Creating software, and getting it into the hands of consumers, used to be an expensive proposition. Not just any tech geek could crank out a video game, package it and sell it. Only large gaming companies had the marketing muscle to make that happen.
With the rise of mobile computing, that equation has changed. Mobile applications, or apps, represent an egalitarian ideal. Anyone with software developing skills and a good idea can create and sell apps directly to mobile device users via outlets such as Apple’s app store. As smartphones such as the BlackBerry and the iPhone — as well as devices that run the Android operating system — become more widely used, the market balloons for crisp, clever and useful apps.
As of September, the Apple store offered more than 250,000 apps for its products, including the iPad and the iPod touch. That’s up from 3000 apps in September 2008 — a more than 8000 percent increase.
In Vermont, we might not have universal broadband access, but we have plenty of developers, both professional and hobbyist, who have entered the app arena. They’re making everything from birding guides to alien battle games and all that lies in between.
And there are more on the way — nonprofit bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization Local Motion will soon launch an app for its web-based Trail Finder map program. University of Vermont researchers are developing an avalanche risk assessment app called Stabilitron. And web developers Matt Sisson and Chris Lei are creating an app for their new venture, Burlington Source, a website that aggregates music events at venues around Burlington. It will list all the shows happening on a given day in Burlington, along with cover and ticket prices and drink specials.
That Vermont programmers are suddenly app-happy is no surprise to Dev Jana, a game developer who recently moved from Arizona to take a faculty position in Champlain College’s electronic game design program. Jana began making mobile apps during what he calls the “iPhone app gold rush of 2006,” and he understands the fickle mobile market. “I believe that our proximity to the northern border and eastern shore, coupled with Vermont’s reputation for quality and creativity, puts us in a unique spot,” Jana says.
UVM also recognizes the potential in this burgeoning field; the university’s new Integrative Computing program, or iCompute, focuses heavily on mobile technology. Currently, says associate professor of computer science Robert Snapp, there are four billion cellphones in the world but not nearly as many personal computers. But in the future, Snapp says, those basic cellphones will be replaced by billions of smartphones, and they will all use apps.
The goal of UVM’s iCompute program is to get students prepared for that future. “There is an opportunity to reach a significant portion of the world through these apps,” Snapp says. “We want [students] to make apps that are socially beneficial and not just shoot-’em-up games.”
Vermont app developers do both. Here’s a smattering of what some of them have to offer.
This password manager created by Ascendo stores confidential information about credit cards, bank accounts, logins, etc. Synchronize between mobile devices and laptops and never get locked out of your accounts again. www.ascendo-inc.com
With Burlington-based Ascendo’s Spanish, French, German and Italian phrasebooks and dictionaries, you’ll never have to say “No comprende,” “Ne comprends pas,” “Nicht begreifen” or “Non capisco” again. The apps contain hundreds of thousands of entries with long definitions composed of context, part of speech, noun gender and multiple meanings for most keywords. www.ascendo-inc.com
According to its creator, UVM student Galen Wilkerson, FakeSpeare generates “fake” plays using the actual language of the bard himself. The app analyzes word-pair frequencies to generate something that looks like Shakespearean English using a “Markov Parody Generator” — software that uses a statistical modeling process developed by 19th-century Russian mathematician Andrey Markov. www.cadagastudio.com
What could be more calming than floating through endless space? Nothing, according to Small Rock Software, which used advanced physics to create this app. It lets you watch five different rag dolls drift among magically generated orbs. Guide them on their journey using tilt and touch controls. www.smallrocksoftware.com
This game, designed by Tom Jaros at Empower Mobility for Brandthropology, tests players’ ability to recognize the evolution of well-known brand logos — Kodak, Bell and Ford, for example. It’s integrated with the social gaming network OpenFeint, so you can post your scores on the Internet. www.empowermobility.com
From Essex Junction software developer Small Rock Software comes an iPhone version of the ubiquitous fridge magnets. Drag words around to create your own literary masterpieces — you know, just like Robert Frost did. www.smallrocksoftware.com
Last Portal: Defense
The goal of this iPhone app, developed by Champlain College electronic game design faculty member Dev Jana, is to prevent the evil Kryl from taking over your home dimension. One reviewer called it the “perfect iPhone game” for its simplicity and entertainment value. www.devjana.net
This game, which garnered an iTunes staff favorite pick when it was released in 2009, is a play on classic snake games of yesteryear. Designed by Dev Jana, Sea Snake challenges users to add body segments to the snake while avoiding enemies, walls and the snake itself. www.devjana.net
This iPhone game, created by Dev Jana, “excites puzzle-loving strategists with color mixing and touch-screen madness,” according to the online iTunes store. www.devjana.net
Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor
In 2009, this game, developed by Randy Smith of Huntington’s Tiger Style Games, won just about every accolade a mobile app could win. It has been praised as one of iPhone’s “most beautiful games.” In it, you play a spider roaming around an abandoned Vermont-y mansion. Build webs and eat bugs surrounded by the artfully depicted ruins of the Bryce family estate. www.tigerstylegames.com
“Lost” fans will love this game, created by Essex Junction software developer Small Rock Software. The world is connected to a doomsday device. Players enter a deactivation code every 108 minutes to prevent a virtual catastrophe. Scores are automatically synched with other players around the world, so you can easily talk smack about who is the true savior of the world. www.smallrocksoftware.com
Defeat aliens with your trusty little car in this game by Small Rock Software. But be careful — running out of gas will cause a “cataclysmic chain reaction.” And we don’t want that happening, now, do we? www.smallrocksoftware.com
Audubon New England Nature
This is one of many Audubon apps, including African Wildlife, Birds of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and Bird of Central Park developed by Green Mountain Digital in Woodstock. Identify thousands of species of birds, butterflies, fish, insects and spiders, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, seashells, trees, and wildflowers, and then record your field experience. www.greenmountaindigital.com
This app from Green Mountain Digital in Woodstock is a fly fisherman’s dream. It provides casting lessons, video and animated knot instructions, a guide to the top trout flies, and updated fishing condition reports for more than 200 of the best fishing locations in North America. www.greenmountaindigital.com
For ShopRite shoppers in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, Colchester-based MyWebGrocer created an app that delivers weekly specials in real time from the shopper’s home store. The grocery e-commerce and marketing company also makes similar apps for Brookshire’s in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, and Roche Bros. in Massachusetts. www.mywebgrocer.com
Wallpapers of Vermont
Paul Moody, a Vermont photographer who researches the design of collaboration and social software at IBM, created an app showcasing his nature, landscape and animal photography. But the app isn’t just a bunch of pretty pictures; it allows you to put contact information on your wallpaper so that if you ever lose your iPhone, it can be returned to you. www.wallpapersvermont.blogspot.com
This app from Small Rock Software allows users to maximize their mobile device’s touch screen when dialing the phone. Create personal gestures — swipe straight down to dial Bobby, swipe in a curve to text Cindy — for each of your friends. www.smallrocksoftware.com