< Apper's Delight

Transcript

Friday, December 23, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

With us in the studio is Jody Avirgan, a producer with WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show. He's here to tell us about his adventures in the world of smartphone apps. He has an idea for an app of his own. Hi, Jody.

JODY AVIRGAN:

Hi, Brooke. Hi, Bob.

BOB GARFIELD:

Hi, Jody. Just so our listeners know, there are all sorts of fancy apps out there, but, Jody, you're really aiming for the simple app market.

JODY AVIRGAN:

That's right. There are a lot of simple apps, and let me pull out my iPhone and show you. I have an app that's basically a flashlight. I have an app that's the Constitution. I hit a button and I can read the Constitution. This is what I do in my free time.

I also have an app that's called I Nap At Work.

              [BOB LAUGHS]

And you open it up and it creates random office-y type sound effects -

[SOUND OF KEYBOARDING]

- so that you can take a nap at work and your coworkers will think that you're actually being productive. [LAUGHS]

BOB GARFIELD:

You didn't pay a dollar for that utterly useless app, did you because -

JODY AVIRGAN:

[LAUGHING] Ninety-nine cents, Bob, please.

[BOB LAUGHING]

Who knows why people download this stuff, but they do.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

And that brings us to why you're here right now.

JODY AVIRGAN:

That's right. In my piece I go casting about trying to get this idea made.

BOB GARFIELD:

Okay, let - let's hear this thing.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Roll tape.

          [KEYBOARD CLICKING SOUNDS]

JODY AVIRGAN:

The first person I spoke with for advice was Rekha Murthy. She's with PRX. They're the company that designed the WNYC app, so I figured I'd keep it within the family.

And the first thing I learned - most people making apps, the coding is really a small part of the overall process. There are a lot of steps between good idea and Angry Birds.

REKHA MURTHY:

Finding out what the goals of the organization in a database that can be exposed via an API, finding out how it's stored, going into a wire frame - do graphic design and basically mock ups of what the app would look like. We call that kind of the discovery process. The organizations we work with have to do a lot of soul searching and planning, as well.

JODY AVIRGAN:

Soul searching?

REKHA MURTHY:

[LAUGHS] Yes. Somehow, what started out as just making an app becomes an exercise in soul searching.

JODY AVIRGAN:

So this sounds like way more complicated than, to be honest, what I thought. I can make Tumblr page, I can post something to YouTube. Why can't I just go ahead and make an app?

REKHA MURTHY:

Jody, no one's stopping you from making an app. The question is do you want anyone to use it?

JODY AVIRGAN:

And that's the key. If I want someone to pay good money for my app, it's gonna have to be well designed and stable. I'll need to update it, add features. And then Apple comes along and releases a new operating system, like they did a few months ago, and app developers scramble to make sure their product really works with it. All of that requires a good relationship with a good developer, and that's really gonna cost me.

REKHA MURTHY:

Anywhere from 2,000 dollars to 100,000 dollars.

JODY AVIRGAN:

That figure, by the way, doesn't include the marketing budget. If I really want my app to stand out, I'll need ads online, a slick video and ads in other apps.

So I don't have tons of cash up front and I don't have a team of developers and marketers, but there's still got to be a way to break into the app game. I mean, there's got to be an apps rags to riches story out there.

LISA BETTANY:

I had no money and [LAUGHS], you know, no real knowledge of like what I was going to do.

JODY AVIRGAN:

Lisa Bettany is a photographer by trade, but a few years ago she had an idea for an app. That turned into Camera+ which is an app that lets you add filters to your iPhone pictures. It does a couple of things really well. And Lisa's on board with the idea that a simple app can go a long way.

LISA BETTANY:

You know, we all have needs for really  simple applications. There's an app called Tipulator that calculates a tip when you're in a restaurant. I mean, each app doesn't need to sort of take on the world.

JODY AVIRGAN:

And now she's super rich.

LISA BETTANY:

We've sold four million, and we've grossed four million in profits.

JODY AVIRGAN:

But, as with any rags to riches story, you can't forget about the rags part.

LISA BETTANY:

I worked for a year and a half on this app before we finished it, and during that year and a half like I was pretty destitute. [LAUGHING] Like, it was - it was rough.

JODY AVIRGAN:

Okay, that's a bit of a bummer. Rekha tells me that I'm gonna need a ton of money and a team of marketers. Lisa tells me that I'm probably gonna have a year of destitution.

My idea is a simple one. I don't know why I can't -

BOB GARFIELD:

-- rrr --

JODY AVIRGAN:

- get it done.

BOB GARFIELD:

Jody?

          [KEYBOARDING CLICKING SOUNDS]

JODY AVIRGAN:

Yes, Bob.

BOB GARFIELD:

We've been sitting here for like four minutes and we still have no idea what your idea is. Can you just tell us about your app?

JODY AVIRGAN:

Okay, you guys ready?

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Yes.

BOB GARFIELD:

Yeah!

