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Young entrepreneur in the app game

Millions are downloading Robert Stewarts apps


by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Robert Stewart is the founder of App Tech Studios and designs applications for the iPhone. He released his first app when he was 11.It’s not often you find a teenager who knows exactly what he wants to be when he grows up.

But 16-year-old Robert Stewart of Tigard has known for years. In fact, he’s already launched his own business.

Stewart creats apps — games and programs for smart phones and other devices — and began his first business venture, App Tech Studios, at the age of 11.

The company makes apps for the Apple iPhone and iPod. It’s a passion Stewart has pursued since he was a boy.

Stewart made his first app in 2009: A simple soundboard that played sounds at the touch of a button.

“It was very basic,” said Stewart. “Now I am doing a lot more 3-D modeling, light mapping and that kind of stuff.”

His first successful game was a free app called “Stick Escape,” which was downloaded more than 1 million times around the world.

It was a simple game — players tapped the screen to keep small stick figures from running away — that caught on with people.

At its peak in 2009, the game was downloaded 80,000 times in a single day, making its way to No. 4 in the iTunes App Store.

But the game was glitchy, and it received mixed reviews.

“There was one negative user who said, ‘This game looks like it was made by a 12-year-old,’” Stewart said. “Which it was.”

Looking back, he admitted, the game needed some work.

“Some of the reviews were pretty critical, and I learned from it,” he said. “I can laugh at it now.”

Stewart said back then, he wasn’t prepared for the global audience that could download his games.

With each year that passes, Stewart’s applications have matured along with him as he attempts more advanced approaches to develop apps.

His newest creation, called “Bug Boing,” was released on March 5. It currently sells for 99 cents on iTunes and the App Store.

The app isn’t a traditional game. There’s no objective or rules, just a small green bug that can be flicked around the screen.

“It’s geared toward kids,” Stewart said. “It’s not a game, per se, it’s just fun to interact with.”

It took Stewart two months to put the game together, designing the characters and writing the computer code in between classes at Portland Community College and through an internship at Intel, where he studies computer programming.

‘It’s all about learning’

Since the rise of the smart phone, simple handheld games such as “Flappy Bird” or “Candy Crush” have taken over.

The formula is simple: Make it easy to play and extremely addicting.

Young app developers have been increasing, with more and more tech-savvy teens turning their attention to making apps of their own.

Many are Stewart’s age or younger, including 14-year-old Puck Meerburg of the Netherlands. He gained international attention when he was 11 after speaking at the popular TED conference about app development.

Making apps is easier than ever, with more teens learning the skill on their own.

In 2009, when the then-11-year-old Stewart saw his first app, he said he was instantly hooked on the idea.

“I thought these were really cool, and I wanted to try it myself,” Stewart said.

With no knowledge of how computer programming worked, Stewart began watching online tutorials and reading online articles about the topic.

“It just seemed cool,” Stewart said. “Other people were doing it, and I wanted to do it, too.”

Making apps is tough, especially when you are working alone, Stewart admitted, but he’s up for the challenge.

“I love solving problems,” Stewart said. “I had never taken a programming class before this year, so having that and running into things that I had never been taught has been challenging.

“It’s cool to solve a problem, and seeing my app on the app store is exciting. Just having the end product come out is all worth it.”

The 16-year-old high school senior plans to study computer programming in college. He sees his app-designing career taking off in the future.

“I hope to someday have it be a full-time thing,” he said.

Stewart wants to eventually try his hand at more complex games. But for now, he’s happy to learn and experiment.

“It’s all about learning,” he said. “I want to do that.”

Gamers can get their hands on Stewart’s next app in June.



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