In The Palm Of Your Hand

They're small, square and addictive. And they're suddenly every man's playing field.

The app industry, which didn't exist just a few years ago, is now credited with creating more than half a million developer-related jobs in the U.S.

By 2014, mobile internet is predicted to take over desktop internet usage. And Symantec, creator of Norton AntiVirus, estimates that 71 percent of businesses are either planning to or have launched their own mobile applications this year.

But even though big name apps are grabbing all the headlines, area businesses are providing what national apps developers can't: the local touch.

Brandy Wheeler's free mobile app, Traverse Traveler, reached a milestone this September – 10,000 downloads.

The app is a mobile guide to area wineries, restaurants, lodging, shopping and events. And it has what tourists – the driving industry in the bay area – are looking for: the ability to geo-locate.

"When you are in Suttons Bay, you'll see restaurants closest to you at the top of the list," Wheeler said. "When you relocate to Frankfort, the app will change automatically for you."

This has been key to the apps industry in the area – providing local content for and by local businesses.

The Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association (LPVA) launched an app in May, essentially a palm-sized wine trail. Andy McFarlane, director of the LPVA, said the app was a must when they saw more and more smartphones showing up in their tasting rooms.

"Being able to get them information when they need it is critical," he said. "We've already had hundreds of downloads and soon we'll be adding the wines being poured at wineries and expanding our map functions."

The idea also pushed them to redesign lpwines.com to be both mobile and pad friendly, regardless of platform.

In the past, the cost of apps has been prohibitive for most businesses but new technology is leveling the playing field.

"Apps come in all shapes and sizes," said Jake Kaberle, a technology contractor in Traverse City. "From DIY, $99, simple, informational apps that work on most smartphones, to full scale, $50,000 – $100,000 custom apps built from the ground up."

For DIYers, Northwestern Michigan College's Extended Education program recently offered an online course on creating apps which covered the use of mippin.com, a website with templates and packages for start-ups.

For Wheeler's Traverse Traveler app, she used a West Coast-based developer because, at the time, there weren't any locally.

"Most people shy away from making an app when they get quotes that are $20,000 and up. But it doesn't have to be that complicated."

Jon Roth of Brightbridge Studios in TC cites the trend to mobile web apps (versus mobile native apps) for bringing costs down.

"When mobile apps first hit the scene, they were mostly native, meaning they were developed in languages specific to the platform on which they run: iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows mobile," he said. "But now web technology is catching up. And that leaves us with one code base to maintain rather than multiple, and a far less expensive development and deployment than if we were managing multiple versions."

One of the newest apps created locally is Ozmott, an app made to shop and share deals. "There are a million ideas for apps that are waiting to be discovered with few market 'standards' to stand in the way," said Kristin Fehrman, director of marketing at Ozmott.

If there is a downside to app development, it might be the explosion of choices, said Joseph Walker, Ozmott founder and COO. "There is a certain amount of 'user fatigue' from having thousands and thousands of applications to choose from. However, the upside is once an application manages to get above the fray, adoption on a massive scale happens very quickly." BN

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