JODY AVIRGAN:

All right, here we go. This is my pitch. You know, I've been told over and over again that all you need in this world is one good idea and all your dreams will come true. But what if you don't have any ideas?

BOB GARFIELD:

Out with it.

JODY AVIRGAN:

My app gives you ideas for apps.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

I see.

BOB GARFIELD:

Uh huh [LAUGHS]

JODY AVIRGAN:

So you pop it open. You shake it up, and it gives you an idea. And if you like that idea, you run with it. You do what it takes to make it happen.

[BOB LAUGHING]

You with me?

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

I'm so with you.

JODY AVIRGAN:

Bob, are you with me?

BOB GARFIELD:

[SOFTLY LAUGHING]

JODY AVIRGAN:

I'll take your silence as tacit approval. [LAUGHS]

BOB GARFIELD:

[LAUGHS] Okay, take it any way you wish.

JODY AVIRGAN:

Do you guys want to hear some of the ideas that are in my Ideas for an App app?

BOB GARFIELD:

May we?

JODY AVIRGAN:

You've seen the movie Men in Black, correct?

BOB GARFIELD:

Yeah, I believe so.

JODY AVIRGAN:

They have that little machine that erases people's memories?

BOB GARFIELD:

Yes.

JODY AVIRGAN:

Okay, so that's in there. That idea's in there.

[BOB LAUGHING]

Let's see, how about an app that translates baby talk?

[BOB LAUGHS]

All of a sudden, you know what they're s - what they're up to.

[LAUGHTER]

What about an app that tells you if someone else is already working on your idea for an app and that you should stop?

BOB GARFIELD:

[LAUGHS] You're like a human Escher drawing.

[BROOKE LAUGHS]

This idea about ideas keeps folding back into itself, but the ideas you've cited are all so fanciful, silly.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Unachievable.

BOB GARFIELD:

Yeah. So your - your app is - a gag?

JODY AVIRGAN:

Well, I'll - I'll tell ya, I'm holding in front of me a, a sheet. Brooke can see it.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Mm-hmm [AFFIRMATIVE].

JODY AVIRGAN:

Two sheets of all of the ideas that would be in this Ideas for an App app.

[OVERTALK]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

You have some that are called absurd ideas, some that are called terrible ideas, ideas that obviously -

[BOB LAUGHING]

- already exist.

[LAUGHTER]

Here, give me the other sheet. Then you've got something called Good But Impossible Ideas, and then a - a fairly small section of, actually, kind of good ideas.

JODY AVIRGAN:

Read some of those.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Okay. An app that would find you a compatible business partner for your online startup. An app that would let you take a picture of a tasty food dish and then email you the recipe.

BOB GARFIELD:

Oh, like Shazam for food.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

That's a good one!

JODY AVIRGAN:

Thank you.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

An app that will identify the color of a wall's pain?

JODY AVIRGAN:

I think it's supposed to say "paint."

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Oh, paint.

[LAUGHTER]

No, I mean, there's like if - if the paint is actually - some sort of Benjamin Moore paint it'll tell you what the color is.

BOB GARFIELD:

Oh, I see what you mean.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

An app that takes a picture of complicated legal documents and translates them into straight talk. These are kind of good ideas.

JODY AVIRGAN:

And then under the absurd ideas, there's ones that like - an app that tells you when you hear a wolf howl how far away that wolf is.

[LAUGHTER]

BOB GARFIELD:

Mm-hmm, that's - that's really useful.

[BROOKE LAUGHING]

JODY AVIRGAN:

You never know.

BOB GARFIELD:

How about an app that will identify someone who has entered your radio studio under the influence of illegal mushrooms?

[LAUGHTER]

JODY AVIRGAN:

Well Bob, I am actually taking ideas for the Ideas for an App app, and you can email me -

BOB GARFIELD:

Yeah -

JODY AVIRGAN:

- at IdeasfortheIdeasforanAppapp@gmail.com.

BOB GARFIELD:

I'm on that.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Okay Jody, putting aside the idea of whether your app will fly, what did you learn about the app world?

JODY AVIRGAN:

Well, one thing I learned is that the app world is taking a similar path to that of the Internet, in general. Ten, fifteen years ago anyone could get in the website game. It didn't matter how it looked, as long as you had a website.

And then the professionals moved in and made it very expensive to have a great website. Well, that's exactly what's happening with the world of app design.

What's interesting though is that the Web has sort of cycled back a bit. Now there's new tools that are making it easier for anyone to make a great-looking professional website, and I think the same thing is gonna happen in the app world. I'm starting to see some companies out there trying to make it easy for anyone to make a sophisticated app.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

But that doesn't mean you're actually gonna get this thing made.

JODY AVIRGAN:

Oh, we'll see about that.

[LAUGHTER]

Thanks Bob, thanks Brooke.

BOB GARFIELD:

Jody Avirgan is a producer here at WNYC. If you want to see more of his ideas for the Ideas for an App app, and I don't know why you would -

[LAUGHTER]

- visit our website, onthemedia.org.