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Student-designed mobile apps can mean extra cash

COLLEGE PARK — Some college students grab part-time jobs at local stores or the school library for extra cash. Megan Monroe, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, builds mobile apps.

The mobile app market is booming — with revenues projected to surpass $15 billion in 2011, according to Berg Insight — and entrepreneurial student programmers like Monroe are cashing in.

Monroe’s moneymaker is an iPhone drawing app called PulsART. It sells for 99 cents and is downloaded three to five times a day in countries such as Brazil, Italy and Japan.

“You’d be surprised. It adds up. I have a couple of apps out. Those make me a couple of bucks a day,” said Monroe, who uses the money to cover a few bills or groceries.

Monroe said she doesn’t expect to get rich.

“It’s hard to make a big splash in the app store if you’re just sort of an independent designer and you’re making pitchy, almost silly, useless stuff,” said Monroe, who is studying computer science at the university.

Some college students have created wildly successful entertainment apps. A team at Stanford University designed Air Guitar, which allows users to simulate playing the guitar on an iPhone. Engineering students at the University of Southern California developed Radio, an app that gives users access to thousands of radio stations worldwide.

Though there is money to be made in the entertainment app market, computer science professors at the University of Maryland said they are encouraging students to focus on developing apps that improve the quality of everyday life.

“Fun apps are fun. One can always make money from whatever appeals. I’m not too excited about that kind of thing,” said Ashok Agrawala, professor of computer science at the university.

Agrawala and a team of student programmers recently launched a mobile app called M-Urgency, which allows people on campus who are in distress to send video and audio from the scene to emergency dispatchers and police officers with the push of a button.

There is a market for more meaningful apps, according to Shiv Krishnamoorthy, a member of the M-Urgency development team.

“Apps for fun, there are already too many of them,” Krishnamoorthy said. “But, apps that are really meaningful, there are not that many. So, why not think that way?”

Student programmers in the computer science department are working with the university’s plant sciences department to develop a mobile app that allows professors in plant sciences to tag the physical locations of trees around campus for tests and assignments, said Adam Porter, professor of computer science at the university.

Students will use the app to answer questions about the trees. Currently, such assignments require the supervision of teacher assistants during class time.

Students in the computer science department are also exploring the development of apps that assist the elderly and families with home-health management.

A local wine-bar recently asked Porter to consider developing a mobile app that identifies different wine varieties.

The university held its first annual “Mobility Contest” last school year. The contest asked students to create mobile apps that “support campus life.”

Monroe participated in the contest and her team took first prize with its Jam My Jam app. Jam My Jam allows students to see what others students within their vicinity are listening to.

“I kept walking around campus and seeing people walking to class with headphones on, and they just looked like they were rocking out. And, I just wanted to know what they were listening to,” Monroe said.

The third-place team in the contest designed an app called Tell The Terps that gives mobile users the opportunity to report structural problems around campus directly to facilities management.

“As computers get smaller and smaller we can do more stuff with them, a lot of things we couldn’t do with a big desktop,” Porter said. “The students who are taking [these courses], they’re riding the leading edge of this new world that we’re building.”

One comment

  1. That is tremendously encouraging and very exciting to hear the ‘mobility contest’ at a college level. I think the students of any university should be prepared to take on the industry challenges with a twinkle of confidence in the eye. This is a nurturing thought that can give a chance for the students to be the next Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs! Thanks so much for the mention! I just wish this message spreads to the Indian engineering colleges too!