Iowans have designs on making it big in the apps business. Apps, or phone applications, get downloaded on your mobile phone for an instant connection to your favorite restaurant, game or hobby. Angry Birds’ designers anticipate their 600 millionth dowload by the end of the year. That gives Iowans a big goal to match before them.
Nielsen research says nearly half of all mobile phones in the U.S. are smart phones. So Iowa companies know they have to get smart. Chris Burns, one of the founders of West Des Moines-based Interactive Shift, said there is a simple reason why so many people want apps these days. He said, “Because there’s a commercial called, we have an app for that.”
Burns and co-worker, Ben Sinclair, say the rapid emergence of smart phone applications has completely changed their phone life. Sinclair said, “We hear that conversation all the time.”
Sinclair picked up on his thought and said, “That’s the first question.”
Can they design a phone app customers can easily download on their i-Phone or Android? Interactive Shift did one for Dwolla, that new way to pay app you use instead of cash or your credit card. They did another one for the University of Iowa and one that’s all about the Iowa Caucuses. Nearly every company that calls them these days wants an app. Burns said, “I’d say 85%…yeah it’s up there.”
And this company is now up there well beyond its West Des Moines base. They cite customers in New York, Los Angeles, Virginia and London. Some apps have dual purpose. Interactive Shift designed one for a New York publisher that the company hopes you check out like your favorite bookstore. It is called Bookify Yourself. It lets you design your own avitar, which is your own on-line character. You pick your characters, head, body and clothes. Then the app offers its best read, matching you up with a book it thinks you would like to buy. Burns and Sinclair call it, “gamification”. You feel like you are playing a game but you are really part of your own ad targeting you. Burns said, “An application that provides utility and then the homerun is that if it’s fun.”
When we caught up with whiz kid, Tyler Bell, he had just finished interviewing with Microsoft. He is also making graduation plans at Iowa State for next year and he is and only 19. Bell already has a job, several actually. He started his own company, www.madebybell. He designed an app for Fareway Food Stores and another for ISU’s College of Engineering. How did he do it? Bell said it is a combination of self-teaching and mom. He said, “I just watched video tutorials on line, picked up what I could. Then once I needed to learn more specifics, I bought a textbook or two. That’s what I really asked for for Christmas. My mom came through in the clutch.”
Across campus, PhD student Chad Nelson teaches coding and other things most of us just don’t get to a room full of students who do get it. Nelson designed this course in apps 101. He also designed Iplatypus, Igiraffe and Idonkey and a handful of other I-animals. He even created an app that helps you cheat at scrabble (Word
People apparently like them. He has made more than $5,000 in downloads so far. But Nelson, a Linn County farm boy has one dream design still in the works he said, “I want to be able to click a button on my computer and harvest a field.”
Back at Interactive Shift, the guys are still answering questions. They have more clients wanting more apps because they know what’s ahead.
Sinclair said, “Pretty soon, it`s going to be pretty much impossible to buy a phone that’s not a smart phone. So if you have a phone, you`re going to have access to all of this.”
The Apple store alone shows more than half a million apps available for download. If there’s something you can’t find among them, you can bet there’s an Iowan somewhere with designs on making sure there’s an app for that soon.
You can vote for your favorite Iowan-designed app in this story on Dave Price’s blog, The Price of Politics, etc.