Monday, May 10, 2010

Peoria Company Reinventing Itself With iPhone Apps (Complete Article)

By Steve Tarter of the Journal Star

PEORIA — The iPod phenomenon has done more than make Apple Inc., makers of iPods, iPhones and other items, a lot of money.

It has accelerated the development of the mobile Internet as users learn "there's an app for that" and decide on which apps they want.

An app is computerese for application, if you didn't know.

As iPhones, iPod Touches (which provide the Internet connection without the phone) and other devices proliferate, the market for apps has exploded. Apple's iPod store offers more than 100,000 apps, with more coming available every day.

A Peoria company looks to help in that development.

Appitudez, Inc., a division of DLA Creative, Inc. 3332 W. Willow Knolls Road, already has developed two apps and has more on the way, said Michelle Lefebvre, DLA vice president.

"Financial Calculators" was the first app the Peoria agency developed. It allows the user 11 different calculators in one. The user can figure such things as home loans, auto loans and credit card payoffs - all in the palm of his or her hand. The financial tool sells for $5.99 - pricey by app standards, according to one online reviewer, who still raved about the app's effectiveness.

Then, earlier this year, Appitudez came up with "Cartoonerizer," a free download that lets you take your favorite photograph and convert it to cartoon form.

"Cartoonerizer had more than 45,000 worldwide downloads in the first week of its release on Jan. 5," said Adam Byerly, a partner in Appitudez who handles the tech side of the operation while Marc Lefebvre, DLA co-founder and Michelle's husband, handles design duties.

"Both of our apps have flown through the application process," said Michelle Lefebvre, referring to the official acceptance by iPod's Apple managers. "They receive over 8,000 apps a week for approval and not all are accepted," she said.

The app market is already a billion-dollar proposition, said Michelle Lefebvre. "Experts estimate it will be a $4 billion market by 2012," she said.

While many of the apps developed around the world are games people can play on their handheld device, Appitudez is focused on business, she said.

"We're kicking around ideas for our next app. We're excited about bringing this (opportunity) to corporations. There are plenty of large and medium-sized businesses that could benefit," said Michelle Lefebvre.

National firms such as Geico, Nationwide Insurance and Pizza Hut already offer apps to customers, said Marc Lefebvre. "In the case of Pizza Hut, you actually build the pizza you want online," he said.

The Peoria firm has already been pitching area customers on possible apps, said Byerly.

"For some target audiences, (apps) really make sense. My personal goal is to develop a double-digit number of apps over the next year or two," he said.

As Spencer, the Lefebvre's beagle, pads about the DLA offices ("He's our chief morale officer," said Michelle Lefebvre), change hangs in the air.

While DLA is a 17-year-old ad agency that has worked on all types of media campaigns, the whole concept of building specific downloads for customers is still relatively new, said Michelle Lefebvre. "We've had to reinvent ourself in terms of the services we offer. Part of this involves launching an entirely new service," she said.

Launched last year, Appitudez builds on DLA's marketing experience, she said.

The rapid adoption of apps by the public has proven to be a challenge. "We're still learning as we go," said Byerly.

One thing that hasn't changed is the need to listen to clients about their needs, said Michelle Lefebvre.

"As a marketing firm, our goal is to help companies develop creative strategies to grow their business in spite of difficult times," she said.

And find an app for that.

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