Ever wish you had a list of every college party going on this weekend? What about a way to set up meetings with your friends who live all the way across town? Or how about a way to keep tabs on the guy who sells corn out of a little cart? Like the commercial used to say, “there’s an app for that.”
Ever since Apple trademarked that memorable slogan in 2010, the world of smartphone apps has kept evolving. Today, apps are more intuitive, more convenient, and more unique than ever, and that’s no accident.
With what’s called open source code, young programmers are able to build apps on par with the big guys like Google and Apple. The next big app might come out of Cupertino, but it also might come out of the dorm room down the hall.
“In terms of technology, this is such an exciting time. It’s just so readily available. All of this knowledge and access to growing and to creation is just available, and it’s exciting,” said Joe Gleason, an 18 year-old UC Berkeley freshman who has already incorporated his first app.
In high school, Gleason and his friend Evan started Activity Assist — an app for teachers that takes the hassle out of field trips.
It takes the old approach of permission slips and puts it all online.
“So the problem with the classic permission slip process is that you rely on kids. Kids who don’t care about documentation,” Gleason said. “So if I’m a parent, I get an email that says ‘your son or daughter has been invited to attend Joe’s senior prom,’ and then I can sign and pay straight from a link in my email and wouldn’t have to log in.”
It was an app that teachers loved, and Activity Assist received $20,000 in funding from investors, a tall order in the competitive tech industry.
Joe’s success proves the resources for making great apps are out there. But know-how is only part of the equation for a great app. The other part is knowing what people want.
“It’s really based on an idea, this inception of something, a problem that you may want to solve for the general public that is something that you have to observe and find inspiration from,” adjunct professor of communications Charity Capili said. “A lot of the students have genius apps because they are the audience for these apps, so they have like firsthand experience.”
Capili inspired some of her students to start developing apps after she gave them an assignment that evaluates the user experience.
“Their main goal was to observe their environment and observe a problem that they needed to solve,” Capili said.
Besides tuition, terrible roommates and being able to afford food, what’s the biggest problem a college student might have? Finding out where all the parties are, obviously. At least, that’s what Jairian Ka’ahanui decided after some pretty boring Friday nights in her dorm room.
“There’s not much to do in terms of partying in La Verne. It’s like you have to know people in order to know about parties,” the senior multimedia major said.
Ka’ahanui found her problem. Her solution? A party-finder app called Rekt.
Rekt lets users advertise their parties to college students looking for something to do. Hosts can list things like cover charges, themes, and even lets them mark the party as “shut down” if the cops show up, which is more common than it sounds.
“It’s like a Yelp meets Tinder meets Yik Yak type of thing,” Ka’ahanui said.
But finding parties isn’t the only thing Rekt does.
“So the other functions on the app: get Rekt of course which means find parties, and then ‘party favors’ you can find different places around you that sell alcohol and that are open. ‘Drunchies,’ I know from personal experience that after parties we usually get really hungry and there’s not many places open, so this app will allow you to look for places that are open like Taco Bells or Jack in the Box… And then ‘Too Rekt’ is like when you’re too drunk and can’t find a ride home. It has an option where you can call a cab or get an Uber,” Ka’ahanui said.
Rekt is currently in the programming phase, and Ka’ahanui hopes it can hit the app store soon.
Computer science and multimedia major Karla Ruiz had the same assignment Ka’ahanui did, but she decided to take her app in a different direction.
“It was just by an off chance I met someone through Tinder and we were just trying to decide where to meet up for our first date because we lived in different cities,” Ruiz said. “It was just really difficult, because you don’t know what’s around them and they don’t know what’s around you, and it would just be so much easier to find a place in the middle.”
So Ruiz developed Betwixt, an app that would help with just that. The app lets users put up to four locations into a map, and the app will show places in between those locations where they can meet up for a date or a night of bar-hopping.
By now, it’s clear that apps are intended to solve problems. But just how specific can the problem be? One of Capili’s students loved buying corn from ‘the Elote man,’ the guy who goes up and down the street selling corn out of a little cart. He loved that corn so much, he designed an app that uses crowdsourced data to help find ‘The Elote man’ whenever the craving for corn kicks in.
“He was with a friend who wanted to find the Elote man, and they couldn’t find him. So they were trying to just track him down through the streets,” Capili said.
The app market has something for everyone, and it is getting bigger every day.
For those barely getting their feet wet in the app-making game, Gleason has some parting words.
“If you’re saying ‘Oh, my idea isn’t that great,’ go out there and try,” he said. “You’ll learn so much more from failing than you will from not doing anything.”
Des Delgadillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.