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Science & Technology | November 21, 2012

Entrepreneurial computing

Smartphones

App designer says pocket programs are more about ideas than programming

Cody Stevens (Photo by Rachael Duane)

With the swipe of a finger and a few taps on his iPhone screen, Cody Stevens demonstrates the fruition of his summer's work. The tabs displayed on the screen break down the details of one soldier's life--name, rank, scheduling, team data. Each category of information breaks down into sub category after sub category.

The little square icon on the screen seems to appear from some mysterious place in the technological universe, but Stevens insists that designing an app involves no magic: "If you have an idea, you can easily do it."

Apps, programs that run on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, bring computing power to everyday tasks. Although many people who use them view the programs as products of computing genius, Stevens sees them as products that anyone can create and launch. Successful apps are more about creative ideas then clever programming, he says.

For Stevens, developing an app for CC Intelligence Solutions, an information technology company, was more than just a resume-builder. The app-which acts as a personal planner and database for soldiers, storing everything from blood type to weapons training-is only one project among many that Stevens has worked on.

Designing apps is something that Stevens, a senior computer science major at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., does for fun. But his interest in apps began with a class project.

For the project, Stevens had the opportunity to create an app, an option that involved more pioneering than the other project choices. "It was independent research that a class didn't teach me," he said.

Using "how-to" instructions from Apple and Android, combined with his own computer science knowledge, Stevens created an app that can stream the student radio station. The internet offers plenty of information on how to create apps to do almost anything a designer could imagine, but few people give it a try, Stevens said.

Professor William Turkett praised Stevens for taking the initiative and doing his own research: "The project was definitely one of the most innovative ones in the class and, if it can be spread to more students on the WFU campus, should be fairly popular."

Right now, the Wake Forest campus has a greater demand for apps than number of people making them, said Stevens, who decided to make the radio app because students wanted one. The coding is done, he's just waiting for Apple to approve it and post it to the iTunes store.

Since its launch in 2008, the iTunes App store has grown to contain more than 650,000 apps, many created by people like Stevens, who had an idea and figured out how to leverage available technology to make it a reality.

Stevens intends to continue his education by getting a Masters in Computer Science at Wake Forest--an education that he hopes will set him up for a career in high performance computing.

But Stevens warns against looking to apps as a means to make quick money. It takes a lot of time to invest, and designers can't predict whether their ideas will sell. Many companies have thirty to fifty people developing an app, Stevens said. A collaborative effort makes the most money.

A successful app begins with deciding on a platform, Stevens said. You have to look at what makes your app more marketable than other apps. If it's not new, is it something better?

Creating an app is less about the nuts and bolts than it is about coming up with an original idea, Stevens said: "It's more entrepreneurial than most people expect. It's like inventing. It's creating a new product."