Xero Touch

At last week’s Xero Conference we demoed a world preview of our new mobile version (so new that most of the Xeroes that were in attendance had never seen it before either!). When we first started Xero having a mobile version was a nice-to-have, but nowadays it’s a basic feature and we have made a conscious effort in 2011 to make it a core part of our product development strategy (in the same way we have with our API). Therefore when we talk about new features the mobile implications of those features are paramount.

Building a mobile application is very different to building a desktop application. I would suggest reading Josh Clark’s excellent book Tapworthy to get an idea of the decisions you need to make to build a successful mobile application. You need to design for mobile – mobile forces you to focus on only the most important data and interactions. The end result should be an experience that’s heavily optimized towards key tasks and consumption. It sounds constraining – but it’s actually a liberating experience.

One key decision we needed to make was whether we built an “app” specific for each device, or a mobile-optimized web-based version. Obviously the biggest drawcard of a native app is access to the phone’s hardware – an app can usually access anything the device offers (precise geolocation including device orientation using the compass, accelerometer, audio input, image capture/input from a camera including video etc). The other big drawcard is access to the ecosystem surrounding the device. In the world of smartphones, operating system like iOS and Android include a massive ecosystem of apps and from a marketing and positioning perspective being in those app stores and having access to those ecosystems is huge.

But the downside is having to maintain lots of versions of the app – writing code for iOS is very different to writing code for Android – and having access to the resources to maintain those codebases is difficult.

Fortunately there are ways to be web-based but still provide a native experience.

Anyone that knows me knows I’m a big fan of open web technologies, so my preference has always been to go web. My counterpart at Facebook, Bret Taylor, recently outlined a vision where he stated “the end goal is that we’ll be able to develop one version of Facebook for mobile devices”. And this is my vision for Xero.

HTML5 and its slew of accompanying technologies (and yes, I include CSS3 in that) is becoming very powerful. Coupled with that is the increasing use of WebKit in today’s modern smartphones. WebKit, an open source project, has led the way in innovating mobile development, with HTML5 support, CSS3 extensions, and touch events. If you have an iOS-based device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) or an Android phone you are already using a WebKit-based browser. Blackberry 6 and HP/Palm’s webOS have also moved to WebKit. It’s become the defacto standard of the modern mobile web.

To enable us to work with the best WebKit can offer we chose Sencha Touch as our app framework. Sencha Touch is built specifically to leverage HTML5, CSS3, and Javascript to develop web apps that look and feel native. By allowing us to make heavy use of JavaScript (a language I’ve espoused my love for in an earlier post) we’re able to speed up our development timeframes significantly. And by developing for the web, we’re able to deliver on our vision of a single app running on multiple platforms.

Sencha Touch also works beautifully with PhoneGap, an open source project that allows us to deliver our web-based application as native – not only providing access to the low-level API’s of the devices, but also allowing us to package the app for deployment through the relevant app stores.

Sencha Touch has been a joy to work with. It’s enabling us to maximize our development efforts and deliver a superior mobile experience. (For those interested in learning more I’m talking at the Wellington Javascript meetup in a couple of weeks on it – follow me on Twitter to learn more).

So when’s it going to be released? Soon… We’re trying a lean startup approach to the development of this product so we’re hoping a beta can be out in the next month.

Answers to questions I know you’ll ask:

  • the apps will be free
  • we will also be releasing a web-delivered version of the app for those not wanting to use the app store (though functionality will be reduced so we wouldn’t encourage this)
  • m.xero.com will continue to be supported for lower-level devices (unfortunately lower-level includes WIndows Phone 7 at this stage – the phone is pretty great but the browser is crap)
  • even though this mobile app will scale well on an iPad, we are currently NOT working on a specific iPad version. Currently the “normal” version of Xero works pretty well on an iPad but we’re hoping to improve the usability of all our applications for touch-based tablet devices (which may include tablet specific features)
  • you won’t have to apply to be in the beta – we’ll release it to everyone as soon as it’s ready but expect some rough edges


Richard Dyer
March 21, 2011 at 9:04 pm

John (Fry Film)
We were in a similar situation where accounts came second, it was easy to get behind and processes were laborious – until we met Xero

We’ve maybe gone over and above the average XERO user now, but the API let us plug straight into the accounts and with two clicks we can reconcile a days transactions against our own database and card processor – sometimes that’s 10k card transactions a month! Anyone in the office can raise an invoice, from anywhere and the cloud computing aspect full stop means you don’t have to be in the office to be working.

I’ve had a quick look at your website and I think with a small amount of work you could do wonders for your business with Xero.

Peter V.
March 22, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Is it ready yet??? 😀

Steve Cohn
March 23, 2011 at 11:31 am

Very useful blog – we are just on the verge of making that major decision of how to support both iOS and Android in particular for our market research survey software and have been considering exactly this set of tools so it’s good to know that we can leverage someone else’s scars on the back! Thanks for sharing…

March 28, 2011 at 7:26 am

Well now that it is late March and we are yet to see the APp released Rod must now be very disappointed… Definitely looking forward to it coming out and seeing it work on an iPad. Being able to take photos of invoices would be a good feature however I wouldn’t reccomend throwing out the physical receipts just yet, each device has differing camera qualities so the photo of the invoice might not stand up to IRD scrutiny epecially since they would most liekly prefer to see the original rather than a copy.

