Apps for Good

Technology is important and apps are the way of the future. 74billion apps were downloaded in the last 7 years on the iOS platform. That is unbelievable.

What is key though that technology is used as a way to solve important issues that matter. If we could do that with children and teach them about problem solving and technology then we have hit the sweet spot.

This is exactly Apps for Good is doing in the UK.

Our course teaches coding and the fundamentals of the digital world, while also developing skills in problem solving, creativity, communication and teamwork. With a focus on solving real issues that matter to young people, our students learn the full software product development process in a hands-on way.

We recognize that educators are at very different stages in terms of their students learning to code. We have built in opportunities throughout the course for the students to build working prototypes. Educators can then choose the depth of learning that is most appropriate for their students.


From 2013/2014 onwards, there are four prototyping tiers for educators and students:

  • Tier 1 – Basic: Balsamiq click-through wireframes/ POP app
  • Tier 2 – Building blocks: AppInventor 1 & 2 plus AppShed
  • Tier 3 – Web: starting with Blockly (show Javascript) and HTML+CSS (including code in JSBin or Thimble), then moving to plug-ins, framework and libraries and APIs
  • Tier 4 – Social: Javascript, social Plug-ins and Facebook API (public & private) including JSBin, but also Facebook developer account

It will be great if we could add to this a way of thinking about social challenges and even problems in general in a better way.

The first one is about ideas.

To focus on people and what they want for their life is key. The second one is understanding the context of people rather than tech.

Good one to prototype in Australia.

How open data creates citizen outcomes and markets worth billions

Courtesy notbrucelee from Flickr

Courtesy notbrucelee from Flickr

Richard Thaler on the value of open data for citizens and the ability to create new markets. No brainer to do more of this.

Example one: GPS. Now we all have our phones that tell us how to find things. That’s how I found you in your hotel here from my hotel. We forget where does that come from. The government sent up satellites as part of the Defense Department initiative. Twenty years ago, in the Clinton Administration, they made the decision to make those data available to the public. Originally they added a little bit of error, but then they got rid of that.

They provide that data for free and that’s the way our cars tell us where to go, our phones tell us where to go. All the government had to do to generate this hundreds of billions of dollars a year industry was to take data they already owned and give it away to the marketplace, and then let the market work its magic. That’s example one.

Example two, somebody in the Bay Area gets the bright idea they know where all the buses and trains are. There’s some control room in the basement of some building with lights beeping and things going around. They decide, why not put the data about where all the buses are, which have GPS locators on them, why don’t we put that up in the Cloud? That costs nothing. They’re just sharing the data that they’re monitoring in real time. So they put it up in the Cloud.

A few months later, somebody develops an app called Routesy and now you stand on a corner with your smartphone and it will tell you when the next bus is going to come. If it’s broken down a mile away or there’s some accident and it’s never going to get there, you’re going to know. That’s true now in most major cities around the world. Again, it came from the government taking data they had, making it freely available and then the private sector figuring out how to do something with it.

At an Australian level a recently released report by Lateral Economics which is headed by Nicholas Gruen (Chair of TACSI, where I work) provides some massive numbers.

The smartphones opportunity

Two stories today that show the power of smartphones in unexpected spaces and the opportunity it provides.

Cheap Smartphones

Cheap Smartphones (photo courtesy, Wired)

Mat Honan in Wired about the importance of cheap smartphones.

We’re rushing headlong into the era of cheap cell phones. The peace dividends of the smartphone wars mean you can buy a pretty amazing piece of hardware for what many people spend on lattes each month. That Alcatel has 4G, a quadcore processor, a 13-megapixel camera, and it plays 1080P video. It runs Android 4.2, which isn’t completely current but isn’t totally out of date either, and you can grab one for as little as $80 without a contract. That $129 Moto E ($79 if you get a contract, which you shouldn’t) runs Android 4.4.2, sports a Gorilla Glass screen, has an all-day battery and is even water resistant.

Clearly great features are trickling down. But what’s more interesting is how these cheap phones are going to trickle up. Put Internet-connected, app-capable smartphones running the same major operating systems the rest of us use and there will be all sorts of unforeseen ripple effects on us that we can’t even anticipate.

Anand Chandrasekharan, the Chief Product Officer of Bharti Airtel, one of the largest mobile network operators in India. In his new role, he went on a tour to understand India.

Mobile = Opportunity

One of the most fascinating stories I had heard was about a user in rural Bihar, who purchased a 2GB plan and was renewing it weekly. Notwithstanding the obvious guesses, we were curious what he was using it for. As it turns out, he downloaded full-length movies at night (when he had free and unlimited data usage) from YouTube, and burned them on to SD cards from his Samsung smartphone for his customers. His day job was running a general store. By doing this, he had used the oldest trick in retail — use an exclusive product to sell high-margin commodity items. While the SD cards did okay, it also brought footfall into his store, which resulted in sales of groceries, soap and shampoo. Given the impact on his business, he was religiously topping off his mobile Internet connection to keep the cottage industry he had created going.

What was interesting to take away was that a user with absolutely no education had used smartphones and the Internet to achieve his entrepreneurial ambitions. Be it the growing venture-funded mobile apps industry or the cottage industries, these opportunities are for real and just getting started, as only 10 percent to 15 percent of the more than 900 million mobile users have ever tried using the Internet on their phones.

Anand touches upon the banking opportunity with mobile phones too. I see the same opportunities in the Indigenous space in Australia. The increasing gap of well being compared to non-Indigenous Australians and the life in the bush; the rural and remote parts of Australia; is similar in context to rural India which brings the same challenges and opportunities.

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