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February 19, 2014

Kids who code: the future of mobile apps

Wondering who will produce the next hit app or game? Pay attention to the under-18 demographic. These digital natives are coming up with great ideas, and they are publishing their own apps.

Get started with Windows Phone App Studio


To begin, we have Mohamed Tariq Jaffar Ali (at right). He is only eight-years old and in the third grade at The Islamic Academy for Peace in Methuen, Massachusetts.

Tariq, as he is known, had the opportunity to attend a Nokia DVLUP Day event this past fall with his father, Jaffar, who has developed a few Windows Phone apps of his own.

While attending this developer event in Boston, Tariq sat in on a session about the free Windows Phone App Studio tool led by Nokia Developer Ambassador Nick Landry, and by the end of that session – about an hour later – Tariq had finished his first app! He decided to create an app for kids like himself, and so it features videos showing some of his – and his sister’s – favorite cartoon characters.

The app is called Kids Zone. Naturally, he has plans to keep adding more content to the app, and he is planning to create another app about countries and capitals – geography is one of his favorite subjects in school.

Last month in Boston, Dean Andrews, who happens to be a Nokia employee, took two of his children – Luke (15) and Veronica (13) with him to a developer day event in the Boston area, and both of the kids finished the day with working apps they created using the Windows Phone App Studio, too. Veronica, who was already learning about coding via projects from, created an app all about penguins, her favorite animal that includes pictures, video and an RSS feed.

Luke took on a somewhat more ambitious project, working on an app that he is planning to present to a local franchise in his area. The app includes loads of pictures of the business, as well as a virtual tour, and details for potential customers. This was actually Luke’s second time working with App Studio, and for this new project, he says it took him the better part of the day to get it done.

Luke plans to go into engineering later in life, so his time spent learning about apps now is clearly well spent. Oh, and based on his experience creating this app for Windows Phone, he plans to work on the Android version of the app next.

Or build your own game with Unity

Next up we have Xander Riga (18), who attended a Nokia DVLUP Day event in Sunnyvale, California this past fall, but with a different goal in mind. Xander is a high school senior and he has been working on a top-down shooter game that is set in outer space. The app is actually a project for school that is due at the end of this academic year. Xander is building the game with Unity, and he is doing all of the art on his own.


He says that the event forced him to concentrate. “A lot of what was helpful was being there all day. I had nowhere else to go and so I had a chance to really work on the game. I usually work for half an hour and then give up – this time, I was able to really sit down and work it out.”

His advice to other young people who are considering creating apps of their own? “When starting it seems like you are working blind, but as you go it becomes clearer – stick with it as you go and put as much time into the app as you can.”

Update (Feb. 19): We just learned that a beta of Xander’s game is now available in Windows Phone Store. It is called Milky Way – you can try it here.

Go native, and code the app yourself

Let’s also consider the work of Aman Ardalan, a 17-year old Iranian-American who lives in Maryland and goes by the name of @teentechgeek on Twitter (you know he’s serious). He got started thanks to the help of his older brother, who has been developing apps for another mobile platform. After dabbling with various operating systems, Aman discovered Windows Phone and he has not looked back. 


Aman did not have prior experience developing apps for Windows Phone, but he found a tutorial on Microsoft’s Channel 9 by Bob Tabor, which he watched several times and used to create a sample app. When he was done, he realized he could take this work to the next level, and soon his first app, called Notetastic, was born.

“I looked at several note-taking apps in the Windows Phone Store, including Microsoft’s own OneNote, and thought that I could do something like this, with some fun features to make my app stand out,” said Aman. “Notetastic is something I use personally, and I really hope it will become something other people will use regularly too.”

Notetastic is a free note-taking app that you can use to quickly keep either written or voice-recorded notes for later use. You can send your written notes to others via SMS or e-mail, or you can save your notes to OneDrive for later use, too.

From start to finish, Notetastic took Aman about two weeks to develop, but it was not without its difficulties along the way. “The hardest part about this app for me was that I challenged myself to build this app without using or visiting Stack Overflow,” which is a question and answer site for programmers. He stuck to the developer documentation he was able to find online, and using resources like Nokia Developer, and he got it done.

He knows he wants to be an app developer professionally, but for now he’s enjoying the initial response to Notetastic, which has been very encouraging. But don’t think he plans to rest on his laurels with this first app. “I am always thinking of new, cool ideas to develop next,” Aman said.

One for the nostalgia buff

And as we were finishing this story, we caught word of one other teen developer that will be worth keeping an eye on! Simone Dosi (17) is from Bologna, Italy. Working under the name Bolopix with his friend Dorotea Trestini (18), who does the graphic design, this duo have two apps in the Windows Phone Store now, and they have a new game that is going to make Nokia history buffs very happy. They call it “Space Squids,” and old-school gamers will quickly recognize this ode to Nokia’s own Space Impact. Here’s a preview of what to expect …


Update (Feb. 19): The game Space Squids is now available for download from the Windows Phone Store.

Do you know any kids or teens who code? Feel free to share links to their Windows Phone or Asha apps in the Comments below.