Playing with Lego, jellybeans and Miley Cyrus

Jade challenges its developers with an iPhone application contest

Jade Software has branched out into rock bands, egg timers, and noughts and crosses but you'll need an Apple iPhone to sample the new products.

The Christchurch software firm could have become New Zealand's biggest iPhone application developer almost by accident after starting an iPhone application competition among its software developers.

Teams of developers were given a half day every week for four months to dream up the applications, which once finished were uploaded to Apple's online App Store to compete for the most downloads.

John Ashcroft, Gray Rathgen and Andrew Bishop, test the Tic Tac Toe iPhone application. Picture: Don Scott

The resulting eight applications have varied from practical to wacky but one allowing iPhone users to play noughts and crosses with Miley Cyrus' head has streaked into the lead, with 7000 downloads and counting.

Developer Andrew Bishop said the Tic Tac Toe game was easy to programme but he enlisted the help of his children to tap into popular culture.

As well as the pop singer's head, the game can be played with virtual Lego, jellybeans and game consoles.

"I actually got my kids to design three of four of them," he said. "I'm getting two or three hundred downloads a day."

But with the competition running for another month Bishop's fellow Jade designers are busily promoting their applications through social networking, hoping to make up lost ground.

One application iQk! allows users to make music with their iPhones and can link wirelessly to other phones to create an iPhone band.

Another application, iFrank, compiles virtual football teams while Dingdong works like a super-egg-timer, creating multiple timers to keep track of bubbling pots and pans.

The applications are a departure from the more serious software Jade usually produces but Jade chief innovation officer John Ashcroft said the project was more about helping developers think creatively rather than making money.

"We wanted to take them outside their comfort zone," Ashcroft said. "This is something inherently fun."

It also provided a good lesson in targeting software at an unpredictable and hungry online market, he said. "It's about the marketing not the product."

While Jade was not going to move into zany iPhone applications, the developers' expertise could be used to convert some of Jade's existing software into a mobile form, Ashcroft said.

The developers have retained ownership of their applications and take 70 per cent profits from any downloads after Apple takes a 30 per cent cut.

For now, most of their applications are free and the groups that have charged for downloads are earning little more than small change.

However, the commercial potential if an iPhone application goes viral is huge, with some programmers making a fortune out of something as simple as a virtual beer glass.

Jade developers who spoke to The Press said now they had learnt to make iPhone applications they would keep inventing them at home, hoping to strike it big.

Developers Gray Rathgen, Sean Clements and Simon Barrett, who designed Dingdong, have even rebranded as Monkey Software for their budding iPhone application careers.

Rathgen said the trick to a successful iPhone application was social networking, getting it mentioned by someone famous or influential on Twitter or Facebook.

"It amazing, you can put out a tweet and get 30 or 40 hits [downloads] straight away," he said. "If you could get Pink you'd be set, she's got like 700,000 twitter fans."

The competition runs till February 4, with the person or team with the most downloads winning an iPhone paid for by Jade for two years.

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Tags iPhonepinkjadeDevelopment IDmiley cyrus

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