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For over a decade, Apple has offered a scholarship program that invites student developers to attend its Worldwide Developer Conference. Those young developers are now organizing social tools to help support each other while collaborating to build award winning, chart topping apps.
"Thrilled to meet many talented developers, especially these winners of our student scholarship program," tweeted Tim Cook at the beginning of the week long event.
Over the past three years, Apple has invited an increasing number of students to attend WWDC for free, through an application process that involves building an iOS or Mac app that says something about themselves.
Students at WWDC
Last year Apple invited 150 students, but this year it expanded the program to host 200, or about 4 percent of the event's current capacity of 5,000 attendees. Students have their own lounge area to work in between labs and sessions, and have created their own Facebook groups to collaborate with friends, previous attendees, and applicants who couldn't attend.
While initially targeting college students who were at least 18, Apple relaxed its minimum age rules in 2012 after an underage student was inadvertently invited and then successfully petitioned Cook to be allowed to attend. Apple now allows students as young as 13, with the permission of a parent or guardian.
Sure enough, there were students as young as 13 attending WWDC this year, as Cook noted in his Keynote address. On a variety of occasions between sessions, including while demonstrating CarPlay in the vehicles parked on the second floor lobby of the Moscone Center event, Cook stopped to take photos with a variety of student developers.
In addition to getting a dedicated lounge area, student attendees also get their own Thursday evening student event for the annual Bash, which they wouldn't otherwise be able to attend because California laws prohibit minors from entering a venue that serves any sort of alcohol. To comply with the law, Apple now hosts its underage students from the "Student Suite" Metreon balcony overlooking the Yerba Buena Gardens Bash, where they can watch the concert with a bird's eye view.
This year, Apple's 200 student developers represented 30 different countries, including China, Egypt, Nigeria and Singapore. The diversity of students' backgrounds is complimented by their coordination and collaboration.
At this year's Apple Developer Awards event, the student prize was won by a joint effort by two previous scholarship winners: Nate Chiger of HalfPeeled LLC, and Coulton Vento, who along with his brother Brandon set up TwoBros. After previously meeting at WWDC, the partners created their award winning social sharing app for panoramas named PanoPerfect (left two, below).
A second Student Award was won by Teachley's Addimal Adventure, an education app created by Dana Pagar, Rachael Labrecque, and Kara Carpenter, all graduate students from Teachers College at Columbia University.
Student Developers, Developers, Developers
Student scholarship winner Peter Schreuder was among the developers who shared their experiences and impression of this year's WWDC event with AppleInsider. Traveling to the event from Amsterdam, Schreuder has now been to WWDC three times.
Over the last two years, Apple's scholarship has required that applicants submit a functioning app about themselves. Schreuder was excited to hear personal commendation for his app from an Apple executive who said he loved the design and its use of beautiful typography.
His first major app, Queensday, served as an event guide to the Netherland's national holiday starting in 2011 when he was 16. The popular app garnered significant media attention and turned into a full time job when Schreuder founded Dynaloo as a development company for building original iOS apps and performing contract design and development work for clients.
Schreuder said he was particularly interested in Apple's WWDC announcements involving HomeKit and HealthKit, two entirely new frameworks that open up fresh opportunities for third party app developers. He said he's now working on a "cool new app" that's still under wraps, but reported that the employees at Apple that he's show it to "loved it and thought I was onto something."
LeaÂ MaroltÂ Sonnenschein, originally from Slovenia but currently a student in the U.S., noted that one of her first introductions to the Apple development world came from the stark contrast she saw between the "incredible" design of the user interface of iOS devices compared to Android.
Working with Grinnell AppDev, her school's application development team, Marolt Sonnenschein said she first helped develop "G-Licious," a dining hall menu app. "People started using it a lot, and as its popularity grew, new ideas for other applications started coming up as well."
That resulted in building an app for the college newspaper, then its radio station. The various projects brought students together to collaborate on building free apps that not only performed a useful function, but were also shared as open source projects to help others learn how to program. One project works to connect alumni.
Asked about the new announcements at WWDC, Marolt Sonnenschein responded, "I love Playground: amazing! It's going to be one of the best tools to learn and teach programming."
When she first began working with the new interactive Xcode Playground introduced with Apple's Swift programming language, Marolt Sonnenschein said her reaction was simply, "Wow! I was amazed at how you could have a live preview of your animation and even table views. I think Apple made a giant leap with it, and I'm super excited to use it!"
Marolt Sonnenschein said she first heard of Apple's student developer scholarship program at a hackathon, where friends told her about just three hours before the deadline for submitting an application. "All caffeinated," she rapidly built an app about herself as a submission.
"I did not expect to be selected, but I was," she related, noting that she's appreciated the resources, news and the "collaborative group feeling" of the event, where "you can ask anything you want because they are students, too, and you're not embarrassed to ask silly questions."
