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What the iPhone Hath Wrought

What the iPhone Hath Wrought
Stuart Montgomery's Fortune Ball
Stuart Montgomery's Fortune Ball

When Apple launched its iPhone application store in July of 2008, it was like a shot heard around the world of software developers. Since then, more than 25,000 applications have been accepted by Apple for sale or free download in their applications store. Every one of the other major smart phone manufacturers (like Blackberry and Palm) are now working as fast as they can to follow suit. Throughout the world, developers are re-focusing their energies on either adapting existing software to the iPhone or creating entirely new software.

Among those who’ve answered the call are three computer sciences majors in the College of Natural Sciences—Stuart Montgomery, Michael Miller and Tarun Nimmagadda.

Montgomery, a junior, designed Fortune Ball, which is a virtual version of the old Magic 8 Ball toy. You ask the iPhone a question, shake it up, and then get a glimpse of the future (it comes with a pre-set menu of answers, but you can also create your own menu of possible answers as well).

“Initially, I sold it for $2,” says Montgomery. “I got a few hundred downloads at first. After it wasn’t listed as a new release anymore, sales dropped off dramatically. I reduced the price to a dollar, and that didn’t make much difference, so then I made it free. It’s now been downloaded more than 50,000 times.”

Michael Miller, a freshman, created the Texas Directory application. Relying on the university’s directory system, it provides quick access to people’s names and information, it generates maps of where they live (or have their office), and it allows the user to quickly add the information to the phone’s contact list.

“It took me a few months to develop it,” says Miller, “though I was only working on it a few hours each week. Most of the time was spent familiarizing myself with the language, which is Apple’s own language, and with the tools. Now that I’ve learned all that, I can knock out similar applications in a weekend or so.”

Tarun Nimmagadda, a senior, has not only created three applications, he’s in the process of developing a smart-phone oriented business that will be his full-time job after he graduates in May.

Finger Tangle, his first application, is a simple game that Nimmagadda describes as “Twister for your fingers.” Two people sit on opposite sides of the board, which is made up of a few rows series of colored dots, and respond as quickly as possible to instructions about where to place two of their fingers. Hang Time—which was rejected by Apple, and exists only on Nimmagadda’s phone and the phones of a few of his friends—measures the time that the iPhone stays aloft if you throw it up in the air. It also uses the phone’s GPS function to map out where the various tosses have taken place, and automatically orders into a high scores list.

“I have the high score, just over two seconds,” he says. “We also know that someone in Cupertino, where Apple has its headquarters, tested the app, because it showed up on our map. But they only did a really small toss, like a third of a second.”

Nimmagadda’s third application, which he developed with fellow computer sciences major (now an alumnus), Mickey Ristroph, is Card Caller, which simplifies the process of using a calling card to call internationally. It’s this last one, a more comprehensive version of which they’re hoping to debut within the next few months, that Nimmagadda and Ristroph hope will truly launch their entrepreneurial careers.

The current version of Card Caller, which has made it onto the list of the top 100 most downloaded business applications, allows users to buy calling cards through the iPhone’s Internet access, and to program the access numbers and pin codes into the phone. The forthcoming application, which they’re calling SparkPhone, will make it as easy to call internationally using a calling card—which is vastly cheaper than using the iPhone’s regular calling plan—as it is to call a friend on the other side of campus. You’ll even be able, says Nimmagadda, to recharge your calling card account through the SparkPhone application.

“You’ll have one contact list,” says Nimmagadda. “If you make a domestic call, it’ll automatically be routed through the regular calling plan. But if it’s international, our application will automatically select the right calling card, and make the call, and keep a tally of your remaining minutes.”

For every one of the three students, the iPhone platform has fundamentally re-oriented their priorities. Nimmagadda is banking his future on it. Montgomery is already working on new applications, including one that would allow users to supplement their personal calendars with information from other published calendars (e.g. those of their friends, or bands they like, or organizations of which they’re a part). Miller has been contracted by the registrar’s office about possibly developing an application that would allow students to search for detailed course information. And both Montgomery and Miller have secured coveted spots in Apple’s summer internship program in Cupertino.

The three of them have also gotten together to launch UT SmartPhone Entrepreneurs, a student group dedicated to helping students ease their way into the world of smart phone applications development.

“I think there was one professor who came to one of our meetings,” says Montgomery, “and I think he may be interested in using the iPhone in one of his courses in some way.  As far as I know, though, it’s only been undergraduates who’ve actually developed applications.”

UPDATE (from Focus - Winter 2010):

Nimmagadda and Ristroph's company, Marigo Holdings LLC, now offers six applications for sale on the iPhone App Store, from “Twister for your Fingers” to “HangTime,” which measures the time that an iPhone stays aloft if thrown up in the air. Nimmagadda and Ristroph are currently in the process of raising financing for “SparkPhone,” a product that will automatically search out and find the cheapest calling card rate—which is vastly cheaper than using the iPhone’s regular calling plan—and make use of it without requiring any effort from the user.
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Wednesday, 26 January 2022

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