WWDC: Student ADA honorees win with class

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Pulse News Reader

When Akshay Kothari and Ankit Gupta began designing the Pulse News Reader for iPad at Stanford University, what they were really hoping for was a good grade.

Well, they’ve got it. The pair—who turned their Stanford University class project into a full-time job—this week received an Apple Design Award in the student category at the Worldwide Developers Conference. Other student winners were Jeremy Olson for the Grades 2 app and Stephen Varga for the Pennant app.

“I’m still kind of getting over it. It was a class project, and from that we just wanted to sell a few hundred apps,” said Gupta, 24, who has partnered with Kothari to form Alphonso Labs. Under that umbrella, they plan to refine their news-reading app and distribute it to other platforms.

“Apple obviously really has a good design sense, and we take a lot of inspiration from Apple products,” Gupta said. “We have confirmation from Apple that maybe our intuition is correct.”

The other ADA winners were similarly gratified to receive such recognition so early in their careers. For Olson, whose Grades 2 app helps college students calculate their grades and prioritize their study efforts, the award comes before he even completes his education—the 20-year-old is about to start his senior year at UNC-Charlotte.

Grades 2, he said, was born of a desire to get that education right. After getting a bad grade on a statistics test, he started calculating what grades he would need on future tests.

Grades 2

“It was the first time I had to do those calculations in college—how do I still get the ‘A’ I want to get?” Olson said. “I did it on paper, but realized: ‘I bet a lot of students are doing the same calculations.’”

The first edition of Grades solved that problem. Grades 2 overhauled the app’s graphics and speed, and added features like a GPA calculator and due dates for class projects. The first version cost a dollar, but the latest iteration is ad-supported, with users allowed to purchase an ad-free version for $1. That change has taught Olson a little bit about business.

“It isn’t working out as well as we would like,” he said. “We’ve made some money on the second version, but not as much as the first version.”

Varga, 27, created Pennant for his Master’s thesis at Parsons The New School for Design. The app takes data from 115,000 major league baseball games from 1952 through 2010 and presents the information in visual form, giving fans and historians of the game a new way to look at an old game.

“It’s taking raw numbers and building them back into something interesting,” Varga said. “I like that it makes this data available to the casual fan, instead of just to the sabermetrics guys.”


Varga has already moved onto other projects, doing development under his own Vargatron label and contract work for other companies. Olson is being joined by his brother and father in making his Tapity development company into a full-time gig. And Alphonso Studios continues to explore the possibilities of Pulse.

“We’ve only scratched the surface with Pulse,” Gupta said. “We’ve created a nice visualization of the news, (but) that’s only part of the problem. The real challenge is getting the right news to people … This is just the start.”

While the recognition from Apple is exciting, the developers suggested that other possibilities may be ahead.

“I wouldn’t say I’m driven to do mobile,” Varga said, “but it’s very exciting right now.”

Olson agreed. “It looks like I’m going to be in apps for awhile,” he said. “At least until the next big thing.”

[Joel Mathis is a frequent contributor to Macworld.]

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