Meet the Developer: Michael Schneider from HiveBrain Software

Bad days — we all have them and we all have different ways of dealing with them. It was a long night with very little sleep that resulted in me finding the Andrew Johnson relaxation apps in the App Store.

Andrew Johnson is a relaxation coach, hypnotherapist, EFT therapist and reiki teacher. His wide range of recordings (including Beat Procrastination, Quit Smoking and Deep Sleep) are available on CD or as MP3s and due to a partnership with Michael Schneider of HiveBrain Software, many are also available as iPhone apps. I chatted with Michael to find out how he embarked on the journey of creating relaxation apps, what is on his iPhone now and how he sees things developing in the future.

The Interview

Tell me a little about yourself.

I live in Seattle with my wife and son. I have always been passionate about technology and computers, but my professional background is in law. Before starting my publishing company, I worked at a big technology law firm working with tech companies on business issues, basically helping tech companies monetize their technology or content. I went to college at UC Berkeley in California and practiced law for around seven years before transitioning to entrepreneurship. The transition has been fantastic; I spend my time building things now. I enjoy the process of conceiving an app and taking it through the process of it becoming something real that people benefit from.

What does a typical day look like for you?

In contrast to my old routine working at a big law firm, my days are much less stressful, although I still spend most of the day in front of a computer. I spend a lot of time working on new apps or adding features to old ones. Depending on where I am in a particular development project, I spend other time trying to prototype and brainstorm additional apps and features. We also get a fair amount of customer email, so I spend a bit of time everyday responding to those messages.

What is on your iPhone right now?

My favorite apps lately are the ones that let you send a postcard to someone using a picture from your library. For between a dollar and two dollars, depending on which app you use, you can send a physical card to anyone. One of those apps is called Postagram and the other is called Postcard on the Run. I have also been learning guitar, so I have a number of guitar related apps, like a guitar tuner from Gibson, and a really cool iPad app called Wild Chords that is a learning game for guitar.

Do you have an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S and why?

I use testing my apps as an excuse to upgrade my phone every chance I get. I have the iPhone 4S right now. Aside from testing on the latest hardware, I like the phone better than the iPhone 4 because of the quality of the camera. It takes much better photos and videos.

Why did you decide to create the apps?

While I was at the law firm, I created a few fairly successful productivity apps on the iPhone. When the app store first launched it was a wide open playing field and there was a tendency to see the world through an app-colored lens. I had one of Andrew Johnson’s relaxation CDs that I had listened to on and off for years to help me sleep. I loved the content, and reached out to Andrew to see if he would be interested in making some apps. We started with Deep Relaxation with Andrew Johnson and have been expanding ever since.  We now have around 20 apps covering different topics.

The current selection of Andrew Johnson relaxation apps

The current selection of Andrew Johnson relaxation apps

How are the apps different to other similar apps? What makes them special?

Andrew’s skill as a therapist and his unique voice and intonation make the apps stand out. There have been lots of copycat type apps over the last few years. They can copy the concept, but they can’t copy Andrew. The Andrew Johnson Infinity app is unique in that it is highly customizable by the user. The user can select how long they want the app to play and which background they would like and the application then generates a unique audio program for them. A user could listen to the app millions of times and never hear the same exact combination of suggestions. This is powerful because it keeps your mind from anticipating the exact words that are coming next, but keeps consistency in the program so that the overall program follows a familiar pattern. Most similar apps play static recordings. That is an effective approach as well, but the Infinity App is a bit more sophisticated.

What challenges did you face in developing the apps?

We didn’t face many challenges in getting the apps completed. They started out fairly simple, and we have added functionality over the years. The biggest challenge that I find is trying to add new features that will make the apps better, but not undermining the simplicity of the apps. The Andrew Johnson apps are primarily designed to help people relax and focus on self improvement. I want the user to be able to open the app and start their meditation without any unnecessary stress. Buttons and options cause stress. We handle this challenge by being selective about what we add to the app, and if something isn’t resonating with users, we will actually pull it out. If 95 percent of the users never access a particular feature, we think it is better to take it out or at least move it out of the way.

Easy to use and simple to navigate

Easy to use and simple to navigate

What were the main goals for creating the apps since the content was already available elsewhere?

Before we started making apps, Andrew sold CDs with meditation sessions on them. The goal with the apps was to make that type of content available to users in a way that was (1) with them all the time, and (2) more interactive and customizable than would be possible with a CD. From there, we just wanted to make them as widely available to users as possible.

What’s next?

In terms of Andrew Johnson apps, we have more topics that we would like to cover. Users sent us emails all the time asking us to create apps addressing particular issues. I think nail biting and fear of flying are coming up in the development pipeline. We are also working on some relaxation sessions that are specifically for kids. We hear from lots of users that put the apps on to help get their kids to sleep and relax. We think we could make that experience better with an app more tailored to that purpose. We are also working with other content providers to expand the types of apps that we offer. We have a video magazine featuring a self help guru and coach that should launch later this year.