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Why a Microsoft Evangelist Is Launching an iPhone App Startup

Mike Swanson built a wildly popular iPhone app while working at his day job at Microsoft.
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After more than a decade working as an evangelist for Microsoft, Mike Swanson launched a start-up specializing in... iPhone and iPad apps.

Swanson calls his start-up accidental. It all began in March 2009, when he wanted to try mobile software development–but Microsoft's platform in those days lagged far behind Apple's.

He set out to stay under the radar, building an app called 3D Camera that would let users create and share 3D images.

“I created a ‘novelty’ app primarily because I didn’t have time to maintain servers or other back-end infrastructure, and I wanted a fun app that nobody would depend on,” Swanson wrote in a blog post. "I also needed an app that the press wouldn’t find very interesting. After all, my day job was still as a Technical Evangelist at Microsoft, and nobody needed that article.”

He needed a company name to release 3D Camera in the App Store, so he picked Juicy Bits. "If I knew that it would eventually become my full-time job, I probably would have put more thought into the name!" he wrote.

He kept his work at Juicy Bits a secret from everyone but his wife and a close friend, but he slowly released more apps, including Spy Pix, a photography app that hides one image inside another. It became a hit with college students "who like to send...err...special photos to each other," Swanson noted.

His most recent app, Halftone, was released in February 2011. It makes photos look like they came from old newspapers and comic books. Over the summer, it was selected by Apple as its iPhone and iPad App of the Week in both Canada and the UK, and it recently reached No. 1 in Italy. The app has some 1 million users who've used it to create more than 5.5 million photos. "It even spent some time above Angry Birds, if you can believe it!" Swanson wrote.

Why not Windows apps? He told Geekwire:"While I’d love to write Windows Phone apps (IMO, Visual Studio and C# are still a lot friendlier than Xcode and Objective-C), my experiments led me to iOS, and that’s where I’ve found some degree of success."

Swanson, who described Microsoft as "one of the greatest companies in the world," added: “I’ve had requests for both Android and Windows Phone versions of my apps, and it’s absolutely something that I think about. As you can imagine, the decision to support two different platforms—given that I’m a one-man operation—is a significant one."

 

Last updated: Nov 28, 2011

COURTNEY RUBIN

Inc. contributing editor Courtney Rubin was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.




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