Homegrown iPhone apps

Techies are among us in Northeast Mississippi. They are part of a high-tech group that has exploded in popularity the past few years – the iPhone application developer.
People like Quinn McHenry of Saltillo dream up and code programs or applications for Apple’s iPhone and, more recently, the iPad. Applications can be free or for sale. They range from quirky ones that make bodily noises to educational ones that help users identify constellations to entertaining ones that allow iPhones to stream music.
Other apps, like the National Parks Explorer, fall into multiple categories – at least that’s the hope of developer Raymond Doherty, who splits his time in Tupelo and in New York state.
With the help of McHenry – who has 13 apps for sale in the iTunes App Store – Doherty created an app for seven national parks, including the Natchez Trace Parkway.
The app for the Trace includes maps and information about every wayside attraction on the scenic byway that spans 444 miles from Mississippi to Tennessee. It also has features that will find the nearest bathroom or historical site.
“Every single stop on the Trace is on it,” Doherty said while visiting Chickasaw Village. “It’s a driving tour of the whole park and you can get an immediate sense of what the park is about.”
Doherty, one of the early developers of LEGO.com, did the Natchez Trace app because he grew up walking in the backwoods of the Trace with his grandfather and he wanted to share the information with other visitors to the park.
So far, the National Parks Explorer app, which is free and offers the individual parks for sale, is doing OK, Doherty said. He declined to give specific profit figures, but said it has been downloaded several thousand times.
“If 1 percent of the visitors to the parks download this app, it would be making $1 million a year,” he said.
McHenry’s apps also have done well, especially one called Medical Abbreviations, which was featured in the iTunes App Store.
The popular apps, McHenry said, are usually the simple ones, like his DaysFrom app that will calculate what date is 100 days or another number from today.
“Lawyers always like it,” he said. “It’s sold really well.”
Zosh, co-developed by Tupelo native Alexander Bibighaus, is another iPhone app that has done well. It was launched earlier this year and allows users to sign documents digitally, thus eliminating the need for a fax machine.
Bibighaus, who now lives in Austin, and his app have been written about in publications such as USA Today, PC Magazine and Fast Company.
Hit or miss
McHenry, who is a biomedical engineer, said the money-making ability of apps is hit or miss, judging from his interactions with other developers.
“You can make the most beautiful app but without the marketing and without playing the games, it’s not going to go anywhere,” he said.
Thankfully, he said, the website he started in 2003, tech-recipes.com, pulls its own weight.
The site helps users solve computer problems and averages 1.6 million unique visitors per month.
“It’s doing really well so it lets me sit in the coffee shop all day,” he said with a smile. “I like to think I work on the Internet. I can think outside the box of what I can sell in Tupelo.”
McHenry’s wife also has a website, BakeorBreak.com, which has developed its own following of devoted readers of the amateur baker’s adventures in the kitchen.
Mississippi State University freshman Ross Waycaster is at the beginning of his techie career, but the 18-year-old has jumped in with both feet.
His first app, created while he was a student at Tupelo High School, made several thousand dollars in its first week in the iTunes app store.
He currently has two apps that have been approved by Apple’s team to be included in the iTunes store. Waycaster, who is studying business information systems, is working on several other apps, including one that uses the GPS in the iPhones to link up to the GPS units in MSU’s campus shuttles to show users where the shuttles are in relation to where the user is.
Doherty also has other ideas for apps, including more park guides. He also is in discussions with Elvis Presley officials about creating an app for Elvis-related sites in Tupelo and Memphis.
The future is uncertain about the success of the apps, but Doherty said the national parks app has been a labor of love for him.
“You’re doing it on your own and coming up with an idea,” he said. “You just have to decide to do it. It’s like writing a screenplay. The odds are against you, but you’ve just got to want to do it.”
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.

Carlie Kollath / NEMS Daily Journal