Tired of lugging a backpack full of notebooks to school, 16-year-old T.J. Pluhacek was inspired to develop an app that could store, organize and consolidate all his class notes on his iPad. Called NoteLook, the $0.99 app, available at Apple's App Store, is a serious tool for students or business people to organize their note-taking. One of the youngest iPad app developers, Pluhacek not only has a lighter backpack, but a heavier wallet.
A New Marketplace
As Pluhacek tells his fellow students, “You work 24/7 for five to six months and you can do this.” Though computer programming has a long reputation of being complicated, recent advances have made it easier to learn, and easier to develop, new programs.
Today, app markets for Apple and Android devices make it possible for anyone to join in and make an impact. Every day, regular people are developing these small programs that make phones, computers and other devices more useful, entertaining and intuitive. Here is a little background on other noteworthy apps created by young developers:
- Labyrinth. 14-year-old Stephen Huber and friends developed an iPhone game where careful balancing is used to lead a steel ball through elaborate mazes. Based on a popular children's toy, the app has enjoyed over 7 million downloads.
- Commandments. A popular iPad app based on the Ten Commandments was created by 14-year-old Jonah Grant. Playing on the iPad's resemblance to a tablet, the app displays each commandment engraved in stone, making the iPad itself look like a stone tablet.
- Don't Eat That. Sodium acid pyrophosphate? Dwayne Ratleff wanted an app that could look up a complicated food ingredient and quickly explain what it is. With no prior programming experience, he created a popular app that helps make sense of everything from alpha tocopherols (vitamin E) to sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).
- Doodle Jump. Two brothers worked together to create this easy-to-play game where a character jumps up progressively higher platforms. This simple concept was perfect for passing time (whether waiting in line or waiting for a train) and has had over 5 million sales.
- Car Locator. While on vacation, Edward Kim started creating an app that would store a car's location when parked, and then help the user navigate back to it. The app received thousands of purchases the day it became a featured Android download.
- CardShare. Even the traditional business card is going digital. This iPhone app makes it easy to share and receive business cards via iPhone with a flick of the finger. The mind behind this business tool? 14-year-old Pierce Freeman.
- Bubble Ball. This iPhone puzzle game was written by 14-year-old Robert Nay and put on the app store for free. Within two weeks, the game was downloaded over a million times. Today, Bubble Ball and Bubble Ball Pro (the 99 cent upgrade) have over 9.1 million downloads combined.
New Technology, New Opportunities
With mobile phone apps, there's no door-to-door sales, no pitching to vendors, and no store-front. Whether you're 16 or 66, with a good idea your innovation could be purchased on thousands of devices within days. It just goes to show how new technology creates opportunities for innovation. The best ideas don't have to be revolutionary or complex—they can just use existing technology to make life a little easier. Like Pluhacek's case, look for inspiration in things that would help your daily routine. Odds are that if it can help you, it can probably help others.
Whether you build it, develop it, or program it, you'll want to make sure your app doesn't infringe on anyone else's intellectual property rights and then protect it with a patent, copyright or both. Be sure to know the rules about protecting and selling your mobile application too—so you don't just let a good idea go to waste, ending up in someone else's pocket first.
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