When Raja Vijayaraman packed his bags for the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California, little did the man from Chennai know that, a few hours later, he would be on the stage, being fêted at the Apple Design Awards for reimagining the calculator. Apple had invited Vijayaraman, but had not told him he was winning something. So there Vijayaraman was on stage, wearing a Rajinikanth T-shirt—after all, it was Kaala week—receiving a design award for his app Calzy, an elegantly designed iOS calculator.
Vijayaraman is among a new breed of tech entrepreneurs who have realised that a good app can be their passport to success. And you don’t need a start-up or a company to achieve this. Vijayaraman is all alone, but has more than one app on the store that has achieved critical acclaim. His story is fascinating. A mechanical engineer from Theni in Tamil Nadu, he moved to Chennai and switched over to VFX a few years ago, even working on a few movies starring Rajinikanth himself. “That’s when I bought my first iPhone and used apps. I taught myself about apps and even learnt to code,” says Vijayaraman. Maybe his time as a graphics artist helped in design thinking, but he’s not sure.
The minimalist design concept behind Calzy is blowing everyone away. His calculator is as simple as a calculator can be, and there is nothing that doesn’t need to be there. This entrepreneurial spirit is also catching a lot of young developers. Take the case of Aashna Narula, an MSc Computer Science student from Delhi University who was featured in a video posted by Apple CEO Tim Cook just before the start of WWDC last week. Narula is working on an app called Let’s Shapify, aimed at helping preschool children improve their observational and categorisational skills.
“Initially, I incorporated the idea of matching all the shapes on the screen with the correct shape. Soon, I realised why not include both the things, shape and colour. So, I incorporated the idea of colours as well,” says Narula, who attended WWDC on a scholarship. Another scholarship winner from India, 16-year-old Chennai boy Sudarshan Sreeram, developed an interactive version of Tic Tac Toe using Apple’s Swift Playgrounds app that helps children learn coding easily.
Others, too, have already made it big with Apple’s large, high-value user base. Bangalore-based SignEasy is a name to reckon with in the electronic signature space and is working on the next level of its products, incorporating Aadhaar authentication. It has over 1,40,000 paid customers, most of whom are in Apple ecosystem. Apoorva Tyagi, SignEasy’s head of mobile products, accepts there is still lack of awareness about how e-signatures can be used, but the situation is improving. She says attending WWDC helped ensure they have an updated product when Apple upgrades its operating system, and attending the sessions and labs gives them a boost on how to get started on the new technology.
Talking of new technology, Hyderabad-based Mirelz will soon have a product that uses Apple’s ARKit to help customers virtually try on and pick the jewellery of their choice. Founder and CTO Harish Kantamneni says it’s a bit early to talk about their product, but adds it will have uses for both customers and companies. He wants to develop Mirelz as a platform that helps designers showcase their products to customers around the world.
The app uses machine learning and augmented reality to project the designs on live video of the customers so that they know how the product will look on them in the end. Without spilling the beans, Kantamneni says his product will offer a solution for online to offline and offline to online conversions.
Meanwhile, Apple’s app accelerator in Bangalore is working towards helping Indian developers find success on the global stage, with the right technology hand-holding. Even as tech sessions and workshops continue for Indian developers, soon there will be sessions to also help them further the business and marketing aspect of their products. Now, let’s wait for the first big app unicorn out of India.