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Apps work up a storm
John Cremer
update on Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fast-moving developments in mobile communications are changing our work and social lives in ways that would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago. Much of that is down to the ingenuity of a new class of inventors and entrepreneurs who have seen the opportunities new technology offers and are building a lucrative niche creating applications, or "apps", games and interactive online communities.

One such person is Leon Ho, founder and CEO of Hong Kong-based Stepcase, which provides both paid apps and extra options as in-app purchases, usually priced at 99 US cents. These are for photo sharing via a mobile network and currently enable well over 8 million app sessions per month.

"We are very focused on creating mobile photo solutions and have gathered many active users," says Ho, who employs five full-time software developers and engineers. Ho is referring specifically to the company's Steply network, a photo-sharing community which is "plugged into" all of the firm's own photo-related apps, as well as some designed by third-party developers.

Riding on a similar network effect, it was also possible to achieve

1 million downloads of the Labelbox app - for creating photo captions before uploading - within a month of its launch in March this year.

"We come up with solutions using a design-driven methodology," Ho says. "This means we look at how to make things easy for the user so that there isn't a steep learning curve."

The team's starting point is to devise a mock-up of how a new app should work before considering more details of its look and "feel". Once that is clear, plans are handed over to the engineers to code.

"This method ensures the application is built with beauty and simplicity in mind and that we don't have to bolt things on afterwards," says Ho, who graduated in computer science in 2000 and then spent 10 years in programming and product development. His first application was an itinerary planner, and the next, called Fusioncam, will be more photo apps for the iPhone. "People will [soon] spend more time on their mobiles than on their PCs," Ho says. "Mobile photography is repacking the digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) and standalone digital camera as we speak."

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