Exciting New Prospects in App Development

Irish graduates are at the forefront of the app evolution, creating new business and opportunities.

In the last few years Ireland’s reputation as one of the world’s most promising hubs for technological development has been evolving. Long boasting a large volume of multinationals on our shores, the country has become renowned not just for the high profile businesses that have jumped at the chance to set up here, but for the talents and technical abilities of the well-educated workforce that has been trained and employed to maintain and develop the global brands of corporations like Google, Microsoft and  Apple. In recent years many of these talented and knowledgeable individuals have been turning their attention to apps, a fast-growing and highly popular market with millions of customers available worldwide at the click of a mouse.

New start-ups based on app development and on apps themselves have been springing up all around the country. ‘Appreneurs’ as they’re being called (a play on the words app and entrepreneur),are arguably most responsible for the rapid growth of the apps sphere, and are behind many of the most common apps (Facebook, Twitter) on smartphones today. Whether working with the backing of large MNCs or on their own steam, app developers are changing the way we interact with our computers and communication devices, generating new business as they go.

Dr Bryan Duggan, lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology School of Computing, is keen to evangelise the benefits of learning to code and develop apps, and says that some of his graduates have gone on lead extremely successful careers. “App development is something that most our final year students are keen to learn – probably most of my students’ final year projects are app related in one way or another.”

One of the most noteworthy and successful apps released by his students was done in cooperation with the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA), aiming to teach adults with reading and writing difficulties to learn how to develop their own skills through a familiar medium. The students who developed the app have since gone on the establish their own company. Glass Robot Studios, based in Dublin, is currently flourishing; developing a wide range of apps based on everything from education and learning to social media and games.

Gaming, Duggan says, is one of the most promising areas of development, and one of the most challenging. “I think personally that the fastest growing app space is the game space – gaming is really taking off. I think that’s where the innovation is coming from.”

Duggan explains that one of the main reasons why gaming apps are held in high regard by industry professionals and why they’re so popular with the public, is because they push the limits of what modern app technology can do. “The best apps are often the best because of something in its design that makes it an app – like the use of the touchscreen or accelerometer – rather than it just being a mobile website or something that just delivers content. Pushing the limit.”

Philip Kirwan, a mobile developer who has worked on a number of public service apps with his company Showoff, including for the Garda Siochana, fire, hospital and bus services, as well as in games, agrees that gaming is ahead of the curve in terms of development, and says that it will be for some time to come. “The biggest genre has always been gaming apps and probably always will be,” he explains. “Everybody loves a game of angry birds every now and then.”

Kirwan says that another rapidly growing app genre is education, which is “changing the face of the education system and the way people learn by making it fun and interactive.”

One of the most popular Irish educational apps of recent times is Numerosity,which developed by Irish educational technology provider ThoughtBox, has to date received over 20,000 downloads from a multitude of high value markets around the world, including Brazil and Germany, and has been translated into six languages.

The app is one of hundreds that has seen Irish developers prosper at home and abroad. Another is Grace, which is designed to aid autistic children in their learning, and for Kirwan is the stand-out Irish developed app.

Duggan warns however, that while app development can be a rewarding and lucrative experience, it isn’t for everyone and it takes a lot of hard work and more than one app to make a business. The lecturer, who himself has released an app onto the market – Tunepal, a search engine-based tool for traditional music enthusiasts – explains that “There isn’t much money in a single app – it depends on what the app does. Apps alone don’t make that much money – maybe a couple of thousand quid a year and that’s not enough generally to cover the cost.”

“There’s loads of apps on IOS that’s never had a single download. It’s not a golden goose.”

Both Duggan and Kirwan agree that there is much more room for apps to expand into and that the technology is nowhere near peaking.

One trend Kirwan says he is beginning to notice in his own business is a growing demand for finance orientated apps, which although they have been around for a while, continue to grow in popularity.

While apps this year and next will more than likely remain compatible with today’s technology, one thing that’s a sure bet is that apps will continue to evolve at considerable speed. “Modern android apps look nothing like android apps two years ago so there’s a constant recylcing and that’s just going to accelerate. The app didn’t exist before the iPhone, and even then there was no app store. As devices become more powerful – and that’s just been the trend in this industry for the last 30 years or so,” Duggan explains.

Exactly what apps will look like in five or 10 years time is anyone’s guess, but with the pace at which our third level institutions are churning out computer science graduates, it’s certain that Irish minds will be on the frontline.

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