German language tool wins mobile app challenge


Dale Shoemaker | News Editor

By Josh Ye / Staff Writer

After seeing countless first-year students waste their dining hall swipes — and others who wished they had some — two former Resident Assistants hit their laptops.

Asim Viqar and Shil Patel designed Swipes — an app that facilitates sharing meal swipes and allows students to tip one another for the service — for Pitt’s second annual Mobile App Challenge.

“We see a supply and demand there between students who have swipes to offer and those who are looking for swipes,” Viqar, a junior neuroscience student, said.

Based on student votes, Viqar and Patel’s app won second place in Pitt’s second annual Pitt Mobile App Challenge on Thursday, while a German language learning app that lets users practice on the go, called Verblitz, took first place.

Nearly 300 student app developers, entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts filled the William Pitt Union Assembly Room from noon to 2 p.m. at Computing Services and Systems Development’s Pitt Mobile App Challenge Award Ceremony. All 15 teams  presented their apps at tables throughout the room, each falling into one of three categories: ideas, mockups and prototypes.

The Challenge, which began taking submissions in November 2015, gives students the chance to win prizes for their projects. During the ceremony, CSSD announced five app idea winners, three app mockup winners and two prototype winners.

Robert Burger, a junior information science major, won last year’s competition with an app to connect users with event info. And this year, he took home the grand prize for his prototype of Verblitz. The app, which offers users lists of German words and audio samples that help with learning, won Burger $2,000 in Amazon credit.

Burger, who is currently planning a trip to Germany, said he designed the app as a way for him to study the language before he left.

“I see this as a stepping stone which allows me to do other things,” Burger said. His next project, he said, is making a documentary about Syrian refugees.

Though his app might not be the most powerful prototype in the competition, Burger said, he won because he was persistent in marketing his app and getting people to vote for him.

He said he lobbied for his app in Hillman Library and Towers Lobby, asking students to vote on the spot.

“It is more important for me to get votes and win the App Challenge than it is to have a very beautiful final products which might not have the votes necessary to win,” Burger said. “I am here to win the Pitt Mobile App Challenge.”

He said is not yet sure what he will do with the prize money.

For Viqar and Patel, the challenge was a lesson in app development — and simplicity.

“Anyone with a computer can develop an app,” Viqar said.

He said the challenge encouraged him to continue designing mobile apps— he and Patel will independently launch their app on the App Store by the end of the summer.

Viqar also said the competition’s layout raises issues of fairness, and hopes next year’s competition will rely on a combination of student votes and a panel of experts to determine the winner.

Orr Goehring, senior communication coordinator for CSSD, said the department is aware of those “issues related to the quality of the apps submitted compared to the number of votes they receive,” but that the goal of the challenge for its first two years was more centered on allowing students to evaluate their peers’ work and decide winners.

“We really want to give Pitt students the opportunity to showcase their skills, entrepreneurial spirits and ideas,” Goehring said. “[It provides an opportunity] for students to take a problem or a need that they see and come up with a mobile app to address that need and solve that problem.”

He said the challenge has garnered significantly more attention than last year’s — the winning prototype received about 500 votes this year, compared to 120 votes last year.

According to Goehring, CSSD is already discussing ways to get more teams to compete next year but has not nailed down any specific details yet.

For Burger, the challenge is simply a chance to make good ideas come to fruition.

“Good ideas are not hard to find. It’s the people who go after and pursue them,” Burger said. “If you have a good idea and you don’t go and get it out there, you will be better off doing something else.”

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