Teen's 4snap app beats Twitter in iTunes rankings
Michael Sayman, the creator of popular social app 4snap, said he's been working to build apps since he was 13. He's now 17. "I feel so old saying that," he says.
He got started building basic reference apps and cheats for games, learning by "googling everything: events, classes, Xcode." With his years of experience behind him, Sayman said he next "wanted to make a big game to make an impact."
However, iTunes is now "different from 2010," when it was easier to launch a new game or app into the top ten. Now it takes more polish to grab users' attention.
Last year, inspired by his younger sister's casually texting photos among her friends as a guessing game, Sayman started work on a new turn-based game where users would guess a word based on four photos a friend captures and sends them as hints to a given word.
As he finished the first versions of his new 4 Snaps game (above), his family suffered through a tough economic situation. His dad lost his job and his mom lost her small business, resulting in the loss of their home and necessitating a move into a smaller apartment.
Fortunately, the app began to get noticed, and began contributing financially. "I was paying bills from my apps," Sayman explained, noting that he also wanted to help his sister to be able to continue going to private school. He was happy to contribute toward family expenses, explaining, "they've been paying for so many things since i was born." His apps have also been earning enough to support promotion through Facebook ads.
His own room isn't big enough to code in, so he does most of his app development at the kitchen counter. It's a small apartment, but Sayman says he's enhanced the home to make it "nice, cool and modern" by outfitting it with features like Philips Hue wireless, programable lightbulbs and a Nest thermostat.
"My sister is very sassy," Sayman said, noting that when his app began falling off the ranks at around iTunes' 300, she explained that the reason was that the "design sucks." Sayman astutely realized that he needed a new design that appealed to the teenage girls who were playing it, because girls are the first to share it with their friends, "and guys come later to play with the girls."
He targeted the new design using his little sister's feedback, explaining that "whatever she said looked good I'd go with," resulting in a effort that "redesigned the whole thing."
Last year after Apple introduced the new iOS 7, Sayman said he was quick to add dynamic effects and the iOS 7 animations, "the amazing stuff they had" to make his app feel bouncy, modern and fun. He also worked to add personality to his game, using sarcastic comments and phrasing push notification "that make people laugh."
Sayman remarked that by making push notifications entertaining, "people take screen captures and post them on Instagram and Twitter because they are funny— like ads," something that's helped increase exposure for his app.
Facebook notices 4 Snaps
After a fresh launch a month and a half ago, 4 Snaps began reaching up into the top of the App Store charts. That caught the attention of Facebook, which contacted him with an invitation to join Facebook University in an internship.
"I was running around the house excited," Sayman beamed, describing the excitement of subsequent phone interviews that culminated in an invitation to meet Mark Zuckerberg, the 30 year old chief executive of the social network.
"Come next weekend," they said. On arriving at Facebook headquarters with his mom, Sayman said he was "freaking out on the inside" but found Zuckerberg was "in another cube like every other engineer," wearing a casual hoodie and jeans.
Taking a seat in a conference room area, Sayman said Zuckerberg "sits on a desk with his feet up, bouncing a soccer ball" while the excited teen recalled thinking, "this is not happening!"
Zuckerberg talked about the 4 Snaps app and asked "what do you want to do at Facebook?" Sayman frankly answered, "I don't like to work, but I like to have fun, and coding is fun." Realizing what he just said, Sayman thought, "he probably hates me now."
But Sayman did like to work when it came to his app. "The iOS 7 app took a month on animations to make sure views bounce around perfectly. I took forever on that."
Zuckerberg subsequently featured 4 Snaps at the Facebook f8 conference. "They made a video of me at the conference!" Sayman beamed.
The WWDC experience
That exposure helped the app reach to the top of the App Store's puzzle games, then reach up into the top free apps across the board. During WWDC, Sayman's app was seeing 42,000 downloads per day, and now reaches over 380,000 users.
The app was originally designed to support 100 people, now its handling nearly half a million. "It's been insane!" Sayman said, adding that it's "incredible to be at WWDC."
As an attendee, Sayman said he especially thought that "Swift was really cool, the way they announced it after four years in development. Now, nobody knows anything about Swift, so it's a level playing field."
Sayman was also impressed with the new App Extensions and how they allow developers to "take a little peek outside of the sandbox." He added, "oh my gosh, I can't believe it: Handoff."
As for the conference itself, he highlighted the UIKit Dynamics Lab for help in working with fluid animations. "I love it. And optionals at the Swift lab. It explained to me there are so many features I've never heard of."
Talking about other students at the conference, Sayman said "we're all connected in different parts of the world, we all know each other a little. There are different Facebook groups. No matter where we are we can talk about our apps, our incredible community is growing so much more."
Student developers interested in attending next year's WWDC have a few months to prepare: the company generally begins asking for applications in mid April, and then sends out invitations at the end of April for the event, typically scheduled around the first week of June.