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The Apprentice does mobile apps

Rory Cellan-Jones | 08:44 UK time, Thursday, 12 May 2011

The eyes of the technology world were on The Apprentice last night as the contestants created two compelling mobile apps. Actually, lets be honest, the eyes of London-based technology journalists were glued to the screen last night, watching with mirth, horror and some envy as a clutch of their colleagues snagged parts as extras in a reality show where two teams competed to make the worst app. (Spoiler alert - if you're a fan of the show and haven't seen the episode yet, read no further until you have visited the BBC iPlayer.)

Slangatang app

The role of our fellow tech hacks, Mike Butcher from Techcrunch, Stuart Miles of Pocket-Lint, and Nate Lanxon and Michael Parsons of, was to act as expert reviewers of the applications created by the two teams. The fact that they showed any enthusiasm for either app is a tribute to their acting skills.

The male team came up with something called Slangatang, an app which allows you to annoy your friends by shouting out catchphrases in a variety of unconvincing regional accents. "Who'd want that on their phone?" I hear you cry, but to be fair there are a lot of dafter apps - think iFart - which have done really well. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that it might be just dumb enough to work.

And Mike Butcher, writing on Techcrunch all the way back in October, seemed mildly impressed:

"If they get it right and introduce the features they plan, it's the kind of thing that could go viral, especially if celebrities get involved."

The chaps at Wired were less convinced, worried that the app might prove offensive

But if Slangatang looked weak, the female team's effort had me - and plenty of my fellow viewers - slapping my head in despair. They came up with another audio idea - Ampi App - with sounds to shock and noises to nuisance, though for the life of me I couldn't work out what users were supposed to do with a series of pig, elephant and other animal noises.

With only the chaps at Wired backing Ampi App, and the boys proving far better at presenting their work, the techies and most of the huge Twitter audience agreed that Slangatang was home and dry.

Then the results came in. The apps were made available for free download for Nokia, Blackberry and Android phones, though you may not be surprised to hear that Apple didn't agree to rush them into its App Store. More astonishing was the fact that thousands downloaded both apps, with Ampi Apps and its lame noises the clear winner.

What we learned was a few simple lessons. That people will try anything if it's free. That in a global marketplace, something that's stupid in any language - like a phone that makes animal noises - is a better bet than an app that speaks to a local sense of humour in a cod Welsh accent.

And that marketing and metadata are vital in getting your app seen amongst the millions competing for attention. The women may have been rubbish at presenting to an audience, but they somehow managed to get noticed on the global stage.

The real winners from last nights Apprentice were not the Venture team and their Ampi App, but Grapple, the software firm which built the two apps in a big hurry. There is an interesting piece about the firm on the Pocket-Lint site, and it can't harm their business to have been exposed to a television audience of eight million.

What would be nice now would be to have a rerun of the contest, with both Slangatang and Ampi Apps available for download again. Sadly, it appears that is unlikely to happen. Perhaps Lord Sugar thinks we have all suffered enough.

PSAs some have pointed out, "hundreds of thousands" did not download the apps, as I originally said. In fact, the female team had 10,000 downloads, compared to 3,000 for the boys.


  • Comment number 1.

    Google release a potentially market-changing laptop (a subscription similar to a smartphone in a way) and you talk about rubbish Apprentice apps.

    Seems to me that you don't/can't/don't want to see past your beloved Twitter and Apple. This may not be correct but surely the Google event deserves some attention. Apparently, the BBC and their 'technology' correspondent don't consider anything that's not excessively expensive technology :().

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Even if Apple had fast-tracked the reviewing of the apps, they'd have both got the boilerplate email from the Apple Review team saying the app had 'limited functionality' - the days of fart apps being approved in Apple Land are long gone.

    I think Lord Sugar put too much emphasis on the localization issue as being the key to the girls winning (although it would have been a factor, just not the main factor IMO). Having their app on Wired gave the girls the edge - it's the equivalent of an Apple app being featured on TUAW as opposed to a minor tech blog.

    Rory, it wasn't hundreds of thousands of downloads, it was 10k for the girls app, 3k for the boys. Without any marketing at all, let alone a mention on Wired, I've got 25k downloads in a day easily on a free Apple app...

  • Comment number 4.

    Only an idiot would consider this a business success story: I wonder how many people actually kept the apps, and didn't delete them after trying it once out of curiosity? A better test would be to see if people still had the apps, and were still using them, a week, month, or even year later. Would the same number of people have downloaded the apps if they had not been free? No doubt some would still have, but probably nowhere near as many.

    Is it considered a business success to have a 'quick kill'? The idea that it doesn't matter whether the product is actually any good or not, or that people would continue to use it, the only thing that matters is getting them to buy, and after that, who cares?

    Sadly, The Apprentice is indicative of what's wrong with business and industry in this country: we don't produce anything of real quality any more, and what we do produce is created by idiots only interested in short-term profits.

