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The Versatility of Xojo

It is soon time for the end of year festivities. Many people around the world are celebrating the holidays by giving gifts, which means more and more people are organizing Secret Santa events. During these events, members of a group of friends, family, or colleagues will draw names to become someone’s Secret Santa and then give them a holiday gift, usually something fun.

Did you know?
Secret Santa is known by different names around the world, such as “Amigo Invisible” in Spanish, “Amigo Secreto” in Portuguese, “Тайный Санта” in Russian.

I first made a desktop Secret Santa app back in 2015 for an event with friends. We were tired of drawing names out of a hat and having couples being paired together. The app I created solved that problem because couples were excluded from offering a gift to each other. And we didn’t need a hat!

In November of 2018, I had the idea of making a Secret Santa iOS app so that anyone with an iPhone or iPad could benefit from the same features I had been enjoying for the past 3 years.

The app would need to be easy to use, avoid couples getting matched with each other, send notifications by email without letting the organizer know which pairs were matched, and of course make sure no name would be assigned twice.

After just 8 days of development, the app was ready to ship and sent to the App Store.

Within 5 days, the app had been downloaded from 35 different countries and was my fastest app to reach 1000 downloads!

Having the app translated to English, French, Italian, and Spanish in the initial release helped to reach more users.

Version 1.1 of the app was released a few days later with German and Portuguese translations.

That’s when I realized that Secret Santa is something extremely common in Latin America. Many families draw names for Christmas so that they can give and receive one big gift instead of smaller trivial gifts for each family member.

Most updates of the app came with new localizations, which really helped in realizing more and more downloads. After 3 years of updates, the app is now available in 32 languages.

A high quantity of downloads also meant that I received a lot of feedback from users. Many users were happy with the current features, but I started getting feature requests to send the gift pairs by SMS or WhatsApp instead of by email. We all have a parent or grand-parent who isn’t tech-savvy and doesn’t have an email address.

Leveraging the biggest advantage of Xojo – Sharing code across platforms

From 2018 until 2022, I had become used to updating the Secret Santa app itself to add new features and new translations while also fixing bugs. This year, I received a message from an unhappy user stating that they really need a wishlist feature and downloaded my app thinking it already had one.

A valid wishlist feature needed to be accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, whether they used a computer, an iPhone, or an Android device.

Using Xojo Web and a coding language I already knew was the obvious choice for this task. Sharing important bits of code from my main iOS project to the web wishlist project was as easy as copy and paste.

As with any Xojo project, copying classes from one project to the other was a real time saver, especially for the API layer required to communicate between Xojo and the online database that holds all the Secret Santa data.

The main difficulty working on a web project came from the UI. Not that Xojo Web’s UI is difficult, but I am so used to designing mobile apps that my brain didn’t know where to start.

I knew I wanted to display two columns of data:

  • The user’s wishlist
  • The wishlist from the person they are offering a gift to

The layout had to be responsive to be accessible on both mobile and desktop devices.

Graffitisuite from Anthony Cyphers came to mind, and within a few minutes of reviewing the online demo, I was convinced to use GraffitiKanban web control. I am a big fan of Trello for organizing my work, displaying cards in labeled columns. That’s exactly what I needed for the wishlist feature.

GraffitiKanban is “responsive” (Web Design term), meaning the display changes to adapt to smaller screens such as mobile devices.

GraffitiSuite also offers a wide variety of UI elements that made me save a lot of time.

7 days after the initial feature request, the wishlist feature was available to all.

Wishlist on a desktop browser:

Wishlist on a mobile browser:

Deploying the app to Xojo Cloud was extremely easy.

A single button press in Xojo, a subdomain DNS record, 2 minutes of configuration in Cloudflare, and the web app was up, running, and accessible through HTTPS.

Customer use of the wishlist feature has blown-up more than I ever would have expected. So far 30,000 gift ideas have been added to the wishlist (and counting).

The next feature request

With an app that sees 60,000 new users per month, I receive a lot of feature requests. Most recently, I received a one star review on the app store because my app isn’t accessible to the Visually Impared. When VoiceOver is activated, all it says is “button”, “button”, “button”, with no explanation.

Adding voice-over capabilities in Xojo is simple. The MobileUIControl class has two String properties, AccessibilityHint and AccessibilityLabel.

But it actually is a lengthy task to check each control on each screen and make sure that the translations are correct.

VoiceOver support will soon be released in English and French, but all other localizations will be only ready next year. It is currently a bad time to get 30 different translators to work on the project under such short notice.

Xojo has enabled me to create a business out of developing iOS apps for the App Store. Including all of my apps, I have had over 6.5 million downloads and counting. Secret Santa is a prime example of what is possible and how you can leverage your Xojo skills to expand to other platforms when you need to. I look forward to what’s to come and will be at XDC London to learn more about the future.

If you are organizing a Secret Santa event or just curious to see the app, download Secret Santa on the App Store.

Jérémie Leroy has been using Xojo since 2008, he won two Xojo Design Awards in the iOS App category and has released over 13 iOS apps made with Xojo on the App Store. He also released iOSDesignExtensions on Github to help style and polish your Xojo made iOS apps.