A business called Craic Design could only be Irish. It is the idea of John Kennedy, who went to school in Bangor and now spends much of his time commuting between Belfast and Dublin.
But sole trader Kennedy put his commuting time to good use – he used it to write one of the biggest selling software applications for the iPhone. Kennedy specialises in ‘augmented reality’ applications – which do exactly what they say by enabling users to better understand their physical environment, including the stars.
“My most successful iPhone application is called Pocket Universe and it’s currently in the Top 30 best selling programs on the [iPhone online] store in the US and in Top 20 in the UK and Ireland,” says Kennedy. “That doesn’t sound that impressive, but it’s up against 80,000 other applications, so I’m very pleased.
“It’s been a hit partly due to luck with the timing – it’s an astronomy application for beginners and the media coverage of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing helped increase interest in all things ‘spacey’. It’s a cliche, but ironically the iPhone itself is a computer that’s many times more powerful than the computer that landed man on the moon.”
Like many aspiring businesses, Kennedy has started small. He doesn’t even work full-time for his own business – as well as doing the software programing on the train, he runs the business in the evenings and at weekends.
But even if Craic Design is part-time, Kennedy has well-established skills. He did an MSc in Electronic Engineering at Queens and went on to work for nearly 10 years with Microsoft in Seattle. On his return to Northern Ireland, Kennedy taught himself how to develop software for the Apple Mac and iPhone.
“I’ve been working on astronomy software in my spare time for 15 years and I’ve been waiting that long to be able to create Pocket Universe that works in this way,” says Kennedy. “We’re only just beginning to see the possibilities that handheld computers with always-on internet connections and sophisticated sensors can do.
“The other reason for Pocket Universe‘s success is that I guessed correctly that a new model iPhone would come with a built-in compass and I designed the application with that in mind. A lot of people wrote-off the compass as a gimmick, but it makes it possible to create all kinds of ‘augmented reality’ applications. With my product, you can lift up the iPhone to the sky and see the names of the stars and planets you are looking at.”
Kennedy readily admits that Craic Design is a business that is barely even at ‘launch’ stage. “So far my success has been limited and my business plan is non-existent,” he says. “However, I’m very happy to have proved to myself that the market for mobile device applications is viable. I have more projects in development and we’ll see how that goes.”
Immediate objectives are restricted. Kennedy says he wants to earn enough money that he no longer has to cycle around town. A new Rolls Royce is out for the moment, but Pocket Universe has earned Kennedy enough to at least start looking at second hand cars.