Fashion apps in vogue with obii.mobi

Ulf Schroeter, founder of obii.mobi, recently spoke to ZDNet Australia about developing mobile applications in Australia and some of the reservations local companies have about contracting app developers.
Written by Colin Ho, Contributor

profile Ulf Schroeter, founder of obii.mobi, recently spoke to ZDNet Australia about developing mobile applications in Australia and how companies need to wrap their heads around the often demanding investment that goes into successful app development.

Founded in 2009, the company develops a range of mobile applications; including My Wardrobe, an app currently in development that allows users to mix and match outfits.

Many of obii.mobi's clients include advertising agencies that require applications to supplement their promotional campaigns.

obii.mobi fashion app

obii.mobi's My Wardrobe app (Screenshot by Colin Ho/ZDNet Australia)

Despite the global explosion in the popularity of smartphones, Schroeter admits that many businesses still baulk at the cost of developing or contracting developers to develop mobile applications.

"Often people are turned off by the price. They understand where the cost is coming from but they aren't able to spend the money," said Schroeter.

"I think one way this could change, is through a new generation of programmers who can handle that kind of programming; making it cheaper to produce."

He also acknowledged that as app development kits become more intuitive, powerful and easy to use, the cost of developing apps may decline. Furthermore, the emergence of consumer-oriented smart devices like the iPhone has allowed mobile applications to reach a larger audience.

"The iPhone set a completely new benchmark in terms of smartphones, it is so easy to use — the impact the iPhone had was massive," he said, adding that the iPhone's user interface was "schmick and sexy".

Despite the runaway success of the iPhone, Schroeter believes that the industry currently underestimates the importance of graphic design. Before founding obii.mobi, Schroeter had a background in design and founded Sydney-based design agency Third Eye Creative.

"I had the impression they didn't really get the idea about the impacts that [a graphic user] interface has on making things popular," he said, drawing from his experiences at a Nokia developer's conference.

"Their phones work and do the same stuff, but their applications didn't look right and the usability isn't as nice as iPhone."

Currently, obii.mobi uses Apple's software development kit (SDK) and Adobe suite for development and graphics, respectively. The office primarily works on Mac desktops because the bulk of its applications are developed for iPhone and iPad. However, the company is interested in branching out.

"[We] would like to develop something on the BlackBerry or Android platform, but so far we've only been approached to develop for the iPhone," he said.

Despite its successes, obii.mobi is still a small team, with three staff contributing to the day-to-day operations of the business. The small team is occasionally augmented by outsourced specialists for help on server-side aspects of projects.

In terms of general workflow and operations, obii.mobi uses Unfuddle, a cloud-based development environment, to host and manage their software projects. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of cloud services emerging.

"It's so easy to have everything online," said Schroeter, adding that it allows staff to work from home.

As a small business, cash flow is a major consideration for the company.

"The main challenge is to keep the business running and to have enough jobs to support the business," he said, and that often one job would lead to another.

"I was surprised at how much business knowledge you need [to be an app developer]," he said.

"Running a business is a whole new step. When you start a new business you have to learn so many things — so much time goes now for networking, approaching new clients and writing proposals."

The company recently worked with the 2010 Sydney Biennale in developing an online application and web service for users to upload reviews of their experiences at the art festival.

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