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Standing in his vineyard west of Santa Rosa, Josh Hermsmeyer could pull out his iPhone and read breaking news from Iraq.

Or he could make a stock trade, or hum a tune and let the iPhone identify the song.

Yet, the powerful computer in his hand wouldn't do what he really wanted.

It didn't allow him to input the sugar levels of his grapes and use the iPhone's global positioning system to automatically associate the data with the spot where he was standing in the vineyard.

So, back in January, he started building an iPhone application that did.

"I wanted an application to help manage my vineyard. So I built it," Hermsmeyer said. "It's cool stuff."

Hermsmeyer, 31, is part of a growing movement to build software applications for mobile devices that are intended for unique, local purposes.

People are designing programs for a wide variety of uses aimed at specific locations, ranging from music events to county tourism attractions.

In the 30-year history of the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, more than a few attendees have likely struggled to locate their tent after a day lit up with activity. But now a new iPhone application being developed for the three-day event will help festival-goers find their way.

"Basically, you'll be able to drop a pushpin on wherever you parked your car, or where your tent is located," said Jeff Baudin, founder of Santa Rosa-based Offspring, which is designing the application for the festival.

The iPhone will then act as a virtual compass, directing people back to their cars or tents, Baudin said.

The Harmony Festival application, which will be offered as a free download, will also let attendees locate the closest bathroom, or search through a list of vendors to see where a booth is located, or create a custom schedule of music acts they want to see.

"It's pretty much like a program guide with a personal navigator built in," Baudin said.

The idea came from event organizer Damian Peters, who had recently used a similar application for the Coachella Valley Music Festival that took place in April near Palm Springs.

"I didn't need to keep a program guide in my hand. I had it on my phone," Peters said. "I totally see this as the wave of the future."

While the first version of the Harmony Festival application will be fairly basic due to limited time to develop it, future versions will be able to push out useful information to attendees, and will likely also serve as a marketing tool for organizers.

The Sonoma County Tourism Bureau has asked for price quotes to get an iPhone application developed, and will likely test an application to showcase local events in little more than a month.

"We're talking about designing a program for our events calendar," said Keri Hanson, marketing manager for the bureau. "It seems like a great opportunity to reach people, especially in the Bay Area where there is a proliferation of

iPhones."

The company that designed the bureau's Web site, Ninja Web Masters in Berkeley, is developing an iPhone application that will show events listed on its clients' Web sites. It expects to let customers test the application in about a month.

But Ron Blaise, whose company is designing the application, said there are not enough iPhone owners to justify building a complex program for specific tourism bureaus yet.

"Personally, I think the market might be too premature for that," he said.

In a year, it might be worth it for tourism bureaus to design more intricate applications. But for now it's better to design programs that will work with all the bureaus' events calendars and allow them to share costs, he said. That more basic application could cost about $1,500, he said, adding that only about

13 percent of the Web traffic to the Sonoma County bureau's Web site comes from iPhones.

Still, with all the buzz, people want to design iPhone applications.

"I decided to start contracting to build iPhone apps because so many people were asking me," Baudin said. "I'd be throwing away money not to."

The price to design an application can range widely, depending on what someone wants. The minimum price for a custom application that takes a team of four people a week to design is about $5,000, Baudin said.

Baudin, who also founded the software company Micromat, said his software team has already designed two applications for themselves that are sold on iTunes. Micromat also designed the fix-it software that is included with every extended warranty sold by Apple for its computers.

Baudin is designing the Harmony Festival application in return for being a recognized sponsor of the event. He hopes that creating a map of the fairgrounds will help him build

iPhone programs for other events held there.

"This is all part of an engine we're building that we can apply to other things," he said. "We are pretty much mapping the fairgrounds. We can easily apply that to other stuff."

These local iPhone applications will add to the rapidly ballooning catalog of programs.

More than 35,000 have been built in the 10 months since Apple opened the iTunes App Store, according to O'Reilly Media in Sebastopol. The tech publisher, which two years ago launched a training division, is hosting a two-day workshop in San Francisco this week to show people how to develop

iPhone applications. Attendees only need basic programming skills. The cost is $1,200, although the company has a 20 percent-off coupon for the event on its Facebook page.

Or, people with the patience can teach themselves. That's what Hermsmeyer did. He had only basic computer programming skills when he began the project in January.

He said he has spent about 550 hours designing the iPhone application and the desktop program with which it automatically synchronizes.

"During the winter, wine growers don't have a ton to do," he said.

He spent his extra time building a complex program that, when complete, will allow him to monitor nearly all of the data collected for his winery in real time from his iPhone.

Already he can input his sugar levels directly from the field and have it mapped and visualized back on his desktop computer.

"From that, you can make the decision to give some areas more time to develop," he said.

He has not yet integrated the data collected from his fermentation tanks, although that data is already uploaded to the Internet and it's just a matter of finding the time to add it to his iPhone program.

He writes about the development of his iPhone application and his winery on his blog at www.pinotblogger.com.

"For me, this system is huge," he said. "Otherwise I'd have little bits of paper everywhere."

-- You can reach Staff Writer Nathan Halverson at 521-5494 or nathan.halverson@pressdemocrat.com. Check out his blog at DailyGeek.Pressdemocrat.com or on twitter.com/eWords