BY BEN BRADFORD
HOST: Nearly half a million U.S. workers develop applications for mobile devices—smart phones and tablet computers. It’s one of the fastest growing industries in the US, according to a recent report by the Washington tech policy organization TechNet. And, New York has a large share of those jobs—almost 10 percent according to the report. Ben Bradford visited one of the city’s app businesses to find out why New York is doing so well.
BRADFORD: New York software firm Expand the Room has been around for ten years. It has about 30 employees, a floor in a chic little office building down by Fulton Street, and a speakeasy-ish bar tucked in back. The company has traditionally developed websites that featured a survey or a contest, or browser-based games. For instance they’re getting ready to launch a new slot machine/time-travel game on Facebook.
SOUNDS: slot machine game
BRADFORD: But since last summer, company president James Cole says demand has changed significantly.
COLE: Up to a year or two ago we were primarily 100 percent web-based and now about 50 percent of what we’re doing is mobile-based.
BRADFORD: In other words: Apps. Apps. Apps. And that’s been good for business. Expand the Room is…expanding. In 2009, the company had 10 employees, now it has about 30. And, still hiring.
The surge in demand started after Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007. But it was another two years before Expand the Room started to see business. The company’s Matthew Brochstein thinks that, as more people became comfortable with mobile devices in their personal lives, corporate executives felt pressure to evolve as well.
BROCHSTEIN: All of a sudden these CEOs—50, 60, 70 years old—running these companies were aware that apps existed, and their kids and their grandkids, they were now using these. And all of a sudden, it moved to “well if I go into the app store, and I don’t have an app, and someone searches my brand and I don’t have an app, they’re just going to stop, because I’m not taken seriously anymore.”
BRADFORD: The company produced its first app last summer. As Cole tells it, celebrity gossip magazine Us Weekly was already a client, and now the magazine wanted an app—something with fitness news and photos of celebrities. So the folks at Expand the Room built it. Another client saw that app and wanted one too, so they made that. And, then another. These clients are predominantly from the media and entertainment industries in New York.
Donn Morrill, who’s president of the trade group the New York Technology Council, says the presence of those powerhouse industries in New York helps explain the city’s booming app market.
MORRILL: You’ve got this interesting combination in New York between media, entertainment, and technology, and I think that’s driving a lot of the innovation you’re seeing in the mobile and the app space.
BRADFORD: And a third major New York industry is driving the boom, as well: finance.
But Morrill doesn’t think the city just got this business by default. He says Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration have prioritized the technology industry, most recently offering Cornell billions of dollars to develop a tech campus on Roosevelt Island.
MORRILL: He now has a post of a chief digital officer, he has Cornell opening up shop here in the city, so I think you’re going to see long-term sustainable technology growth here in the city.
BRADFORD: So, Morrill thinks these jobs are here to stay. But, the app economy is still only five years old. While apps are the hot new frontier, the TechNet report warns, “the location and number of app-related jobs are likely to shift greatly in the years ahead.”
Ben Bradford, Columbia Radio News.