India's app developers start young

The Kumaran brothers Shravan (left) and Sanjay set up their company GoDimensions last year. Their first free app for Apple iPhones and iPads, called Catch Me Cop, has been downloaded around 10,000 times over the last year and a half.

NEW DELHI - Every day for an hour, brothers Shravan and Sanjay Kumaran have a brainstorming session on creating apps for phones and tablets.

But they do not fit the mould of your average IT entrepreneurs. They are schoolboys and that time each day is squeezed out between classes, homework and playing with friends.

When Shravan, 13, and Sanjay, 11, started a company last year, it was registered in their father's name as children under the age of 18 cannot register a company in India. The company, GoDimensions, launched its first free app created by the brothers in January last year.

Called Catch Me Cop, it is an adaptation of the classic police-and-thief game played by children all over India.

The app for Apple iPhones and iPads has been downloaded around 10,000 times over the last year and a half, said Shravan.

Among the five apps they have created so far, one teaches the English alphabet to younger children, and another plays prayers from four different religions - Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.

"We normally have a lot of ideas and if one idea is good then we start to implement it. After about 75 per cent of the work is done, we ask our friends to look at it," said Sanjay.

The youngsters are already on the lecture circuit, appearing at universities and business events where they give talks on mobile phones and apps.

Their father, Mr Surendran Kumaran, works for Symantec Software & Services India and taught the boys about computers. That knowledge, it seems, was crucial in fast-tracking them.

Young app developers are not just all the rage in Britain, where 17-year-old Nick D'Aloisio sold his Summly news app to Yahoo last month for a reported US$30 million (S$37 million).

App whiz-kids are also hot property in India, where some as young as 11 are developing gaming, entertainment and utilities apps across all operating systems.

One reason for the boom is that students are being helped by companies such as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Intel, which organise app development events, some specially for students. Another pivotal factor is that creating an app does not require a lot of money, only a computer.

Many young app developers in India register their companies in Silicon Valley because of their country's age rules.

Although there are no statistics, experts say that in a country where IT has transformed the lives of thousands of people, app development seems to be a major attraction for youngsters.

The number of teenage app developers is increasing. The pool of mobile app developers in India exceeds 250,000 and the number of young students owning companies would be in triple digits, according to Mr Jayanth Kolla, co-founder and partner of Convergence Catalyst, a telecom research and advisory firm.

Teenage app developers have increased in number primarily because of their exposure to gadgets and the ability to experiment, said Mr Kolla.

Mr Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at information technology research and advisory company Gartner, said: "If we look at the trend, we do see that there are a lot of youngsters developing apps... there are many cases of kids working on one or two apps and launching their own companies.

"It is good for youngsters to show entrepreneurial skills."

And children are the first to point out that age does not matter.

"People and companies don't care if you are a teenager. For them, what matters is if you have the capability or skills. Age doesn't matter," said Raghav Sood, 16. He is the founder and CEO of a company called Appaholics, which he registered in the United States last June, and which has developed a dozen apps for Blackberry and Google's Android- based devices.

Although India has 900 million people who own phones, only 27 million own smartphones. According to available research, apps are still a relatively new phenomenon, with only a small percentage of users downloading them, compared to countries like the US and Britain. According to industry estimates, the number of downloads in India is expected to grow at an annual rate of 80 per cent, from 1.56 billion to nine billion by 2015.

Indian app developers are not limiting themselves to creating apps just for their own country. Appaholics' most successful app, for Android phones, called Quick Keyboard Switch, has been downloaded 30,000 times since February. Because it was downloaded 10,000 times in China, Raghav last month got a friend to translate it into Mandarin.

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