Craig Walker
March 28, 2011 at 8:37 am

@Peter @Ben Yes, Rod is starting to get a little antsy :) Xero Touch is coming along nicely – working through bugs. It’s been an interesting journey through the trials and tribulations of developing in bleeding edge technologies. I recently did a talk on how to build these kinds of apps – I think I could add a dozen new slides to it on all the little intricacies!

And anyway – it’s not too late in March…

Paul Phillips
April 4, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Any update on a release date?

April 4, 2011 at 2:42 pm

i hope this is not the start of xero becoming like other companies that are unable to deliver on what they promise…. i have very high hopes for xero and express my belief in the product regularly to clients, i really hope this doesn’t become a trend

Craig Walker
April 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm

@Paul @Ben We’re in the final stages of our QA process, and while it’s always a tough decision to hold back on a release, we pride ourselves on our quality and we don’t want to release something too early. While I think you will love Xero Touch even in it’s V1 form, I would like to apologize for the delay. This is one of the reasons we don’t like to commit to dates – when building an accounting system you have to get things right. While there is always a tension between quality and shipping we like to err on the side of cautiousness. So I’m not going to commit to a date again – that was silly and again I apologize for getting you guys excited and letting you down (if it’s any consolation I feel pretty bad about that and there is just as much pressure internally as there is externally). So we’re working hard to it and it’s looking pretty cool – we’re definitely pumped to get it out there as soon as possible (so we can then start working on V2 :)).



Blair Hughson
April 6, 2011 at 5:49 pm

“I’m happy to call his bluff and state publicly I would be very disappointed if it is as long as late March.”

Aww, Rod’s making a sad face… :(

Lars Mordhorst
April 19, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Any update on when we can expect a release?

mobileAgent makes Expense Reporting Fun (Among Other Things)
April 20, 2011 at 12:58 am

[…] course this is even more interesting now that rival company Xero has announced its own mobile application. It’ll be really interesting to compare and contrast the two […]

April 20, 2011 at 8:24 am

I wouldn’t be expecting it anytime soon Lars. I got quite excited about the release of Xero touch and was very let down. I have now pretty much given up all hope of it coming out anytime in the near future. I understand why Xero would withhold a release to iron out bugs and make sure we got a good workable product but to say that it would be out in march to me meant that it was nearly finished, to get this far into april and it still not be out suggests that it was never as close to being ready for release as Xero made out. This for me is the biggest let down I have had from Xero so far.

Craig Walker
April 20, 2011 at 9:47 am

@Lars @Ben As you may have noticed, Xero Touch has been released into the wild: http://blog.xero.com/2011/02/xero-touch/

I think your comments are fair – though I’m saddened that it’s your biggest let down so far – I hope you haven’t lost any faith in us – we do move as fast as we can.

I could probably write a book on developing mobile apps now – the hard part we encountered was taking an application built over 4 years and condensing it down to the mobile context. Lots of business rules are embedded in the app that at least needed to be partially mapped over to Xero Touch. So we got a little bogged down in the details – which does go against our release early, release often approach, but is indicative of the conservative stance we take over new releases.

Please have a look and let us know what you think. There is still a lot to be done (a few bugs, lots of cool features) but hopefully we’ve made a good step forward.


Rod Drury
April 20, 2011 at 9:47 am

We’re sorry it took a bit longer than planned. As you’ll see Xero Touch is a pretty big V1 release. Go and have a play (http://m.xero.com) and give us feedback before we submit to the app store.

April 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I just tried out Xero Touch on my ipad with wifi and accessing it from Rod’s link and something must be wrong because I was left scratching my head at Xero Touch. All I could access was Expense claims, even from the dashboard there was only expense claims and this i for clients that I knew had items to reconcile. I also tried Xero Touch from my android using 3G and after 2 minutes the page still hadn’t loaded so I gave up. Accessed the mobile site from my laptop and was able to see the items to reconcile as well as expense claims so clearly there must be an issue with running xero touch on my ipad, I wonder what is the point of having Xero Touch if it doesn’t work on touch devices?

Craig Walker
April 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm

@Ben The only way for that to happen would be if you’re an Invoice Only role in Xero (essentially an employee only). You need to be either Standard or Financial Advisor to access all the functionality of Xero Touch. Have you tried using a demo? (Demo button in the top-right corner of the My Xero screen). Raises a good point that we should show your role on My Xero so you know what you’re in for. Note: no matter what level of Invoice Only role you have, Xero Touch is currently limited to expense claims for that role.

If you ARE Standard or Financial Advisor then there’s a bug in there somewhere. Best to refresh or close that “tab” and try again.

