Alberta companies creating bleeding-edge mobile apps

February 25, 2011

CALGARY, AB, Feb. 25, 2011/ Troy Media/ – Michael Sikorsky was once called an ‘Internet revolutionary’ by Profit Magazine and a ‘CEO to watch’ by CNN Money. So when the 38-year-old Calgary programmer speaks about the future of mobile applications, people pay attention.

And like others in the industry, the co-founder (along with his wife Camille) of Robots & Pencils, sees the smartphone applications, known simply as apps, about to explode at a pace unlike anything previously seen in the world of cyberspace.

The rate of adoption is about two or three times faster than the rate at of the desktop, Sikorsky says. ‘The trend is crazy, it’s unbelievably fast. Faster than when Netscape took off.’

The reason is simple – today’s cellphones, combined with the rapidly increasing number of apps available, is like having a laptop in your pocket.

‘And it’s not kids, it’s all of us, the entire world is going mobile,’ says Jim Barr, founder of Snowseekers, a multi-media company providing education and information about where to find snow fun in Western Canada.

‘We’re looking at statistics suggesting that, by 2014, there will be more of us in North America accessing the Internet via mobile than there will be via desktop,’ says Barr. ‘We’re at the same point now in terms of technological advances as we were when the Internet got launched.’

While most of today’s apps are entertainment-based, that is about to change as companies recognize the potential to market their products at home and abroad. And Alberta companies are caught up in the explosion.

Edmonton’s Victor Rubba, owner of Fluik Entertainment, says his company is working with a spa manufacturer to build an app that will allow users ‘to use your smartphone to control your spa from anywhere.’

‘You could also use it for control of media in your house. It can be a remote control for your TV, use it for home automation, download apps to control your security system from your phone.’

Mobile app that starts and monitors cars

Another app, developed by Edmonton-based Certified Tracking Solutions, will allow motorists to use their iPad or Blackberry to remote-start and monitor their vehicles from any distance – even another country – as long as there’s wireless coverage.

The Canadian Automobile Association’s Trip Tik app provides maps and directions, listings of approved hotels, routes to addresses, and its Roadside app allows the CAA to find your vehicle and send help.

‘By simply tapping open our app on your iPhone screen and clicking the ‘request for assistance’ button, we will quickly receive your request for service and your location through GPS technology,’ says Frank Fotia, vice-president of insurance, automotive, and corporate affairs for CAA.

Fluik Entertainment is working on an app to allow mortgage brokers and agents to fill out forms on their iPads, and recently developed one for Grower Direct to improve service for their customers.

That app will allow customers to order their flowers through their phones, access the company’s 300 pages of information and hook into the messaging database to allow Grower Direct to send text messages alerting customers of upcoming holidays.

Health and fitness apps are becoming more competitive and advanced in the ever-growing genre for mobile devices. There are apps to provide a comprehensive study of a user’s workout, monitor his or her weight, heart rate and calories burned, map out runs and bike rides, calculate body mass index or track and analyze sleep patterns, all while auto tweeting and updating Facebook.

There are apps providing immediate information on local hotspots, along with directions to find them; others allow people to keep in touch with friends in real time, and companies to track time devoted to clients.

The last, says John Carpenter, chief technical officer at Calgary’s Mob4Hire, a service that tests and reviews new apps, ‘is critical information. It allows (an independent contractor) to assign a call to a client as soon as you hang up, making it billable.’

Development is expensive

Sikorsky says because it is hard to produce a well-developed app for less than $50,000, companies are continually looking for ways to recoup their costs.

Last year, Snowseekers experimented with a paid app – for $1.99 clients can purchase a ‘chapter’ on local ski areas that provided information ranging from snow conditions to hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and other activities available. They sold about 7,000 chapters, nowhere near enough to cover development costs. (Snowseekers has since updated and improved its app.)

But Visa is experimenting with embedding credit cards into phones, allowing users to purchase products through their apps on their Visa account. That could open up huge new revenue streams for companies.

The Wall Street Journal says global revenue from mobile apps could increase from $4.1 billion last year to $17.5 billion by 2012.

Barr says one of the huge advantages of mobile apps, for both clients and companies, is that ‘opposed to a static piece of media, this is one that’s living and breathing and can be fed content on a regular basis . . . so for the user the experience is increased tenfold because they have everything they need right on their hip. You’re never going to leave home without your phone.’

Sikorsky, whose company slogan is “we love to make things for the iPhone, web and desktop,” suggested that apps will be ‘way bigger than the Internet,’ perhaps leading to the end of laptops in companies. He says that he can only imagine where the future will take us.

‘You would need a crystal ball,’ Sikorsky says. ‘But you just know it’s going to be huge. When I look at what people are asking us to do, and what we’re building, I can tell that 2011 is going to be a turn-around year for businesses.’