Sonoma County app developers search for gold
Got a great idea for a mobile phone app? Join the party.
Sonoma County developers have released applications for gamers, wine lovers, amateur photographers, conference attendees and those who don't want to answer a text or call while driving.
The success of such efforts varies, and some developers admit they're still refining their products or moving on to new challenges. They all voice a passion for their endeavors, even while acknowledging the long odds in creating a blockbuster.
"Chances are, if you have a great idea, it's been done," said Michael Hourigan, a longtime computer programmer from Petaluma who has released three of his own apps for gaming and for observing online search trends.
Last month Hourigan and his 15-year-old daughter Lily won the Best of Show prize at an app development camp in Mountain View attended by 500 people.
Their app, which they conceived and created at the camp during a long weekend, was a game named Stingsong, where the gamer uses his or her voice to control the movement of a "bee" visiting flowers. They now are exploring the possible public release of the app, he said.
The mobile app market will grow this year to $27 billion, according to ABI Research. The majority of that revenue is tied to phone apps, but analysts project that revenue linked to the growing tablet sector will move to the forefront by 2017.
One of the county's larger app developers is Santa Rosa's ATIV Software. The 11-worker company publishes EventPilot, which conference goers use for checking session times, planning their schedules and gaining offline access to a seemingly endless amount of technical papers and presentation slides. The app, featured in a 2011 New York Times article, is free to users, but medical and scientific organizations pay ATIV to customize its content for their conferences.
Such professional gatherings easily may feature more than 5,000 sessions, said ATIV co-founder and CEO Silke Fleischer. Going digital saves conference goers from packing around reams of papers, but the customized apps "have to be so good that they can handle this amount of data."
ATIV this spring released a second app, EventPilot Journal Edition, which allows journal subscribers to search through multiple volumes and download selected articles to peruse offline, such as while traveling by airplane. "That's often when you have the time to read articles," Fleischer said.
The company doesn't release sales data, but Fleischer insists that business is growing.
Even so, the county's app sector could best be described as fledgling, especially compared to the greater Bay Area, said Bill Langley, moderator for the North Bay App Developers Group.
The group, whose online presence began in December, has 40 members, 10 of whom signed up within the last month. Langley is trying to arrange the group's first gathering since he stepped into his role a few months ago.
In January, Apple announced that its iTunes store contained more than 800,000 apps, up from 50,000 in 2009. That growth helps explain why app developing isn't for the faint of heart, Langley said.
"It's much more difficult to get front and center than it was just four years ago," he said.
A former programmer for Flash-related video and music content, Langley released a free Android wine app last fall. It's called Yno Wizard, and one of its uses is to help wine drinkers know whether a particular bottle is selling at a store for a good price. The user can scan the bottle's bar code and find online prices of the same vintage — or even purchase the wine online.