Text by Paul Tumarkin, Tech Launch Arizona
UA Department of Computer Science
The application, called Twitscape, allows users to see what those nearby are tweeting. A team of UA students developed the new app, available now through the Apple App Store.
Consider this: You're at the Celtics-Lakers game and find yourself curious to know what people around you are tweeting about.
A group of four University of Arizona computer science students created an application that allows iPhone, iPod touch and iPad users to do just that, and have subsequently garnered some attention from Apple.
And it all began with an idea.
Thomas Smallwood, a UA computer science major, figured it would be simple enough to gather a few tech-savvy friends to begin developing applications, or apps, immediately after taking an introductory programming course.
He and Cody Jorgensen, another computer science major, began working together to develop the idea for Twitscape, which is now available at the App Store and has received about 450 downloads since the March launch.
The two then collaborated with identical twin bothers Charles and James Magahern, also UA computer science majors, to build the application.
The location-based, anonymous client lets users with or without Twitter accounts find out what Twitter users are tweeting about.
The app, which uses a GPS system to grab tweets submitted by individuals in the vicinity, is currently in use in Tucson, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Boston, New York and about a dozen other U.S. cities.
It may have been a simple idea, but it hasn't been easy work.
"We've worked until 5 a.m. sometimes," said Charles Magahern. "We had been looking for an idea for a while. We figured that whether it sells or not, it's a great learning experience, and I figured this was a good start for us."
Jorgensen, Charles Magahern and Smallwood built the Twitscape application while James Magahern, who is working on additional apps and also games, created its icon.
"It seems like with most computer science majors, people tend to start on the Web," said James Magahern, who noted that he got his start by working on programming and graphic design before moving into development.
"The app boom is huge," he said. "Apps are getting tremendously popular. This is where the information age is heading, and that's what I wanted to get into."
The work has already resulted in a spinoff company for Smallwood and Jorgensen, a UA Honors College student.
After working on Twitscape, they established Objective Coders, LLC, which targets individuals and businesses that want to develop apps for the iPod, iPad and Motorola Android. The two are already working with five clients, which is enough work to keep them busy daily, but they are looking for more work through the summer.
Smallwood, who said they work with clients for the initial app releases and also updates, are not surprised by the demand: "We saw a need and we wanted to put out a quality product."
The four students also were selected among a group of 300 students around the world to receive scholarships to attend Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference 2010, which will be held in San Francisco beginning June 7.
The conference will connect the group with some of the best programmers from around the world.
"Now that there is a new platform on the market, the iPad, we figured there is going to be a lot more content this year," said Charles Magahern, who received the scholarship last year and noted that each student applied independly for the scholarship program.
"It is really exciting. It's almost like a celebrity event," he said. "It's an honor to go back."
UA Department of Computer Science