Coding around the clock

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Jeff Lagerquist reports on Toronto students who designed new smartphone apps through the night

Inspired by a memorable scene in The Social Network, Microsoft issued a challenge to post-secondary students from the GTA last weekend. The Windows Phone 7 Codea- Thon ran for 24-hours at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone. Students were tasked with developing the mobile apps for the Windows Phone Marketplace. Although it lacked the mandatory tequila shots featured in the critically acclaimed film, the energy and spirit of competition rivaled anything seen on the silver screen.

After 24 hours of non-stop whiteboard scribbling, keyboard banging, and screen squinting, Andrei Borodin won first prize for his eastern- European inspired card game app called Durak. The thirdyear U of T computer science student admits Durak, which is Russian for “fool,” has been released on other devices. However, his version for the Windows Phone 7 includes a token exchange, which adds a gambling element.

“It’s very addictive,” Borodin said, speaking quickly in mid-competition.

A group of second-year Ryerson computer sciences students developed FakeCall, an application that sets off a pre-programmed incoming call using data from the device’s contact info. It even features a voice that coaches users through a phony onesided conversation, so they don’t have to rely on improv skills in front of someone they’re desperately trying to avoid.

“The idea behind the contest is to get people familiar with the development tools. We believe the Windows Phone 7 is the easiest phone to write for. By showing people how easy it is, I’m hoping they will write more applications,” said Joey Devilla, a Microsoft developer. He proudly wore a red t-shirt with the slogan “More Fart Apps” in bold white letters.

Devilla believes providing a library of innovative high-quality mobile applications is the key to marketing a smart phone. App development is what the mobile industry refers to as a “lifestyle business,” where tech savvy amateurs create software to earn extra cash. Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 Code-a-Thon promotion aims to recruit the next generation of app developers.

It would be a massive understatement to say that mobile devices have evolved dramatically over the past decade.

“Today’s phones have the power of a desktop computer from just a few years ago, now it’s always in your pocket. They have chips that were super state-of-the-art around the time of Napster, but now they run on batteries and last for at least a day,” Devilla said.

When the powerful chips and the vast array of sensors packed into the average smartphone are combined with the endless stream of information available online, the possibilities for mobile app developers are nearly endless.

“People are just beginning to take advantage of the technology. It’s really going to change the way we socialize and access information,” Devilla said.

Apple currently boasts over 350,000 apps for the iPhone. The Windows Phone Marketplace only offers around 8,000, well behind Android and Blackberry. Despite the numbers, Devilla isn’t worried. “We estimate that two thirds to three quarters of North Americans have yet to buy their first smart,” he said.

Photo by: Lindsay Boeckl

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