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Page last updated at 18:50 GMT, Thursday, 10 December 2009
Suffolk's mobile app innovators
By Richard Haugh
BBC Suffolk

Matthew Applegate
Matthew Applegate says apps have limitless potential

As the word 'apps' enters the public conscience courtesy of various smartphones, people in Suffolk are looking at ways to get involved.

Apps are pieces of software which add features to smartphones.

University Campus Suffolk students are creating their own apps, while Ipswich developer Paul Hutson gave up his job to make games for the iPhone.

"The potential of apps is limited by your imagination," said Matthew Applegate, lecturer at UCS.

Apps (short for applications) can take the form of mobile games, versions of websites such as Facebook or eBay, weather forecasting devices, they can turn the phone's camera into a barcode scanner or webcam.....the list is endless.

The apps are available on a wide range of smartphones - including those made by the likes of Apple, HTC, Nokia, Palm and RIM (makers of Blackberry) - and are downloadable by the carrier's app store.

University Campus Suffolk (UCS) has taken note of the growing popularity and app development is now being taught to degree level students.

"We're teaching the students how to make apps and how UCS can actually deploy them to get information to students and staff," said lecturer Matthew Applegate, who we've previously spoken to in his guise as musician Pixelh8.

Five phones
Apps are available on a wide range of smartphones

"Imagine if you could walk into your building and in the morning the app could relay all the information about your particular day.

"It's catered to you but it also has general information about what's going on as well."

Matthew says the aim is to provide students with hands on experience of working with the most current technology, readying them for the workplace. But he doesn't rule out students making an impression, and money, whilst they're still at UCS.

"They can make software and upload it to an app store and potentially make millions from it themselves," he said.

"It's very empowering once you give them the right tools and the teaching to see them go off and create all kinds of crazy things."

The ever-changing nature of technology means that developers are always working towards the next big thing to reach the public.

With apps, Matthew believes this is likely to be augmented reality - where the real world viewed via the phone's camera lens is mixed with overlaying data or graphics.

"Something that me and my students have been talking about is creating a game based on Ipswich, using augmented reality.

"If you look at some of the examples of augmented reality it's clear to see there's loads of potential - especially with marketing.

"Using barcodes and your phone's camera, your phone can overlay three dimensional graphics - so things can pop out of the paper and into your phone."

Competitive market

Matthew says businesses in Suffolk would benefit from developing apps.

"If you're a commercial business and you develop an app that gives the user all the information about your business, every time the person turns on their phone you're going to be on their desktop.

Screenshot from The Bru OpenTable
Apps are being used to book tables at restaurants in Suffolk

"They're going to be reminded of your presence, even if they don't use your application. It's like placing an advert on somebody's desktop with their permission."

One Suffolk business who has bought into the world of apps is The Bru in Aldeburgh, one of three restaurants in Suffolk where you can book a table via the OpenTable app*.

"We're always looking for good and efficient ways to market because it costs a lot to market by mail and through brochures," said Francois Bruwer, food and beverage manager at The Bru.

The restaurant pays over £200 a month to be included in the system.

"There's usually a booking sheet with people rubbing names out and writing over it. So it's much better - it's very easy to see what's going on.

"The fact that people have the internet on most phones nowadays is very good."

Quitting the day job

Paul Hutson was working as a manager at British Telecom two years ago but the arrival of the iPhone and its app store made him reconsider his career path.

"I bought an iPhone about two years ago and decided the programming looked pretty easy for it so I set up a little game that I'd thought of," he said.

Screenshot from Outer Empires
Outer Empires gives people the chance to trade or to fight with others

"I gave up my job about seven months after releasing the app to do it full time, and started up another company to create games. I thought there was huge potential for the kind of games that I like, and nobody else seemed to be doing them."

Paul's massively multiplayer online game (MMOG), Kingdom Game, was a success. As of December 2009, Paul says 80,000 people had played it - with 4,5-000 trying the follow up, Outer Empires.

Both games offer alternate online universes where the players can choose their behaviour towards others - whether it's trading or waging war.

"There's a real community in the background and people group up and form alliances with common goals. This has kept some people playing for a year and a half now, everyday."

Paul employed a team to help with the graphics and set up and also enlisted UCS students to provide the sound effects and music, but is now largely working alone.

The development of apps has given people like Paul the chance to compete with the major software houses who he says can "plough loads into advertising and run bigger teams, building bigger games and faster".

It's clearly satisfying, but does the 28-year-old have any regrets about leaving the stable environment of paid employment?

"It's been good. From the point of view of the job I was doing before, I've matched the wage there so for me it's been very good."
* as of December 10, 2009

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