An app for every occasion

12/12/2013 - 14:50

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Local app developers have been busy in 2013, developing in-demand products and taking the sector far from its cottage industry roots.

An app for every occasion
APP MEN: Gino Giorgi (left), Paul Holliday, Clinton House, Brendan House, Jesse Hill and Roland Butcher. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Local app developers have been busy in 2013, developing in-demand products and taking the sector far from its cottage industry roots.

The App Store opened for business in July 2008 as a purely online marketplace for applications that run on Apple’s own mobile devices, such as the iPhone (2007), and the iPad, (2010).

No doubt discerning Business News readers would have downloaded various apps over the past few years, and may take many for granted. The App Store now holds more than 700,000 apps, and there have been an astonishing 40 billion downloads overall (10 billion in 2013 alone).

The rival Google Play Store now also has about 700,000 apps of its own.

Just as websites became businesses in the late 1990s, so the early years of the current decade have heralded an entirely new industry – app businesses.

What started as a cottage industry of programmers cranking out apps for almost anything under the sun (from games to weather forecasts to photo filters) is now a serious business.

Instagram was just an app with no revenues, and yet Facebook famously bought it for $1 billion in 2012. More recently it was reported that SnapChat turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook.

Facebook’s own app now produces about 30 per cent of the company’s revenue (in terms of mobile advertising), and some local app businesses (such as The Filter Squad in Shenton Park) have earned a decent living developing apps for the global market, such as Discovr, for example.

A further four locally produced apps have recently been added to the App Store. Two of them are vying to be real businesses, one has been developed for a local council, and another is a ‘social enterprise’, meaning its aims are more around a social outcome rather than earning money.

iKoast

iKoast, which professes to be the world’s first shark detection app, was developed by Paul Holliday, who runs a plastic grass business as his main line of work.

A recent immigrant to Perth from the UK and a keen water sports enthusiast, Mr Holliday saw the need for a social media map-based app to notify people about rips, crocs, beach closures, shark sightings and the like.

The idea came to him in 2008 when he was out at Burns Beach and two whales came in close to shore. It was a wonderful moment, but Mr Holliday could not tell anyone about it right then and there.

iKoast aims to use publically available information, plus notifications from users, to inform others about what is happening on and around the water. As well as an iPhone and Android version, Mr Holliday has developed a smart-watch app, which can push out notifications.

Businesses can advertise on the app.

Focalyz

Developed by Roland Butcher and Gino Giorgi, Focalyz is the first app to bring true depth of field to otherwise flat iPhone photos. They have used the same kind of technology that can render a 3D movie from 2D, but Focalyz does it in real time. The app allows users to change the photo’s focal point, so if you wanted the picture to focus on something in the background you can by simply touching it. Users receiving the photos can do the same – it’s one of those ‘seeing is believing’ apps.

Perth City Virtual Friends

Meanwhile, the team at Inhouse has developed the ‘Perth City Virtual Friends’ app for the City of Perth. Users can snap photos of themselves with a variety of virtual Christmas characters (such as a snowman, Rudolph the red nose reindeer), which then appear in the photo with you.

It’s geo-fenced, meaning it only works when you are within certain areas of the city. Cleverly, this provides a fun way to explore the city this holiday season, and is a nice example of a local government thinking laterally about how to use technology to entice people into their area and keep them there, presumably, to shop and buy things.

BikeBus

A few months ago, the team at BikeBus won the StartUp Weekend with its idea to encourage parents and school children to bike or walk to school in a safe environment. A working version of the app and website was developed over two days as part of the competition. They have now developed this idea, and with recent backing from the RAC are launching this with four primary schools in the New Year.

Four more varied ideas for app-based businesses you could not imagine. Each one has taken many thousands of dollars to develop, and in some cases six-figure sums. Developing apps is fiddly and can be a lengthy process. It is not for the faint hearted.

And the app store can be a harsh marketplace, as users vent their frustration at your app, giving you low-star ratings and anonymous critiques permanently listed for the world to see. No wonder the better developers test their apps to the nth degree and focus on the all-important ‘UX’ (user experience).

On the flip side, the App Store can be, as Dave McKinney from Filter Squad suggests, “the best distribution channel in the world”.

According to research company Gartner, the app industry is now worth $26 billion worldwide, growing at 40 per cent a year. On this reckoning, Western Australia’s share should be in the tens of millions, and would have plenty of upside. It’s no surprise that nearly every tech start-up is an app idea.

With all this activity going on, the relevant questions for WA businesses to consider seem to be: what can apps do for their business and what can app businesses do to my business?

Focalyz and Perth City Virtual Friends are both available now from iTunes and App Stores. iKoast will be out this month, and BikeBus in the New Year.

Charlie Gunningham is an internet entrepreneur and general manager of digital at Business News.

Twitter: @chazgunningham

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