I’ve been talking myself out of building this app for three years.
That’s how long I’ve been logging my caffeine intake with my iPhone and wishing there were a better way to do it. Over the years, I’ve tried just about all the caffeine apps. Most were outright terrible. Some had lots of promise but ended up withering on the vine as developers couldn’t afford to keep them up to date.
So why make this app now? And why should RECaf’s fate be any different?
I generally don’t subscribe to the “scratch your own itch” philosophy of app building. An itch isn’t necessarily the foundation for a good business. I had seen many caffeine trackers come and go, and I wasn’t sure there was a way to make one that would be any more successful financially. Better to spend my time on the next “big” idea that was going to become a full-fledged business, right?
But early this summer, after a few conversations with friends, I finally figured I might actually be able to turn this itch into something at least mildly profitable. And since the “big” idea hadn’t revealed itself yet, and because I had some spare time, I figured I might as well try and see where it leads.
Here’s what a caffeine tracker in 2018 has going for it:
- Apple’s HealthKit. Apple has invested a lot into health and fitness, and it’s a category that consistently gets a lot of premium shelf space on the App Store. This is an area of growth in the App Store, which is a good thing. Also, the HealthKit APIs are modern and rather well written. I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to pick up and learn. And since Apple handles all the data storage for health data, I don’t need to worry about it. Your data is encrypted, syncs across your devices, and I have absolutely no access to it. Which is exactly how I like it.
- Siri Intents. The new custom Intents in Siri for iOS 12 are perfect for this sort of app. Any sort of logging/data tracking app’s biggest challenge is making data entry easy enough that you won’t stop doing it. Saying “Log Iced Tea” into your wrist is about as easy as it gets.
- Intelligence. If I did my job right, RECaf will do some fancy machine learning as you log. That means your most frequent caffeine sources will always be readily available with a single tap in the app, the Today Widget, or your Watch. Over time, RECaf also gets pretty good at predicting when you usually have your morning caffeine fix. Thus, the app can remind you on Wednesday at 10am when you forgot to log that 9:15 latte. And with interactive notifications you can even adjust the time of the log without launching the app. This has been the biggest issue for me as I’ve tried to track my own daily intake. I simply forget to log. RECaf constantly updates its learning engine to create notifications that will be helpful, not annoying. If you skip caffeine altogether on Fridays, you won’t get a notification on Fridays. If you have green tea on Mondays but Earl Gray on Tuesdays, RECaf will adjust accordingly.
- A sustainable business model. Five bucks a year. If you drink two or more caffeinated beverages a day, that’s less than a penny for every drink. Considering many folks here in New York are paying upwards of $4 to $5 per drink at their local cafe, $5 once a year is quite reasonable, I think. Thanks to subscriptions being pretty much the norm these days, I think many of my customers will agree. With a two-week free trial, I should have plenty of time to convince some of those on the fence that it’s worth becoming a yearly subscriber. Between consistent reminders based on true learning, and the health benefits of knowing the details of your caffeine intake, RECaf is more of a service than an “app” in the traditional sense. (In fact, I suspect you’ll be spending less than a few seconds at a time in the app itself—if that.) The data is the real value. What’s killed every other caffeine tracker in the App Store so far is that super low, one-time cost. There just aren’t enough stats enthusiasts out there to make that sustainable long term. With a subscription, a couple of thousand stat junkies would be enough to keep this app in business.
- Side-project status. I don’t expect to make my entire living with this app, ever. If it makes me enough to cover a month or two of expenses every year, I’d be thrilled. That would certainly justify keeping it up to date with the latest and greatest advancements from Apple.
- A singular focus. Sure, there are food-tracking apps that also happen to include caffeine. There are water tracking apps that include caffeine. There are Shortcuts/Workflows that can be customized to track your caffeine, if you’re a complete code geek who wants to tweak for several hours to make the workflow bend to your specific needs. None of these options is going to make your caffeine tracking anywhere near this effortless.
On day one, when I built my first prototype of RECaf, it immediately replaced every other app I’d ever used for tracking caffeine. Now that I have most of the features built out, it blows every other tracker out of the water for me.
Thanks to RECaf, I now know how many times in the last week I’ve had caffeine after 2pm (twice), that I’ve averaged about 392 mg per day over the last 30 days, and that 49.1% of my caffeine intake comes in the form of simple black coffee. I know that on Wednesdays my first drink is usually coffee before 8 am, and that 67.5% of my caffeine is consumed before noon. (This sort of fun with stats gets addictive pretty quickly.)
Thanks to HealthKit, I can look at stats from other apps, such as the awesome Sleep++ and compare my caffeine intake with the quality of my sleep. (Turns out, that occasional after-dinner espresso doesn’t effect my sleep at all. YMMV.)
If you’re interested in tracking your health statistics, and you consume caffeine regularly, caffeine tracking should be a part of your daily routine. I encourage you to give RECaf a try when it’s released later this fall. The first two weeks are on me.
If you want more information, or you want to be among the first to get RECaf, head over to RECaf.app and sign up for the mailing list.
RIP, Cortado. I had to give up on it when the iPhone X came out, and I realized it would never be updated to fit my screen. It was a great app for its time. But to me, the focus on trying to predict my coffee logging solely based on location, rather than past logging, was a shortcoming. Sure, it could predict when I made it into a coffee shop. But it never figured out that I make coffee for myself at home every morning. ↩︎
Finally, an app that can be aptly compared to the price of a cup of coffee! ↩︎