Iowa City Press-Citzen: Designing An App for That

Sunday, April 11, 2010

By B. A. Morelli
Iowa City Press-Citzen

For some, iPhones have changed their lifestyle. For one Coralville company, the smart-phone has changed their business.

Componica, a software development company, launched in 2004 with an emphasis on machine learning, pattern recognition and image processing related to medical uses. But, recently, the iPhone has taken center stage.

"It's starting to take over our business," said Steven Mitchell, the founder and senior software engineer for Componica.

A large portion of the business now focuses on developing iPhone applications, either in-house or on contract. They expect to expand to the iPad as it saturates the market, Mitchell said.

Componica is based in the University of Iowa's business incubator called the Technology Innovation Center. Mitchell received his Ph.D. in computer electrical engineering from UI in 2004.

The business expanded in late 2008 when Mitchell sensed demand in the marketplace and he brought on four other employees.

"PC versus Apple is irrelevant. People are now focusing on these handheld devices. I was sensing that, and thought we need to get into it," Mitchell said.

For applications Componica develops and sells, it earns 70 percent of the app fee with the remainder going to Apple, Mitchell said.

The benefit is that Apple has a store customers are going to and the billing system is all set up, Mitchell said. The downside is that developing applications can be time consuming and there is no guarantee people will buy it, he said.

One opportunity is developing applications on contract. Componica charges $4,000 to $10,000, depending on the application's complexity, Mitchell said.

Companies have turned to Componica with ideas for applications that will help market their business or put magazine articles online, for example, Mitchell said.

Componica's most popular app has been the in-house developed Memorize Words, a Spanish flash card game that sells for $6.99. Memorize Words soared to the fourth most popular game in the voluminous iPhone app world last month.

It's been downloaded tens of thousands of times, Mitchell said.

"It's fun when you can see the end result," said Patrick Kellen, a software engineer with Componica.

"It's fun to see your app in the top five. It's pretty cool," said Michael Merickel, another software engineer.

Componica staff is working to expand Memorize Words into versions for Russian, French and German, Mitchell said. They have a sound booth in their small office on the Oakdale Campus where native speakers are recorded for the Memorize Words application.

They also are using the theme to create applications to help medical students memorize terms.

Componica focuses on the iPhone and the comparable iTouch because the coding is consistent from model to model, which extends the lifespan of applications, Mitchell said. On Blackberries, for example, each model has different codes, which requires a new application for each model, Mitchell said.

"This seems to be a new niche we're following," Mitchell said.