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Reno programmer writes hit iPhone app

Pat Patera

Faced with a sudden dearth of business, a new baby and a fascination for all things iPhone, a Reno-based computer programmer is rolling out a spate of new products for the must-have gadget of the Millennial generation.

In September the contracting economy dried up the flow of software writing contracts to Rama McIntosh, president of Reno start-up Meme Inc. He used the enforced downtime to break from an 18-year career spent designing and programming custom software applications for business.

At the same time, a new baby in the family had sent him shopping for a larger car, one able to accommodate three child safety seats in the back. But the credit crunch had tied a knot in dealer financing.

An aunt loaned him the cash, and the loan inspired him to create IttyBooks, a bare-bones iPhone application that lets users track and manage personal loans.

Building on that experience, McIntosh just developed a hit product TheSnapper, sold in the photography section of Apple iTunes App Store. Since its release just days ago, it’s been selling 100 copies a day at 99 cents each. It ranks among the top 20 photography applications on the iPhone app list.

“With 14 million iPhones in circulation, the potential is vast,” says McIntosh. “The iPhone bubble right now is similar to the dotcom bubble of 10 years back. It’s where the Internet was in 1994.”

Yet in a world where PCs rule 95 percent of the market, he adds, relatively few programmers have the Mac skills they need to feed the iPhone bubble. In fact, companies have been dangling contracts for custom applications in front of Mac programmers to take on iPhone work.

But McIntosh no longer looks for contract work and prefers to be self-published.

Now that he’s managed the transition and interim loss of income from working for others to running his own company, McIntosh says he’d like to design programs and have others write the code.

He’s building a local team with co-founder Joshua Boyden and Dan Phillips in marketing communications. Next, he hopes to attract some investors.

He’s currently working on international versions of TheSnapper, available in 12 languages, and looks to release an improved photo management app.

TheSnapper adds an auto shutter to the iPhone camera. Designed to make it easier to take pictures of yourself with your friends, says Meme, it responds to sound hands clapping or fingers snapping to snap a picture with the iPhone camera. Or the user can simply shout “Cheese!” to take the shot. (The volume sensitivity can be turned down when in a noisy place.) Meanwhile, a “continuous mode” setting turns the iPhone into a spy camera.

While Apple takes 30 percent profit off the top of every application sale, it provides all the marketing infrastructure needed for download sales and distribution. And it’s fast. “It approves an individual within a week, but takes up to a month to vet a corporation,” says McIntosh. To sell a product, programmers must submit the entire finished application, much like an aspiring writer would submit a completed manuscript to a publisher.

McIntosh wrote TheSnapper in two weeks, investing 130 hours in the project.

He generated the idea for the product on Christmas Day, while trying to take holiday portraits of himself with his family.

Meanwhile IttyBooks, submitted to Apple on Christmas Eve and priced at $2.99, has enjoyed modest sales but McIntosh has just posted a new, free version, which taps AdMob to provide a banner ad that displays each time the program is accessed.

“The real benefit of IttyBooks,” he says, “is that people can send email reminders to people you’ve loaned money to. And you can send an email to remind them of missed payments yet the post appears to come from IttyBooks, not from the sender’s email address. So you don’t have to bother people.”