Developers Cubed: Celebrating Aussie Developers

Developers! Developers! Developers! Steve Ballmer's favourite sweat-laden catchcry is a reminder that all those great apps we spend so much time using on our phones and PCs are made by someone, somewhere. Developers Cubed looks to get a behind the scenes look at some of Australia's up and coming development scene. This week, we speak to Josh Bender at Extra Smart Apps, which is behind the cute kids app, Touch & Discover: Animals.

Who are you and where do you work? I’m Josh Bender, Co-Founder of Extra Smart Apps, a mobile software development firm based in Perth, Australia.

Why do we know you? What have you created? We recently released an educational app for toddlers called “Touch & Discover: Animals”. Within just days of release it has raced up the App Store rankings, featuring in the top 50 apps in 19 countries for the Games/Education category.

What platforms do you develop for? Our first release has been on the iOS platform, but in 2011, we are focusing on the 2 most popular mobile platforms – iOS and Android.

What are you working on right now? Currently we’re working on an Android version of our first iOS app, as well as 3 other apps in the “Touch & Discover” series.

How did you get into development? I had my first real taste of development in 1997 when I created my first game on the PC. It was a freeware side-scrolling platform game called “Dr Goo”, which is probably still floating around the Internet somewhere. This was thrown together in my spare time while in high school. I ended up creating about 6 freeware games during that time and it was a valuable learning experience.

That inspired me to study Software Engineering at university. With those skills and a little more industry experience, I went onto establish a successful web development business, jDynamic. I have primarily focused on developing web-based applications, but in over the last few years the rapid growth in the mobile app industry has captured my attention.

What do you think about the rise and rise of App Stores? How has it influenced your titles? Developers need to realise that the iTunes App Store is a “hit driven” environment with only a small percentage of apps making big dollars. That’s the reality. At the same time, this environment has presented opportunities by levelling the playing field for smaller developers who can now reach potentially millions of customers all around the world. Best of all it can be done on a relatively small budget in a very short period of time. So a small developer can still make a reasonable income by developing a couple good quality apps.

Now with the rapid growth of the Android marketplace, developers should focus on multiple platforms in order to gain the highest possible market share. If they just focus on 1 platform, they’re locking themselves out of potentially tens of thousands of customers.

I performed a bit of due diligence before jumping into mobile app development. I’ve tried to learn from others successes and failures. In addition, the years of experience in online marketing has taught me that a business rises and falls on marketing. You can have the best product or service in the world, but if no one knows about it, it’s pointless.

I’ve deliberately targeted a niche where there was significant demand, yet the competition wasn’t too tough. In short, it’s not a good idea to pick a fight with an 800lb gorilla.

The other factor that influenced our titles was my 2 year old daughter. She actually spends more time on my iPhone than I do. And I wanted to create a range of apps that she could enjoy as well. A recent statistic showed that more children can use a smartphone (19%) than can tie their own shoelaces (9%).

What's your favourite app that you didn't create? There are so many good ones, it’s hard to pick just one. My favourite app for kids would have to be Tozzle. It helps kids learn to spell so quickly. I was shocked to watch my daughter spell “squiggle” when she was 18 months old. My other favourites would be: Air Video, Facebook, CNN, ezShare and Scoopon.

What phone do you use? Why? The iPhone 4. Apple are the masters of taking something that’s already good and making it better. It has the widest range of apps and it’s so easy to use a baby can literally pick it up and play. The built-in high-definition video recording feature is great, especially when you have kids and want to capture those special moments.

What advice do you have for budding Aussie developers out there? If I could summarise what I’ve learned over the last decade of development for someone just starting out, these would be my top tips: 1) Understand marketing. Or if you don’t, pay someone else who does understand it. Building the perfect app is the easy part. Selling it is the harder part. Set aside an advertising budget to promote your apps. 2) Understand your audience. Just because you think something is a good idea, doesn’t mean your customer will agree with you. Run your concepts past half a dozen people in your target market and listen to their feedback. 3) Keep your finger on the pulse. Know what’s happening in your niche; know who your competitors are and what they’re doing. 4) If coding isn’t your thing, don’t let that stop you. It is possible to outsource the coding of your project via services like oDesk and Rent-A-Coder. 5) Don’t wait. Every day more than 500 new apps are submitted to Apple, so your competition is growing minute by minute. Today is the perfect day to start on your new mobile app project.

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