Reporter: Charles Wooley
Producer: Danny Keens
A decade ago, we would never have thought it possible. Today, we wonder how we ever managed without them.
Apps — those cheap and simple little software programs — have revolutionised our lives turning our phones and our computers into information and entertainment super centres.
Nowadays, there's an app for every occasion. Some are useful, some are plain bizarre, like the program that turns what you say into a song — another one measures how ugly you are.
If you come up with the right idea, there's a fortune to be made. And, as Charles Wooley discovered, you don't have to be some Silicon Valley geek to get in on the act.
Web chat: App developer Simone Eyles answers your questions
For more information, see:
Charles Wooley's app
CHARLES WOOLEY: It might look nothing like productive and gainful work, but what Phil Larson's doing is making a fortune. With his bizarre fruit-slicing game – Fruit Ninja – Phil has created one of the most popular entertainment products of all time. It has been downloaded a staggering 300 million times, at 99 cents a pop. You do the sums. It rolls off your tongue but it's a massive number.
PHIL: Absolutely. It's 15 times the population of Australia!
CHARLES WOOLEY: At 26, this boy from Brisbane is the new breed of dot-com entrepreneur. His company, Half-Brick, builds those tiny applications, aptly called "apps," that sit on your mobile device. Anyone, anywhere, with less than a dollar to spend, is a potential customer. But did you know that the business model could be so huge?
PHIL: Yes, absolutely. You know, US, China, Europe, Australia, everywhere around the world we can distribute games at the click of a button and they will be available instantly.
CHARLES WOOLEY: How many apps are there in the world right now? By the time you answer, it's obsolete, isn't it?
PHIL: By the time I answer that it's probably millions more - over a billion worldwide across everything. It's just ridiculous.
CHARLES WOOLEY: What's remarkable about apps is if you're like me, you've probably been using them for years and didn't even know it. Many can be downloaded for free. Others are bought online in app stores for as little as a dollar, and they do just about anything. Some are simply practical - this one turns your phone into a torch - another tells me where I left my car, or the weather in a distant city. Then, to my mind, some are quite pointless - like this app where you throw angry birds at green pigs - totally useless, I reckon - but it sold one billion downloads, so what do I know? Then there are some – well, I don't know what to think. This one turns everything I say into a song. Dumb? Well, maybe not. It made $1 million in the first week. And then there's one which usefully tells me something I already know - how ugly I am.
STEVE: It was almost an accident. We headed off into this app direction, and now you've got this world of - you don't know what the next app, that's going to change how you live your life - where it's going to come from. It might be tomorrow.
CHARLES WOOLEY: None of this would've happened without Steve Wozniak - the computer engineering genius who in 1976 started a company called Apple in his garage with the late Steve Jobs, and so began a digital revolution.
STEVE: When we started in the garage, we envisioned such tiny little uses for computers in the home. We never spoke of having enough memory in a computer - it would be unaffordable to ever play a song digitally.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Isn't it incredible? I mean, you and I carry around in our pocket more computing power, I am told, than NASA used to put the first man on the moon.
STEVE: Now you've got a thousand times that computer in a little device in your hand that computes - that actually even has pictures, it has music, it has sound. It is just so wonderful, I just can't believe it, and that's why I'm thinking it's getting closer and closer to a human with a brain.
CHARLES WOOLEY: So close, in fact, that it's becoming intuitive - a kind of second nature - and you no longer need a nerdy computing brain in order to make your app millions. A great life you have!
CHAD: Thank you, Thank you. I'm very grateful for it. I can wake up at any time.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Chad Mureta certainly has a lot to be grateful for. Apps have made him a multi-multi-millionaire, and what's remarkable is that Chad has designed hundreds of them but never written a single line of computer code in his life.
CHAD: When I first started making money, I didn't know it was real either. I literally logged in and started making money from countries that I didn't even realise were a country. You know, I'm looking at it like, 'Where's this coming from?'
CHARLES WOOLEY: Like many a success story, Chad's was born of misfortune. A bad car accident meant he couldn't work for months, sending his real estate business broke.
CHAD: This is the first app, so this is Fingerprint Security.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Place your finger flat on the scanner. So, down and out and desperate, he borrowed $1,800 from his dad to create his first app. It was a gimmicky iPhone security prank.
CHAD: Uh-oh, problems.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Access denied.
CHAD: We did around three million downloads, all my apps completely. All the apps I did were about 35 million downloads.
CHARLES WOOLEY: They downloaded at 99 cents?
CHAD: 99 cents.
CHARLES WOOLEY: That made you a multi-millionaire.
CHAD: It has, yeah.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Chad, can anyone do this?
CHAD: This is just the beginning, and I think a lot of people are just getting that this is a real business. This is a real industry and really there's not a lot of barrier to entry to get into it. Anybody can. The thing is, I am just like everybody else. There's no difference. I mean yes, I've been successful, I'm not the smartest person in the world, and I've never had any tech experience.
