Thumb like it hot

Thumb like it hot

You can fit the staff of One Thumb Mobile into a Victorian office lift. But mobile aps creator Richard Hasinski is happy to be a tiny success story. Stewart McIntosh meets him.

Sit in front of some entrepreneurs with notebook and pencil and you’ll usually be told about their ambitions. Big turnover, big profits, perhaps even big ego – oh, and the business plan always culminates in a big trade sale. But the diffident Richard Hasinski, owner of Glasgow-based apps and games designer One Thumb Mobile, doesn’t fit the “big is better” template – his ambition is to make things smaller. Then make them even smaller ...

“I’m fascinated by the challenge of squeezing games and apps onto devices with very small memories, while giving the users a satisfying experience and helping my clients to extend their brands,” he says, surrounded by his highly focused techies – some sporting rather interesting hairstyles – in his cramped eyrie above the city’s famous St Enoch Square. But thinking small could reap tremendous profits for him, so long as his designs can stay ahead of the pack. The worldwide market for smartphone applications (apps) is growing daily. In the first six months of 2010, 3.8 billion apps were downloaded worldwide, more than double the 3.1 billion in the whole of 2009, according to industry analyst research2guidance. The average price of an app climbed to more than £2:50 last year.

With sales of smartphones spiralling upwards, and with a growing number of mobile platforms now offering applications and games, the market over the next few years looks exponential – research2guidance is predicting global app sales of £12bn by 2013. The surge in applications will be driven by a massive consumer move towards smartphones, dramatically swelling the ranks of last year’s 100 million users to almost one billion by 2013. Surprisingly, many companies have yet to grasp the potential of extending their brands via mobile applications.

“Because the industry is growing at lightning speed, constantly aligning itself with trends, fashions and social media, mobile devices are no longer a luxury, they are a necessary part of life,” says Hasinski. “If your business has no mobile exposure, your brand message will not reach most of your customers.” One Thumb Mobile has already developed an impressive portfolio of clients including Visa, Honda, Nokia and Liverpool FC. Client requirements cover a wide range of strategies, products and services – as well as platforms on which their apps should be available.

“Liverpool FC wanted an app on the iPhone, to extend its brand into mobiles and to generate a new revenue stream via downloads,” says Hasinski.

“We created a ‘keepy-uppy’ app for them, using animated 3D models of team members Gerrard, Torres, Carragher and Kuyt.” When Nokia wanted to promote the launch of their new BREW mobile hand-sets in the USA, as well as their new Ovi store (where Nokia users can download apps) they decided to boldly go with One Thumb Media in launching an app that coincided with the opening of last year’s Star Trek movie. They also wanted to extend the reach of the app well beyond the iPhone.

“Within less than three weeks we created three Star Trek apps, launching them on Java, Symbian and BREW in time for the movie release,” says Hasinski.

“To give Nokia the reach they wanted, we had to work on three totally different technologies to ensure that the app was available across Europe and in the USA.” Other recent clients include Playerx, part of Zed’s global multimedia digital entertainment group, who wanted an iPhone game to complement their ITV Bullseye game show. The game was an instant hit, becoming the UK app store’s second-top seller in May of this year. It was also in the store’s top five grossing apps. Working across multiple smartphone technologies, while having to design something creative and appealing against tight deadlines, holds no fears for One Thumb Mobile.

“Apart from our design skills, our other advantage is that we’re very passionate,” says Hasinski. “This is a hard-burn industry that chews up people, then spits them out. But our enthusiasm for putting games onto mobiles has kept us going. We’ve developed tremendous experience while many of our rivals moved sideways into easier games design for larger screens.” The good news for Scottish-based app and games designers is that it’s not easy to ‘offshore’ the design because, to succeed, apps and games have to be highly relevant to the culture and attitudes of the players.

Hasinski says: “Frankly, we wouldn’t try to design something for Chinese or Japanese players. With a completely different background in games, it’s unlikely that they’d enjoy playing western European games – and vice versa. It makes sense to use designers who have a strong cultural understanding of the trends, lifestyle, social media and aspirations of the users.” So what makes a good app? Hasinski counts the key factors off on his fingers.

He says: “A compelling reason for users to download and use it; a business element which chimes in with the relevant brand; a high standard of production that associates the brand with quality. Lastly, an app should be well positioned, new, or different from existing mobile apps.” When it comes to making games and apps smaller and smaller, One Thumb points the way ...