South Florida’s app economy emerging on many fronts
BY MIKE SEEMUTH
SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD
A Miami-based developer of online training programs called LearnerNation is improving its mobility while raising money to expand. The young company is easing access to its website with a smartphone, having decided against the alternative of creating a mobile app for a particular brand of handset, such as Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Android. “That could be extremely costly for a startup, and also you become more app-centric at that point,” said Michael Laas, co-founder and chief operating officer of LearnerNation. “Another way you can go is, we’re actually going to be designing our site to be browser-friendly for smartphones, so it doesn’t matter if you’re logging in from an iPhone or an Android phone.”
Welcome the rapidly changing app economy. While mobile apps are popular among consumers who own smartphones, many companies are achieving mobile connectivity through so-called cloud computing, or the use of software that resides on the Internet, not on a smartphone, tablet or laptop. These are the “two divergent paths when it comes to being used on mobile devices,” Laas said. “Are you based for the Web, or are you based for an app, for a smartphone?”
Both paths are providing unparalleled handheld access to information over the Internet, and the march toward nonstop connectivity has created unprecedented opportunities. The development of mobile apps, in particular, has become a dynamic force in the software sector of the economy. Building and distributing software for mobile phones has never been cheaper, so this slice of the software industry has attracted not only a swarm of inventive entrepreneurs but also a slew of advisors, financiers and technicians to help them. Big brand-name corporations are investing in mobile connectivity, too, along with social media exposure, transactional capabilities and other elements of their online presence.
By one measure, South Florida’s app economy appears to be growing faster than the overall economy. The number of payroll jobs in information services, a broad sector of the economy encompassing software development and publishing, has risen by 1,200 in Miami-Dade and Broward counties since 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 12-month average for the two counties increased to 35,800 last year from 35,000 in 2011, a 2.3 percent rise, about double the growth rate of total non-farm employment in the two counties. National employment in information services totaled 2,688,000 in June, virtually unchanged from a year ago, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday.
Payroll employment figures, however, undercount the impact of independent contractors who have created their own jobs in the app economy. Entrepreneurial activity may be greater in the software industry than in any other. One prominent piece of evidence in recent years has been the proliferation of local facilities known as incubators and accelerators with programs to help entrepreneurs turn software-based ideas into viable ventures. Other companies build software-based systems for entrepreneurial ventures and take equity positions in them. A fast-growing startup company called Rokk3r Labs in Miami Beach, for example, is building software that will improve mobile access to the website of LearnerNation.
Launched in January 2012, LearnerNation has sold online programs for employee training to commercial customers that include Riot Games, a leading publisher of computer games, and Hulu, an online video service provider.