming as its no longer an app developed for fun at a hackathon, its an app with real commercial potential and hopefully a future. 

We had an amazing time over the weekend, and would like to thank everyone involved in putting on this event. We are now looking forward as a team to where we can go with this application and to the future of NFC. 

Here's some places we have been featured: