In golfing circles, which is the market they were aiming at, it was like hitting a hole in one.
In 2010, after a deal with local golfer Terry Hashimoto and the world's leading manufacturer of golf club shafts fell through, Winnipeg mobile application developers Gord Parke and Adam Tsouras posted a video on the YouTube social media site of a new motion-capturing sensor device and mobile app they had developed.
The high-tech sensor device, which clips onto the shaft of a golf club, measures things like clubhead speed, swing path, shaft angle at impact and backswing length, and relays it to the duffer's smartphone. Within seconds, the app produces a detailed, high-definition, 3D playback of the golfer's swing, which can be analysed for flaws and for ways to improve.
Their video was spotted by an employee of Jackson, Miss.-based SkyGolf, maker of SkyCaddie, the world's most popular golf-course reading device (SkyCaddie).
SkyGolf contacted the entrepreneurs and they struck a deal that gave them the use SkyGolf's resources and testing labs to develop a market-ready version of the product in exchange for a minority stake in their company (PPG Technology) and the exclusive rights to market the product.
Last month, SkyGolf, Parke, Tsouras and their other partner, Eytan Moudahi, unveiled their SkyPro product at the premier U.S. golf industry trade show -- the PGA Show. Not only did it turn heads, it made Golf Digest's list of "the coolest, wackiest and most innovative items" in the show.
Now they're getting ready for an April launch of their product in the U.S., Canadian and U.K. markets. Parke said the SkyPro app is available for free from the Apple app store, and the sensor device will retail for around $199 US.
Parke admitted there were times during the development phase when they wondered whether their product would strike a chord with golfers.
"But all of the positive feedback (from the trade show) has convinced us we're on the right track."
He said if all goes well with SkyPro, he and Tsouras hope to return to Winnipeg later this year and begin working on their next app-development project.
"We're not sure exactly what that will be," he said, adding one possibility is a similar product that would take measurements of a hockey player's slapshot.
The executive director of New Media Manitoba, the not-for-profit association that supports the interactive digital media industry in Manitoba, estimates Parke and Tsouras are among about 60 Manitobans currently working "on a regular basis" on mobile app development. That's up from about a dozen just a few years ago.
Kevin Hnatiuk said the explosion in the use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has resulted in an explosion in the demand for apps for the devices. The demand is coming from both consumers and companies and organizations who recognize the value of mobile apps as a sales and marketing tool.
Hnatiuk said some developers are working full-time on app development. Others, like him, are doing it part-time while either holding down another job or while providing other new-media services like web-page development.
Hnatiuk has developed one successful app so far. Called Video Edit, it allows someone to edit videos taken with their smartphone. He said he's sold more than 70,000 in the two and a half years it's been on the market, at about $3 a pop. Now he's working on a more advanced version of that app, as well as a new photography app.
A report released last October by the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) estimated that more than 51,000 people now work in Canada's fast-growing mobile-app industry. It said 47 per cent of those jobs are based in Ontario, 22 per cent in Quebec, 15 per cent in British Columbia, 11 per cent on the Prairies, and five per cent in Atlantic Canada.
Hnatiuk said there's no question Manitoba could use more app developers.
"That's a request we get all the time -- 'Do you know someone we could hire to develop mobile apps full time.' "
Groups such as New Media Manitoba and RampUp Manitoba are trying to help fill the gap by offering training courses and setting up work spaces in the Exchange District where app developers and other new media specialists can work together on projects.
RampUp Manitoba co-founder Chris Johnson said some people are good at developing an app, but don't know how to commercialize or market their product. One of the things RampUp Manitoba does is try to hook them up with other new media specialists who do know how to do those things.
Mobile app facts
Here are some facts and figures about mobile-device use and the mobile application industry in Canada:
-- The number of smartphone users in Canada was expected to top 13 million by the end of 2012. That's up from 9.1 million a year earlier.
-- Canadians spent an estimated $675 million last year on mobile apps and other related expenditures. That's projected to increase by 66 per cent to $1.12 billion by 2014, and by 170 per cent to $1.82 billion by 2016.
-- Canadian app enterprises generated $775 million in revenues in 2012. That's expected to grow by 54 per cent to $1.19 billion in 2014, and by 184 per cent to $2.2 billion in 2016.
-- More than 2,300 new mobile apps are developed each day, and more than 70,000 each month.
-- More than 51,000 Canadians are working in Canada's mobile app industry. That number is expected to grow to 78,000 by 2016.
-- About 47 per cent of the current jobs are based in Ontario, 22 per cent in Quebec, 15 per cent in British Columbia, 11 per cent on the Prairies and five per cent in Atlantic Canada.
-- The average salary for a technical employee in Canada's app industry, which includes concept creators, programmers, software engineers, user interface designers and testers, is $68,000 per year.
-- Source: Information and Communications Technology Council