Xero Touch on the iPad works great – on my iPad 2 it’s pretty amazing (native speeds on scrolling and animations – that dual-core processor really shines on these kinds of apps). We didn’t actually design Xero Touch for the iPad – but it works.

Android is currently a problem child. It’s loading (the grey screen is the background), but it’s not running. Some users have said it’s working and on my emulator it’s fine. But it’s currently not working in the phones I’ve tried. This is my Easter weekend job (but it’s a tough one to crack). I apologize again to Android users for this problem.

The site you accessed on your desktop browser is actually the old m.xero.com – we have left that running for people with down-level browsers (a desktop browser is considered down-level because it doesn’t support touch events and because outside of testing you should be using go.xero.com).


Ben Carmichael
April 22, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Craig I am definitely a financial advisor in all 40+ clients and even after mulitple refreshes, closing browsers and reopening I still only get the expense claim screen for my clients. I have an Ipad 1. I am going to the link Rod gives above m.xero.com and it then changes to the Xero Touch link. I give up on Xero Touch

Rod Drury
April 22, 2011 at 7:15 pm

@Ben, sorry. We’ll have a look at your account in detail when the dev team is back on Tuesday, Must be something strange going with your account specifically that we can’t replicate.

April 27, 2011 at 8:24 am

Thanks for the help Rod but honestly I don’t think it’s worth the trouble. I was grossly disappointed by the delay in the release and then to find that it is too slow to work on my android smartphone and not work on my iPad 1 was just the icing on the cake. I won’t be attempting to use Xero touch anytime in the near future and I unfortunately must say that I can’t recommend the product to clients when it doesn’t work on my iPad. Sorry guys but since i can’t see it working on the iPad I won’t be going anywhere near Xero touch.

April 27, 2011 at 9:45 am

I find the main web interface works very well on the iPad (v1) – and is fully featured. (I don’t mind that the few graphs don’t work.) Touch, once it is an appstore app rather than just a website is going to be brilliant as a portable version for expenses in particular.

Maybe you should brand it as Xero Handheld so people don’t worry so much about it working on their iPads and other tablets.

April 27, 2011 at 9:57 am

It works well on my IPad, looks like Ben is purposely trying to discourage others from using Xero.

April 27, 2011 at 11:26 am

Definately not Anna, I am a big fan of Xero that’s why im so disappointed. I recommend the Xero system to all of my clients. For the record I only have an issue with Xero touch. Feel free to come an try Xero touch on my ipad if you think im just trying to put people off xero and you will see that it doesn’t work on my iPad. I am aware it is working on others peoples devices but it’s not working on mine. Xero as accessed from a desktop computer is fantastic and the best accounting software I have had the pleasure of using. I believe that Xero is setting the standard for how future accounting is going to go and I LOVE the web broswer version. All I can do is put forward my issues with Xero touch, that’s great it’s working for you but for me it doesn’t work simple as that.

May 3, 2011 at 3:12 am

This would be awesome if i could enter my petrol costs into the system whilst im on the go. Fingers crossed for the future…
I’m new to Xero and so far am very impressed with its ease of use whilst having Xero mobile would be hugely beneficial to me, i would rather wait until they’ve pushed out a few releases and ironed out bugs. The demand is obviously high but Xero should not rush this especially as they have had a fantastic response to the existing system. Whilst i’m eager please take your time in making this awesome. :)

May 4, 2011 at 10:14 am

I like it is a good step in the right direction. How do I add receipts that are not expenses to be reimbursed back to me. I am a freelance, all my expenses are direct receipts so I do not need to add a new expense to be claimed just a new receipt.
When can I download it from the Apps store?

GW Bush
May 10, 2011 at 1:22 am

@fran It’s on the internets…

May 11, 2011 at 9:12 am

Where can this app for my iphone be downloaded. I have searched the APP store and cant find it. Thanks.

Craig Walker
May 12, 2011 at 10:42 am

We haven’t released the app store version yet – it’s coming soon. We’ll do a blog post on that when we’ve done it (hopefully later this month).


Going mobile with cloud apps › Cloud Computing Bookmark & Rank Forum
May 14, 2011 at 4:04 am

[…] of online accounting vendor Xero, talking about the trade-offs his company has had to look at when developing its mobile version, called Xero Touch. It’s a very informative account and gives a strong flavor of some of the factors to bear in […]

January 2, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Just wondering – is a Windows Phone version on the way now that Mango has arrived with its improved web browser capabilities?

Craig Walker
January 4, 2012 at 8:44 am

@Tim It’s definitely on the way – but we’re looking to complete an Android version first so I wouldn’t expect it till mid year. Sorry about that – there’s so much we want to do with mobile – if you know of anyone wanting to join our awesome mobile team then we can get this stuff done a lot quicker!


Techday – Xero iPhone app due ‘late March’
January 11, 2013 at 3:42 pm

[…] can find out more about the app here but below is a list of questions Xero knows you’ll want […]

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