Making the Smart(er)phone

Teens joining race to develop the next chart-topping apps

By Eric Farlow | Westwood Christian School

Tushar Singal is like most high school students who use technology.

The 16-year-old Pembroke Pines sophomore plays video games, connects with his friends on Facebook and spends time on the Internet watching videos.

But unlike most high school students who tend only to use technology to consume media, Singal is creating his own apps.

“A lot of my friends really don’t get it [app development], “ said Singal, who is developing his first app. “Some of my friends are actually interested in it [app development], and they also want to learn, and the rest just don’t care.”

Singal is one of an increasing number of teenagers learning how to develop apps. With more than 15 billion iPhone apps having been downloaded since 2008 and more Americans switching to smartphones every month, these teens are poised to have bright futures in programming.

“Many people don’t realize that behind every program that you have, there are hundreds of lines of code,” Singal said. “You are going to come across a lot of problems, and they are going to take hours and hours to solve.”

Apps are mobile programs that let users customize their phone with different capabilities ranging from word processing to social networking to games.

Research by Ericcson, a telecommunications provider, concludes that 35 percent of iPhone and Android owners use apps before they get out of bed in the morning.

There are more than 675,000 apps available in the Android Market and iPhone App Store combined, which are the two most popular app outlets. Apple recently announced that developers have made more than $2.5 billion from App Store sales.

Carlos Icaza, CEO of Ansca Mobile in Palo Alto, Calif., admires how today’s youth have so many creative ideas, and are full of energy. Icaza has developed Corona, a computer program that lets developers create apps more quickly and easily.

Icaza sees young app developers as artists, and the device that their apps will run on are the canvas.

“Your canvas is the size of your palm,” Icaza said.

The fame of Icaza’s program was due in part to a young developer who had a great idea for an app and executed it well.

With such a thriving app ecosystem, many developers have made thousands and sometimes millions building apps. Because the new generation has grown up with technology, they can learn how to do complex app development with more ease than older developers, Icaza said.

Teenagers also have another advantage, Icaza said. With today’s wealth of information about programming, it is as easy as going on YouTube and searching “app development” to learn how to develop apps instead of majoring in computer science. Amazon offers more than 400 books on how to build iPhone applications.

Another way to learn how to make apps is to watch Stanford University’s free podcasts on iTunes. These podcasts are recordings from a real college course offered by the university, and the lectures are available online to watch anywhere, anytime.

Robert Nay typifies a teenager who has seen success developing smartphone apps. The Utah 14-year-old developed the “Bubble Ball” app, which was January’s top downloaded free app in Apple’s iPhone App Store. It’s a puzzle game where the player manipulates obstacles to move a bubble to the goal.

Nay’s motivation for the app was simple.

“I had an iPod Touch, and I liked it, so I wanted to make a game for it,” Nay said. “I wanted to make something that I would like to play.”

Although many teen app developers dream of achieving Nay’s level of success, Singal knows it takes time to build a popular app like “Angry Birds” or Nay’s “Bubble Ball.”

Singal, who anticipates making thousands when his calculator-type app is released, hopes his future developments will be even more complex.

“It is surprising to see that a 13-year-old can make hundreds of thousands of dollars when everyone else in his class has no idea what he is doing,” Singal said.

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