CHARLES WOOLEY: All this has left me thinking - might this just be my kind of tech boom? And as it happens, Chad has offered to give me a hand. So, in the IT Mecca of San Francisco, with the help of my trusty cab-app, I'm off to Chad's surprisingly modest offices to develop a little idea of my own.
CHAD: I see it personally. This is my 3-year-old drawings...
CHARLES WOOLEY: Hey, wait a minute! It still starts on a whiteboard?
CHAD: It always does, yeah.
CHARLES WOOLEY: What we cook up is a simple, decision-making app - a coin toss. Heads or tails, and the choice is made.
CHAD: So it would be a coin in the middle and you would have two options - you could literally go like this - it's pretty easy with the iPhone to flip the coin.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Let me try this - it's Charlie's choice - let me live your life for you. But don't blame me if it goes wrong! There's no such thing as a bad decision. The rest is surprisingly easy - film my modest role on nothing more than an iPhone, then, an inexpensive programmer in India actually builds the app, and I'm on the way to living the app dream. All going well, it will be ready in just a few days. I'm discovering this new frontier isn't just the preserve of Silicon Valley geeks, and is happening in the most unlikely of places.
SIMONE: Would you like a coffee?
CHARLES WOOLEY: I'd love one, but I've already ordered one on your app —
CHARLES WOOLEY: Ah, here it is. Thank you very much. It works! I pinch myself all the time that we're here doing this. It's fantastic. Simone Eyles is building her app empire in the central NSW town of Wagga Wagga. Her first app is called '365 Cups' which, quite ingeniously, helps you skip the queue at the coffee shop by ordering your cuppa before you get there.
SIMONE: We opened what's called a virtual store, so then their customers can order and pick up and go.
CHARLES WOOLEY: But at the end you get a real coffee?
SIMONE: Yes, that's right.
CHARLES WOOLEY: That's terrific. How many are we selling?
SIMONE: We've had over 35,000 orders through the system.
CHARLES WOOLEY: 35,000? It seems logical thing to do, now that I've used your system, order it in advance and see it when you get here.
SIMONE: At the start it was all about skipping queues, but it's for the cafe - tapping into all those people that are never stopping because they drive by and look - it's too busy - so they don't bother.
CHARLES WOOLEY: We're in Wagga so you're obviously here - where else are you?
SIMONE: All across Australia and New Zealand.
CHARLES WOOLEY: And just as this new app industry operates beyond the traditional commercial constraints of geography, so too does this new generation of "app-preneur" seem unfazed by the trappings of overnight, stratospheric wealth. Back in Brisbane, Phil Larson is refreshingly determined to avoid the big-spending follies of the 1990s dot-com boom. Do you own a yacht?
CHARLES WOOLEY: Do you own an island in the Barrier Reef?
PHIL: I can assure you I do not.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Do you have a fabulous penthouse?
CHARLES WOOLEY: It seems to me that a lot of you apps blokes aren't particularly materialistic.
PHIL: It's because, you know, we love doing what we're doing. And we live in Australia, we live in Brisbane. We're a casual society. We work really hard and once it's done, we like to relax, hang out with friends, barbeques...
CHARLES WOOLEY: There's an app for that!
PHIL: There's an app for that, I guarantee you.
CHARLES WOOLEY: The trick is to maintain some kind of balance. Because where this whole app-revolution will ultimately go, even an IT genius like Steve Wozniak doesn't know. More than 35 years after he almost unwittingly kick-started this incredible revolution, he does know one thing - it's only just begun.
STEVE: You're going to pull your phone up out of your pocket and that phone knows your soul, it knows what you want. What kind of jokes you want, what to say to you today, what to suggest - it just knows you so well, that it's your best friend.
CHARLES WOOLEY: You changed our lives — you're to blame in part. What will - how will the apps change our lives?
STEVE: The phone already is getting very human. It can feel when you touch it like touching me. It can hear you with its microphone. It can see you with its camera. It can know when you're tense by the look on your face, you're thinking. It knows all these things about you already. It has the ability with software. It knows where it is in the world from GPS. Heck, I don't even know where I am when I wake up.
CHARLES WOOLEY: In what seems like no time, my coin-toss app 'Charlie's Choice' is on sale in Apple's App Store for just 99 cents. It strikes me as a bargain. And what I've learned is that apps are the most level of entrepreneurial playing fields. You don't need buckets of money, years of study or even to live in a big city. It's the unbridled power of one. Just one dollar for one idea - but played out in a multibillion-dollar market place.
CHAD: Here's to your brilliant career.
CHARLES WOOLEY: The new future.
CHAD: Yeah, I mean, I've been given a second chance and that's the way I live my life, every day. I'm not going backwards, I'm only going forward.
CHARLES WOOLEY: You're strolling the beach, or you're watching the sunset in the Pacific Ocean, having a glass of champagne and the money is still coming in.
CHAD: Yeah. That's what I love — the freedom. I had a "must" sitting in a hospital bed that my life has to be different than the way I was leading it, and I stepped up and tried something new. And that's - I think that's that decision, like you said - your app, yes or no, should I be in the app business? Flip the coin. Most people should and the answer would be yes.