Get Schooled in Mobile

As cofounder and chief technology officer of mobile development agency VOKAL Interactive, Brandon Passley constantly struggled with one key issue: Finding knowledgeable app developers. He would talk with recent computer science graduates who expressed interest in the mobile industry; however, many lacked the skills needed to actually build an app. To solve this dilemma, he launched an apprenticeship program in which he would hire “wannabe developers,” train them for six months, and then bring them on. Similarly, Don Bora, cofounder of Eight Bit Studios, was also running his own digital and mobile agency and doing a lot of community outreach and mobile mentoring. The two decided to join forces and launch Mobile Makers Academy—an eight week full-time program that trains people with little to no development knowledge on how to create iPhone and iPad apps.

When the two cofounders launched Mobile Makers Academy last October, their classes consisted of five people. Now, Mobile Makers Academy hosts 20-person classes four times a year. And the curriculum is vigorous–with a $7,000 price tag, it better be. Students build more than 30 iOS apps by the end of the program and also gain experience in working on a mobile developer team.

“They know 95% of what they’re going to need to know to develop apps that come across them from a team perspective and from a content perspective,” Bora says. “That means that they’ve been exposed to almost every layer of iOS development and many layers of [a] computer science curriculum and background, [such as] algorithm work, infrastructure, methodology, [and] team work.”

And because the mobile landscape is a constantly evolving, there’s always room for a little extra schooling. Here are three lessons from Mobile Makers Academy’s top profs.

What is the biggest misconception marketers have about mobile today?

Passley: When mobile first came out, a lot of the people directing it were from the marketing side: CMOs or the marketing side of the company. A lot of times people wanted to check it off the box of ‘yes, we have a mobile app.’ [It was the idea that] not only was it easy but it was something that you could put on a shelf and leave there because it’s in the app store. Now [we’re] helping businesses understand that it’s just like any other software. It’s a living breathing organism that they have to continually change and continually work on, especially in the mobile field where there’s a new device or a new operating system pretty much every year.

What are three things every marketer should keep in mind when including mobile in their overall mix?

Passley: Because it’s always in [users’] pockets, definitely understanding the context over content. What is the user is doing at that time? Is the user in line at a Starbucks, or in a cab? It’s lean forward and lean back. Is the user needing to make quick decisions, or sitting on the couch with his iPad? It all goes back to context versus content.

Bora: When you’re making applications for these devices, as they get more powerful and more capable, what you really want to do is make sure that you’re coming up with a product that takes advantage of the capabilities of that device. In some instances, a marketing push might be missing the mark on that [device’s] capability. If you just come up with something that shows a picture and animates it around, that may get the goal of eyeballs on a page from a marketing perspective; but from a strategy perspective, there might be more opportunities. Focus on the capabilities of the devices…so that you take your marketing experience, which is a usually a tactical viewpoint, and turn it into something more strategic by leveraging more of the device.

Passley:  It’s how to build a team, as well as understanding who a good partner is. Good developers are essential.

Where do you see mobile going over the next year?

Bora: I think the mid-range devices are going to take off. For better or for worse, the gamification of experiences—so taking a natural experience and turning it into something that’s fun and engaging or interesting and engaging, but not necessarily gaming—I see that taking off. As we look at things between tablet size and phone size that’s where I think we’re getting a magic mixture of hardware meets processing meets enough screen size for content.

Passley: You look at what Google’s doing with Google Now. It’s starting to understand where you are at that moment. [If I’m] in the city, it may know that I’m leaving, that I always leave at 6 p.m., [and that] I always take the same the bus. So, it actually pops up while I’m walking out. I can set my reminders to know when I get home—not just at a specific time but a specific location…. Where is the person, at what time, and what do they need?

Bora: There is a big surge in Big Data, home automation, and healthcare, and the nexus of those three is going to be a huge industry.

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