College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Computer engineering students’ iPhone apps generate downloads, sales

Since November, thousands of people have downloaded the iAnimal series, Zombie Strategies: Prepare, and D&D Helper iPhone applications. Users of those apps may be surprised to learn that the apps were created by Iowa State University computer engineering students. The students developed the apps as part of a course assignment in a new embedded systems class on mobile platforms. To date, the students’ apps have been downloaded more than 2,800 times and generated more than $200 in sales.

“I originally created iGiraffe as a simple app that students would recreate during their first lab,” says Chad Nelson, a teaching assistant for the course and member of a student senior design team that developed labs for the new course. “When I put it on the App Store, it started making money, so I added the others in the [iAnimal] series.”

Nelson’s four apps now generate about $5 a day in sales. “The most important thing to understand about the iGiraffe app, or any of the iAnimal apps is this: the skills the students learn in the class, even in the very first lab, have real market value,” Nelson says. “You can take the app you create in the very first lab, sell it, and turn a profit.”

The new embedded systems course on mobile platforms was introduced last fall and the students’ final project for the class requires students to create their own iPhone app. Students were given extra credit for submitting their apps to the iTunes App Store.

Associate Professor Akhilesh Tyagi designed the course, which teaches concepts using the iPhone platform and focuses on fundamental aspects of embedded programming and development. Nelson and a team of other computer engineering senior design students helped develop the labs, which take students through the process of creating applications for the iPhone in 11 weeks.

Ben Holland and Cory Schwarting
Ben Holland (left) and Cory Schwarting

Ben Holland, a recent graduate in computer engineering and current graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, has seen a great deal of success since he released his free app, Zombie Strategies: Prepare (ZSPrepare), last Thanksgiving Day. ZSPrepare has been downloaded more than 2,000 times. The app is targeted toward individuals interested in post-apocalyptic survival scenarios and is an extension of, a website he created about a year and a half ago.

“ became a hobby to which I devoted most of my free time, and having already built the framework before I started taking the course, it seemed only natural to extend the service to mobile devices as well,” Holland says. “ZSPrepare works by determining the user’s real world location using Wi-Fi, cell tower, or GPS triangulation and then sending that location information to, which responds with a collection of survival supply locations surrounding the user.”

Holland says he is pleased with the success he’s seen so far, but ZSPrepare, which is downloaded nearly 40 times each day, wasn’t as successful at first. “Apple features new applications for the first day or two so that people can notice them, but after that you need to rely on the momentum of your app to keep your sales going,” Holland says. “I noticed that after about a week, my download numbers dwindled to only a few sales a day, so I started reading about marketing strategies online. I submitted my app to as many free app review sites as I could, which started to build a good Web presence.”

Cory Schwarting, senior in computer engineering, also has been pleased with the success of his app, D&D Helper, a tool that aids individuals playing the tabletop game Dungeons and Dragons. D&D Helper, which costs 99 cents, has been downloaded more than 800 times. The app allows users to quickly record and store game information and to modify it easily in a user-friendly interface. “I expected it to be somewhat successful since I even looked for an app to do the same thing, but there weren’t any on the market,” Schwarting says. “I did not expect it to be downloaded so many times, but I find it cool that there are plenty of people who are looking for similar apps.”

For Schwarting, the most exciting parts of developing his app were going through the design process, laying it out in an appealing way, and making it quick to use. However, actually building and programming the app was the most challenging. “I ran into a few issues with storing the information onto the device that took some time to figure out,” he says. “The other challenge was looking into all the legal aspects of building the app. Some information is open for public use, and I wanted to make sure it was legal.”

Both Schwarting and Holland agree that while the class was a lot of fun, it was also a great learning experience. “I was reminded that if you really want to learn and conquer a technology, you just have to jump in and do it,” Holland says. “Anyone can learn it; you just have to have the patience to stick with it.”

How to download the apps

You can download the Zombie Strategies: Prepare for free at the iTunes App Store. The iAnimal series apps (including iGiraffe, iPenguin, iPlatypus, iDonkey, and iSalamander) and D&D Helper can be downloaded for 99 cents each at the iTunes App Store.

Additionally, Ben Holland has created two additional apps—Christmas Elf Quiz (free) and Lint: The Game (99 cents)—also available for downloading at the iTunes App Store.