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Gadgets & Home Improvement

S'pore is crazy for apps

It is the fifth most app-hungry market in the world, says Google. But good home-grown app developers are hard to come by
The Straits Times - December 14, 2011
By: Hellen Tan
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S'pore is crazy for apps

If you have a penchant for design and have a bright idea for an application, there is a job waiting for you.

So great is Singapore's demand for apps, there are not enough local app developers - particularly good ones - to keep pace.

Get this: Singapore is the fifth most app-crazed market in the world, said Google last week.

South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States are the top four.

Globally, Android app downloads hit the 10 billion mark last week.

The Android Market has more than 300,000 apps to download. This averages 33,000 times of download per app.

But Android is still behind Apple's 18 billion downloads as of October. With more than 500,000 apps for the iOS operating system, it averages 36,000 times of download per app.

Google, which owns Android, does not give figures on how many apps each country has downloaded.

But Singapore's love for apps means companies here want to quickly cash in on this opportunity.

For an idea on how quickly local apps are being developed: In June, when the Finance Ministry launched the portal, there were more than a dozen apps featured on the website.

There are now more than 50 apps - the number grew four times in six months - put up by public agencies, educational institutes and private companies.

The portal keeps 5,000 sets of data from 50 public agencies and ministries in one place. This one-stop shop of public information is a boon to app developers as the easy access helps them build apps quicker. Some data is free while others require a fee.

Local app firms are concerned that they cannot find staff to develop apps to ride this growing wave.

WeeWares, a year-old mobile app developer start-up, is in that boat.

Founder Joseph Wee said he has several projects in development and many ideas just waiting to be built into apps, but he is short-handed.

He is looking to hire two more people to add to his current five developers.

Fresh graduates from polytechnics or universities can apply and Mr Wee is paying market-rate salaries, which are between $1,800 and $2,000 a month.

But they need not be graduates; anyone who knows design is just as welcome in his company.

In fact, programming skills are not a prerequisite as they can be learnt on the job. He only wants candidates to be committed to learning app development.

Yet, there are not many takers.

'Looking for them is harder than looking for business,' added Mr Wee.

He thinks it may be because his company is small and unknown.

'But I believe there is also a shortage of people. Everyone is looking for app developers,' he said.

Mr Jon Petersen, co-founder of Buuuk - a local company set up three years ago to develop mobile apps for Singapore businesses - agrees, especially when it comes to looking for good app developers.

'We are constantly hiring,' Mr Petersen said.

Big companies, particularly those in the consumer products sector, are developing apps. They are competing with development firms for staff, he said.

Universities and polytechnics started teaching mobile app development about four years ago, so the first batch of students is just coming into the workforce.

They are all graduates of the National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore Management University and Nanyang, Singapore and Temasek polytechnics.

Teaching modules are kept current so students are abreast of the app industry's development.

Four years ago, NUS' School of Computing offered its first such course, Software Development On Evolving Platforms.

More than 80 students were interested but the school kept the intake to 50 to keep this 'experimental' course manageable, said Assistant Professor Ben Leong.

The course initially focused on social apps on Facebook but now teaches HTML5, a newer programming language for apps.

The school introduced a second course, Software Engineering On Modern Application Platforms, during the academic year 2010/2011. It accepted 40 students and part of the course is Objective C programming.

Singapore Polytechnic has five courses offered by two schools.

The School of Digital Media and Infocomm Technology teaches app development on the Android, iOS and Windows 7 platforms.

Lecturer Alvin Tang said: 'We encourage students to work across a variety of platforms because the mobile eco-system is highly competitive and evolves rapidly.'

The polytechnic's Electrical and Electronic Engineering School is switching students to learn Android app development courses in the next academic year, replacing training in JavaME, an older language, to keep up with the times.

Temasek Polytechnic takes in 60 students a year for its diploma in Mobile And Network Services course, which started last year.

Some students go into their own app development business after graduating.

Despite the bright outlook, Buuuk's Mr Petersen said it takes a lot of time before one can make money from app sales.

His company also offers consultancy services to customers, helping them to strategically use mobile apps to support their business, instead of simply creating one because others are doing so.



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