Surprisingly, aside from pulling all-nighters and meticulously maintaining high CGPAs, U of T students are developing their own mobile apps. These days it seems everyone is creating cash cows online, from blogs turned bestsellers to YouTube channels turned full-blown TV series. But who knew you could become a technology entrepreneur while still in school?
One of these U of T student-created apps is Befitting, which allows users to see how an item of clothing would look on them. It was created by Ke Li, a second-year student specializing in finance and computer science who spent the summer in IBM’s software development program. He also developed a mobile solution to enable remote monitoring of the Cancer Biomarker Network using employee Blackberries. In the future, he hopes to launch his own software company specializing in web technologies.
Another app is Baton, developed by three U of T graduates—Zack Teitel, Victor Chen, and Fiona Zhao—to enhance interaction between students and professors to improve passive engagement in classrooms through smartphones. Professors engage with students on course topics by viewing their participation when using the app, allowing a wider range of responses than simply picking the students who raise their hands first.
“Students are drawn to the information and communication technology sector by the culture of innovation,” says CCIT prof Brett Caraway, who teaches Introduction to Digital Culture, on the reason he believes students immerse themselves in digital media. “The idea of participating in a successful start-up sounds appealling to many young people. They like the idea of autonomy and control that comes with being a successful entrepreneur. And for those simply looking to work in high-tech fields, there is an innate appeal to the fast pace of technological development.”
Meanwhile, Masatoshi Nishimura and Ridney Wijesingh have created Colopal, a photo-sharing app that individuals can use to doodle on their friends’ posted photos. Development started in the winter of 2013 and the app was launched in February. According to Nishimura, he wanted to create something students could use during class and came up with the idea of collaborative doodling. “It was first an augmented reality app to read an image and overlay 3D graphics,” he said. “That’s where I got the idea of multiple layers on top of pictures. The usage we thought of: you take a photo of the professor and draw something on him and share it with other people when you are bored of class. I know, I laugh thinking back.” He added that you can submit an app to iTunes for an annual membership fee, and his was accepted after an initial rejection due to a mistake on their part.
“To be honest, I’ve never been a creative guy myself,” Nishimura continued. “But I was always interested in what other people can come up with. In fact, I had a great team who was excellent in artistic design. So I wanted to create a medium where even an average dude like me can come up with some creative pieces.”
The problem with creating an app is determining how to differentiate it from existing ones. Iqra Ghazi, a third-year CCIT student, argued that Colopal “looks like just another app that allows one to draw on a picture taken using the camera”, for example. Nonetheless, the process of brainstorming, developing, and selling the app is itself a worthwhile experience for software developers. “In addition to developing their technical skills, students taking part in app development have the opportunity to learn about many things, including management, organizational theory, economics, intellectual property, marketing, labor, and regulatory compliance,” said Caraway.
Beyond students’ individual endeavours, there also exists MADLab, a student-centred facility at St. George dedicated to the advancement of mobile software at U of T. They offer regular office hours and one-on-one appointments. Their list of resources includes a coffee machine and refrigerator—essential whether you’re on your way to becoming the next Bill Gates or just creating another app.