Mobile App Designers, Developers Do It In Tampa Bay

A company surveys booth visitors on an iPad at an industry tradeshow. A tourist uses her Android phone to explore Ybor City. A nurse in an acute care hospital checks her hand-held device for a patient’s blood results. Friends add dancing characters to a video just filmed on campus with their iPhone, intent on creating the next viral sensation on YouTube.

All of these technology users have unique goals but share one thing in common: A mobile app conceived and built by one of Tampa Bay’s core mobile technology developers.

CEOs from four of the Bay area's mobile app technology leaders share their companies' unique stories with 83 Degrees Media so that readers can better understand how they've leveraged success in a fast-paced, dynamic industry.

Homegrown Innovation

Haneke Design employs 14 in its downtown Tampa office and uses a few offsite sub-contractors. Founder and CEO Jody Haneke says the decision to house his team under one roof was deliberate.

"User experience is such an important thing for mobile, and I believe that the only way to truly create that innovative experience is to have designers and developers working together. The best way I know how to do that is put them in the same room," he says.

Haneke Design opened its doors in 2002 as an interactive agency providing basic web programming and mobile website development. Today, 90 percent of his team's workload is mobile in nature.

"I position us as a digital agency that delivers across the whole spectrum of screen sizes, but the reality is the demand right now is in mobile because that's where the gaps are," says Haneke, who spoke in September at Orlando's iSummit 2012, an annual gathering of digital leaders focused on interactive technologies.

Haneke Design, which creates native applications for IOS and Android on a client-for-hire basis, has experienced a 25 percent revenue growth over the past two years and anticipates similar growth for 2012. One of its recent apps Tie the Knot, created for client Two Coast Ventures, attempts to streamline the wedding planning experience and demonstrates the company's consistent product objective: usefulness.

Haneke says that one of his greatest challenges is finding qualified local talent, particularly senior-level developers, but that companies must get creative in where they look.

"There are ways to get involved, but it's a matter of making the effort. We're trying to be one of those companies that makes the effort to invest in Tampa, because it's only going to help us in the long run," he says.

Strategy Is Key

With an early foray into mobile app development with Palm Pilot and over 20 years in the industry, Alfred Goldberg of Absolute Mobile Solutions in Tampa has been dubbed by some the father figure of mobile for the Tampa Bay region. But, the CEO points out, development is useless without strategy behind it.

"Many freelancers are claiming to be mobile companies, but mobile needs to be looked at strategically and few companies have the expertise to do that," Goldberg says. "We’re seeing a strong need for someone who understands the users, can help develop a mobile strategy and build a solution that meets user needs."

Launched in 2000, Absolute Mobile Solutions employs six in its Tampa office and an additional 34 team members across the United States and Europe and has over 80 clients, including major NASDAQ-listed companies, universities and large public organizations, including The New York City Housing Authority.

Like Haneke, Goldberg has experienced difficulty finding local talent to meet technology skills needed and points to four positions currently open that he has been unable to fill due to lack of qualified candidates. He serves on advisory boards for Hillsborough Community College and the International Academy of Design and Technology, where he participates as an instructor and contributor to curriculum to help cultivate skills needed in his industry.

Despite Absolute's extensive client portfolio, only 10 percent of clients are local. Large mobile opportunities may not emerge from the Tampa Bay area often, notes Goldberg, but when they do, these area enterprises don't always check at home first for available resources.

"If you are a local business, you should consider local. At least invite us to the table," he says.

Learning From The Past

For Rob Campbell, witnessing mobile technology's evolution parallels another time in his career working alongside industry pioneers like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. In 2008, after leading several successful tech start-ups, Campbell became CEO for Voalte in Sarasota and sees opportunities to learn from earlier lessons.

"I’ve been struck by how similar mobile applications are to personal computers in their adoption by enterprises, except this time the speed of adoption is absolutely mind-boggling," he says.

Campbell notes that mobile technology faced resistance similar to that experienced in the PC market: company leaders were reluctant to embrace a technology it felt would not work or be secure enough. Today, Campbell sees that hesitancy waning, particularly in healthcare, a category for which Voalte has positioned itself as a key provider of mobility solutions, with clients such as Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

"Think about what goes on in a hospital. A patient is bombarded by members of the care team -- the nurse, the patient care technician, food services, admitting/discharge, radiology, all kinds of physicians and specialists -- all of these people and systems that touch a patient's life, so the complexity of communication is pretty high. As a hospital connects more team members via the Voalte communication system, the system's value goes up exponentially," Campbell says.

Voalte has assembled a team of 45 employees and contractors in the Sarasota area and outside of the state, frequently needing to recruit worldwide to locate highly specialized engineering skills.

"The intersection of mobility and healthcare is a great place to be," says Campbell. "When we go into a hospital and see how we've improved a patient's life because a nurse got to him faster or prevented him from injuring himself in a fall, that's work worth doing."

Seizing Opportunity

Prior to the first iPhone's release, HD Interactive focused on online training, touch-screen kiosks and interactive museum exhibits. The introduction of the Apple device signaled a game-changing move for the company, says CEO Sean Carey.

"We signed up to be Apple developers and got everything needed to begin creating apps," he says. “There was some new programming to learn, but it didn't take us long to learn the basics and begin selling services directly to clients."

Today, HD Interactive's workload is comprised of mostly client-derived projects and referrals, with mobile applications making up more than half. Remaining time is spent building interactive games and entertainment apps, for which the company continuously reinvests in itself to fund these independent projects. One unique product is the ArtBook Archive, an iPad and iPhone app offering multiple pages of local art in digital art books with issues available reflecting the Tampa Bay and Austin art communities. The company also hosts ArtBook parties during the year at area venues to promote featured artists and the app.

HD Interactive employs a team of 20 spread across Tampa Bay and outside of the state, as far west as Hawaii. For this reason, Carey insists on operating the company virtually and employees working from home offices. Last year, the company served 56 clients and managed to grow revenue for a tenth consecutive year

Carey is encouraged by the collaborative spirit among area industry players and by what he sees happening locally, with more technology conferences coming to Tampa and entrepreneurial programs from USF-St. Pete and Gazelle Lab  encouraging local start-ups. Carey says he wishes the area offered centralized tech hubs, like those found in Austin and San Francisco, where developers and designers can congregate and share ideas, and echoes Goldberg's sentiment that other Tampa Bay area businesses should at least look locally first when seeking business support.

"When we see a project that's high-profile and an out-of-state firm did it, it is a slap in the face," Carey says. "There's so much talent here that you think ‘why didn't we do that?' Or Alfred's company? Or Jody Haneke? Or any of these other really talented people in the area?"

Chris Kuhn is a freelance writer living in the 'burbs of Tampa with her husband and her assistant, a 14-year-old dachshund-Chihuahua. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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Read more articles by Chris Kuhn.

Chris Kuhn is a freelance writer, editor and blogger who resides in the northern ‘burbs of Tampa with her husband and a rambunctious Shih Tzu. She is a frequent contributor to area print and online publications and previously served as editor for a local women’s publication. A graduate of Florida State University, Chris has been published nationally and written two books, her most recent, an anthology celebrating public art as a central focal point for storytelling across various Florida communities, including Tampa. When she is not writing, Chris loves checking out art, movies and museums, and discovering new Thai restaurants.