    And don't get me started on the ruthless back-stabbing that this programme promotes as somehow necessary to to get to the top! What the hell are we teaching the next generation? You'll reap what you sow...

  • Comment number 5.

    @Graphis #4

    You seem to have forgotten that The Apprentice is an entertainment programme, it's not real :)

    @Rory #0
    There were no elephant noises, just a picture of one. You did watch the show, right? ;)

  • Comment number 6.

    As Graphis says, the whole task was flawed from top to bottom - they kept talking about selling the apps, but were giving them away for free, with no test as to whether they would be able to make any money off them. Who knows how many people would have paid for an In-App Purchase from either of them, or if they decided to go down the advertising route, how many impressions and click-throughs they'd actually get ... both the apps are the sort of thing you're likely to launch once or twice before never looking at again, which isn't a successful business model.

    And Lord Sugar talking about how easy it is to start a business from scratch was nonsense based on this task - they had professional coders employed to make it for them, a chance to pitch it directly to three big tech websites (which seem to have been contractually obliged to promote one of the apps) and a chance to appear at a tech convention and promote their app that way. None of those things are as easy as a random person deciding they want to make an app ...

    Making money off apps is a lot harder than getting downloads, especially in a 24-hour period, which even if a lot can happen in this time, not enough can happen to pay the bills if your app is free with no pay-for content available ...

  • Comment number 7.

    @Hristiyan: "Google release a potentially market-changing laptop..."

    Google release a netbook (of the sort we've seen for years) that only has a browser... how exciting (yawn).

  • Comment number 8.

    #1 and #7: The Google laptop story is covered by Maggie Shiels in her blog. ;-)

  • Comment number 9.

    Sugar, himself, has some mixed success at picking technology winners. He made his name, and fortune, selling naff music systems to the gullible in the 1980s. A great success for him, not so good for those who bought them.

    His venture into computers was much more successful. The CPC range of home computers, and the PCW range of word processors were pretty good,and his PC range brought the IBM compatible into the price range of normal people.

    The NC "notebooks" were good enough, but were already out of date when they were released.

    The PenPad was a complete shocker, most units sold off for half what it cost to build them.

    Then there's the eMailer. Sold at a huge discount on the expectation that the user will subscribe to the overpriced "Amserve" dial-up email service. The phone wouldn't work without subscribing to the service. How Sugar ever believed this was a viable business model is beyond me. It made Amserve a zonking great loss and led Sugar's Amstrad CEO, Bob Watkins, to resign because of his (Sugar's) obsession with the thing.

    Finally there's the Sky boxes. Nice little earner and a nice nest-egg for Sugar when Sky bought Amstrad.

    Oh, we'd better mention Viglen, purveyor of computer kit to the public sector.

  • Comment number 10.

    Sir Alan seems more out of date every day. He's not been a force in the tech world for ages, and look at the dreadful Amstrad Mailer. Now he's getting involved with "apps" in big sign of "yeah, me too".

    And what he has proven? How to shift a few thousands units more of something that's FREE? How on earth is this a good example of rebuilding the UK economy? Just last week the "winners" earned about £250 profit - and that's for eight people spending an entire day's work.

    This show isn't a patch on the US one, which while it too plays up the drama has some truly great business tasks and some great inputs from brands (which I guess the BBC can't do, despite its obvious placement of Blackberry last night).

  • Comment number 11.

    I think it was refreshing that The Apprentice made a foray into the digital market for a change. It seems that generally Lord Sugar is keen to make all the tasks revolve around market-stall selling and haggling.

    The apps themselves were both terrible but I thought that Slangatang was a reasonable effort for 24 hours work - I have downloaded worse apps in the past. The girls' app was just plain awful and so was their pitch.

    I have to agree with Kenichi that coming up with an idea is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to actually developing and marketing the app. Both groups magically had online magazine meetings, costumes and a chance to pitch their app at a major tech conference which would not be so easy in the real world.

    I guess if nothing else, it encourages people to think if these guys can do it then so can I. If the app is good then word of mouth is probably enough to make it a success, especially on the Apple app store.

    Was the episode true to life - no. But if it was then probably a lot of people wouldn't watch it!

  • Comment number 12.

    As an app developer myself, it was interesting (and a little cringeworthy) to see the contestants making apps - hats off to what the teams produced in only a day, but I agree with previous commenters that the task lacked real-world business relevance. I popped a few thoughts on to my corporate blog if anyone's interested:

  • Comment number 13.

    This was NOT A FAIR COMPETITION! The girls developed the app for blackberries which operates in a different market segment and has different market forces influencing the downloads. The boys developed the app on android which is a more competitive market and thus have lost market share. Clearly the decision was flawed. LORD SUGAR! Hire me cause I have identified the error and I happen to have an app that is under patent review which holds huge commercial opportunities!


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