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Q&A with alumnus and iPhone app developer

The Texas Evening MBA (TEMBA) Director Trent Thurman interviewed McCombs alum and AVAI Mobile Solutions Program Manager Eric Mills about his experience developing the iPhone app Pace Race.

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Texas Evening MBA (TEMBA) Director Trent Thurman interviewed McCombs School of Business alumnus and AVAI Mobile Solutions Program Manager Eric Mills about his experience developing the iPhone app Pace Race. Read the interview below.

Where do you see this industry going?

Most people don’t realize that last year more people accessed the Internet from a mobile device than from a PC. In the past year, the world changed. Having the power of the Internet in a mobile phone is a game-changer. People will not be dumping their smart phones for dumb phones. The opposite will happen. Now that the hardware has reached an acceptable price/performance point, real innovations will come in mobile applications. Being able to interact with the world around you from your phone is going to be huge. Apple has such a huge lead right now that I don’t see anyone overtaking them for the next few years.

Any advice for those who have an idea for an app?

Absolutely. First, look at the competition before you do anything else. There are now more than 50,000 apps in the App Store with more than 1,000 being added each week. Look at the prices, descriptions and, most important, the reviews. Second, determine the value proposition you can offer. What is going to make someone download your app? Do something entertaining, useful or informative.

Remember, it is an iPhone app, not a piece of enterprise software. Do a few things really well and have a beautiful user interface. Lastly, design the app before you start development. Build out all the user interface screens before you write a single line of code. You won’t regret it.

Tell me about your role at AVAI and the mobile division specifically.

AVAI is a technology service provider with a background in the integration of hardware and software for the smart home industry. About nine months ago we decided to launch a new line of business, Mobile Solutions, in order to create native mobile applications. Starting a new line of business is similar to starting a new company. You start with no momentum and lots of enthusiasm. I spend my day designing iPhone apps, closing deals, planning resources and managing the general PandL [profit and loss] for the line of business.

How did you come up with the Pace Race idea?

A new customer, North American Pace Associates, approached us about bringing its existing content to the iPhone. The company has traditionally offered instructor-led classes on advanced reading skills. After seeing the traction the iPhone and iPod touch were getting in the App store, we decided to break up the exercises and release them in a game format.

We all know that playing games is fun, so why not actually work to increase your peripheral vision at the same time? The Pace Race game is really just a single exercise in the Advanced Reading Skills curriculum. The key lesson to learn here is that all types of existing content can be monetized on mobile platforms. Now that we have more than 40 million iPhones and iPod touches out there (almost as many as Nintendo Wii), and now that Apple is handling all the distribution and payment processing through the app store, the time is right to reexamine your digital assets to see if they will work on a mobile platform.

Read more about McCombs School of Business people, programs and ideas at McCombs TODAY.