At one time or another, everyone has gotten a call in the middle of the night they would have rather not answered. A Minot man has created a solution to that problem, and anyone with an Android smartphone can reap the rewards of his hard work.
Paul Dennis was laid up after knee surgery a couple years ago when the idea first came to him more out of practical need than anything else.
"During the day I kept getting phone calls from people or texts and couldn't get rest, but I didn't want to silence my phone or turn it off because I figured my family might call," Dennis said.
He had just gotten an Android phone a few months before and looked on the Android Market for an app that could silence calls from certain numbers, including unknown callers, while still allowing the phone to ring when his family and friends called.
"I looked and there was nothing exactly out there that you could customize well enough for what I wanted," Dennis said.
Fortunately, he happened to be a computer programmer, and went to work making his own solution.
The program he created, his first for Android, is called RingFilter. It allows someone to set a schedule anytime during the day or night to designate when people are allowed to call. The numbers of family and close friends can be set to always be allowed through in case of some emergency in the middle of the night. Conversely, other numbers in a person's contact list, and even unknown numbers with any prefix, can be allowed through during the day and silenced at night, so the call goes to voice mail without the phone ever ringing. If a certain caller or number is particularly annoying, RingFilter can be set to silence the phone when that number calls day or night, so it always goes to voice mail.
Dennis spent about a year developing the program, which included research and around seven or eight months of coding. He then got his brother Joel, a photographer and graphic designer, to create the logos. RingFilter was finally released Jan. 23 last year.
"I remember the date because it's actually my birthday, so that was kind of cool," Dennis said.
RingFilter can be found on the Android Market, which comes on Android smartphones, and costs $4.95. Dennis offers a 60-day money-back guarantee for customers who try the app and find they don't like it. For more information on RingFilter, visit the website (thezeroio.com).
Dennis works as a computer programmer, more specifically an application specialist, and said the programming language he mainly knew was C#, pronounced C sharp. While it was different from what Android used, there were many similarities, which helped him quickly get up to speed.
"Basically it was just sitting down on the Android developer's site and learning how the Android system works. It's all in the Java language, so I just had to learn the differences between C# and Java," Dennis said. "Java and C# are actually pretty similar. There's just a lot of little differences, but the overall structure is pretty similar."
While Dennis originally developed the app for personal use, he quickly realized how much it could help others.
"I just figured that a lot of people would be in that situation, kind of torn between turning their phone off to have peace and quiet, but also wanting their family to be able to get through," he said.
The app has sold well for Dennis, and he has gotten a lot of great comments from his customers. He mentioned one in particular from a fire chief on the West Coast who works unusual hours because of his job. He was thankful for the program because it allowed him to silence the phone during his off hours when he slept, while still letting emergency calls ring through.
Dennis hasn't made the app available for the iPhone yet, but said he's keeping it in mind. He would like to do it at some point, but he's not sure about the startup cost and how difficult the iPhone is to program for. He said the documentation for developing on Android seemed more thorough when he originally did his research, which was one of the reasons he picked that platform. It also didn't hurt that he already had an Android phone to test the app on, although there are emulators that allow apps to be tested on a computer.
Still, the iPhone is definitely something Dennis is interested in bringing RingFilter to, if possible.
"It would be a lot of fun to see it on the iOS and Android," Dennis said. "I'd like to at least look into doing that this year."
Dennis actually created a second Android app, which he gave away for free, during the Souris River flood this past year that let people monitor the river level. As the flood got worse, he saw someone had written an app to allow Android users to watch the news on their phones in case they didn't have access to a TV, and that got him thinking.
"It just kind of hit me, well, is there an app I can make to help with that, too? I was thinking, well, people are always watching the water levels," Dennis said. "I just thought if I could make something that would go out and check every once in a while and get it on their phone, then they wouldn't need to be by a TV, either."
Dennis banged out the app in a day and close to 400 people downloaded it. He said it was nice being able to help his fellow Minot residents in a small, but meaningful, way.
"I wished I would have thought of it sooner, but with each person that I saw download it, it felt good because any way I could help, even in a small way, if it helped even a little bit, at least I did something," Dennis said.