With hundreds of thousands of mobile apps already on the market and vying for attention, what's an entrepreneur with an ambitious idea to do? One strategy was on display Monday night at the Cira Centre, where five inventors pitched their creations to about 200 of their peers and other technology enthusiasts.
One of the new apps, the Communilator, turns your iPhone or another smartphone into a translator. You enter e-mails, texts, or even the contents of a sign or printed page in one of dozens of languages, and the app translates them into another language from the same impressive list.
Another new app, Interact, allows you to locate friends of friends and other potential connections, such as those sharing your alma mater, who happen to be in your general vicinity — say, in the same crowd at the Cira Centre.
A third app, SnipSnap, turns your iPhone into an always-available coupon folder. You can scan printed coupons, store them on your phone, find them when they're usable, and present your phone screen for scanning at checkout.
Those three apps, along with two products aimed at other developers, impressed many in the crowd at Mobile Monday, an event that was part of Philly Tech Week but that traces its roots back a dozen years to an Irish pub in Helsinki, Finland. According to Mobile Monday Midatlantic, sponsor of Monday's gathering, it was there that a legendary innovator began a tradition of sharing mobile-technology visions over drinks.
Mobile Mondays — including some on other days of the week — have now become a global phenomenon, especially since the introduction of the iPhone and other touchscreen smartphones and tablets that have turned the mobile Internet into an everyday reality.
As usually happens, money follows the market. Monday's event started with a cocktail party, where entrepreneurs networked with potential funders, intellectual-property lawyers, and aspiring engineers and marketers.
A projection shared by the keynote speaker, Philip Moyer, helps explain the explosion of market interest in apps. By 2014, he said, fewer than one in five Internet devices will be traditional personal computers.
Moyer has reason to pay heed. As managing director for the technology group at Wayne's Safeguard Scientifics, he plays a key role in a "growth capital" company that has been a leading funder for companies in technology and life sciences.
To be sure, not all those linked devices will be smartphones or tablets. Moyer noted that the so-called "Internet of things" — including likable devices as varied as implanted defibrillators and parking meters that announce when a space is available — is also emerging as a key element of wireless and cloud technology.
But in a recent blog post, Moyer left no doubt that he considers apps a central focus — and a "disruptive wide open opportunity." Some mobile innovators, he wrote, will "have the opportunity to dislodge legacy vendors and capture huge markets."
For the entrants at Mobile Monday, chosen from among 25 applicants, the immediate prize was more modest: a chance to be among five area start-ups competing at Wednesday night's Switch Philly, another pitch-your-product event, but this one judged by a panel that includes Mayor Nutter and two potential funders: Josh Kopelman, managing director of First Round Capital, an early-stage venture firm, and Ellen Weber, executive director of Robin Hood Ventures, an angel investors' group.
The crowd at Mobile Monday gave the most votes to SnipSnap, the free couponing app, which went live in Apple's app store Tuesday. Developer Ted Mann said that in beta tests, SnipSnap users reported savings of about $40 a week with the app, which can also warn users of expiration dates and notify them when they're in a store for which they have a coupon.
Second place went to CloudMine, a platform for app developers that allows them "to focus on the app and not on the things that power their apps," said cofounder Brendan McCorkle. Third place went to Interact, described by developer Anthony Coombs as a tool to place you "one step closer to that warm introduction that you need."
"We're all connected, and we want to make sure you can facilitate that connection," Coombs said.
Chuck Sacco, president of the Mobile Monday chapter hosting the event, praised all the competitors
"Every company that was up there had something that was certainly unique and innovative," he said. The challenge for all is getting noticed, which is why Mobile Monday tries to connect developers with potential funders.
"That's always the hard part for any company developing apps," he said. "How do you get attention and traction?"