Benderoff on Tech: Local developers shine light on apps

Filed under Technology

Information gathering continues to evolve into a mobile endeavor, as innovative software developers create apps for almost any purpose you can think of, from locating the nearest coffee shop to killing time with a mini arcade-style game.

Companies ranging from ad agencies to individuals are breaking into the emerging field, while Apple and Google provide free developer tools to help push the innovation along. But making a killing selling your own apps isn’t a given.

While the opportunity seems limitless, competition also is intensifying. With 225,000-plus apps available just for the leading platform, Apple’s iOS 4 (the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch), creating a hit can be a shot in the dark.

Ironically, one Chicago-area software developer did create an app for finding your way in the dark. It’s a flashlight app that has been downloaded a whopping 45 million times. Yet that huge success has not turned into quit-your-day-job revenue for John Haney because Flashlight. is free (don’t forget the dot after the name when you search iTunes for it). Haney developed the now often-imitated app when Apple opened the App Store store in 2008 because it was something he thought he could do quickly.

That free app’s success has lead to a new day job for Haney, where he creates apps for the clients of Lisle’s Lextech Global Services.

John Haney

John Haney

“My hobby of iPhone programming has become my career,” Haney said via e-mail. Nonetheless, between his job as a senior systems engineer for Lextech, spending time with his kids and whatever else needs to be done generally managing his busy life, Haney spends 12 hours a week on pet projects for John Haney Software. Besides Flashlight., (the top utility app on iTunes in 2008), Haney has released a word-puzzle game called CryptoQuote (99 cents) and the 80s arcade-style game LightRunner (99 cents).

While Haney’s apps are producing revenue through ads (Flashlight.) and paid downloads, he cautions, “People should be realistic that with 200,000-plus iOS apps, competition is tough. The chance of creating a 99-cent app that goes to the top of the charts is remote. Developing mobile apps is not easy.” Haney recommends finding a good niche market and serving it with a quality app that will command $4 to $10.

That’s what Bruce Parkey is doing. A former chief information officer for Rapid Solutions Group, a commercial printer, Parkey now runs Sagamore Apps, a Darien developer of cultural apps centered around Chicago landmarks. Parkey’s first app was Wright Around Chicago, which “takes architecture enthusiasts to Frank Lloyd Wright public sites within a day trip of Chicago,” he said via e-mail. The $1.99 app will be updated in August to include Wright-designed buildings that can be booked for overnight stays and those newly opened for tours, Parkey said.

His second app, the $4.99 Movies Filmed in Chicago, “takes movie fans to nearly 200 filming locations of their favorite movies, from ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and ‘Groundhog Day’ to ‘The Blues Brothers’ and ‘Public Enemies.’” (I reviewed this useful app on my website,

Wright Around Chicago

Wright Around Chicago

Sagamore Apps has three apps under development and 15 more in the pipeline, Parkey said.

Parkey’s approach to developing apps centered on Chicago sightseeing has broad appeal too. About a quarter of his sales come from outside the United States, with Italy the second-largest market overall for his apps.

Neither Parkey nor Haney would disclose revenue figures, but both are extremely bullish on the app market, particular for Apple’s products.

“I have learned some about BlackBerry and Android [app development] through my day job,” Haney said. “I much prefer the [Apple] development environment to those on the other platforms. In addition, iOS has the advantage of Apple’s control and platform homogeneity where there is relatively little work to do to make things work on iPhones, iPod touches, and even iPads.”

Parkey said he is impressed with the iPad platform’s capabilities and noted its impact on people’s everyday lives. “For example, I get most of my news, app sales reports, e-mail communications and Internet access through a combination of my iPad and iPhone,”” he said. “For the most part, I now only use my laptop and desktop computers for app development, managing photos and preparing graphics. I’m not sure I would really need either if I wasn’t developing apps.”

As for creating apps for Android phones, the hard-charging operating system backed by Google and offered on phones from several manufacturers at all U.S. wireless carriers, the two developers are paying close attention but are not as enamored with the platform.

“I continue to monitor and evaluate the progress and market share of the competing app platforms (especially Android) for future development,” Parkey said. “My primary concern on the current state of the Android platform is the overall quality and user experience of Android apps compared to Apple’s App Store.”

Haney was more succinct: “I have a strong preference for iPhone,” he said.

Yet the mobile trend is just beginning — the App Store opened in 2008 and the Android platform was introduced in 2009.

Parkey notes that Apple’s iPhone is available at only one carrier, AT&T, a situation that won’t last forever. “Imagine the potential if Apple were to expand beyond AT&T,” he said. “I’m confident that we’ll see amazing innovation and creative uses for these platforms in the coming years.”

He didn’t elaborate on those 15 apps he has in Sagamore’s pipeline but he did offer a clue on where he may be headed: “Business apps look to be a largely untapped market,” Parkey said.

Eric Benderoff, a Chicago journalist with more than 20 years of experience writing for major newspapers and magazines, is the principal of, a content development and media strategies firm. He can be reached at Eric (at) or follow him at

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