A surprise was waiting for Charley Hutchison when he got home from school on April 30.
It was the reward for hours of work that might have landed the 12-year-old a spot in mobile technology history.
Hutchison had spent several months working to develop an app for Apple that combined the mobile photo sharing app Flickr with a wireless device’s contact information storage.
Sitting in the driveway of his parents’ Jackson home that Monday afternoon was a sign a family friend made that let Charley know he hadn’t wasted his time.
FriendsForFlickr had made it through Apple’s screeners and had made it to market on the company’s App Store. Charley was now believed to be one of the youngest app developers in Apple history. It marked the culmination of a race to get the app approved before his 12th birthday in early May.
“That Sunday night (April 29), I emailed the head of (mobile operating systems) at Apple to see if he could get me toward the front of the line, because it normally takes about a week to get it reviewed” before it’s either approved, rejected or sent back for more work, Charley, a sixth-grader at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Middle School in Ridgeland, said of Apple’s app screening process.
Charley’s email served its purpose. The next day, while Charley was at school, Melissa Hutchison listened to a voicemail from Apple’s app technology head Richard Chipman, who told her FriendsForFlickr had been approved for release to the App Store.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Hutchison said. “I had to call him back because I hadn’t answered my phone because I didn’t recognize the area code.”
FriendsForFlickr works with the photo sharing app Flickr to sync photos with a user’s contacts. Users can view photos by contact or map views with geocoded photos. The app’s refresh button allows users to grab new contact photos as soon as they’re posted and to load photos from multiple contacts simultaneously. It’s free at the App Store. Charley said he came up with the idea after becoming frustrated with cross-referencing his contacts with their Flickr accounts.
It was Charley’s second app. A little more than a year ago, he finished up Doodles for Android, which allowed users to modify photos on their phones. It functions similarly to Photoshop.
Once Doodles reached the Android Market – that company’s version of the App Store – Charley wanted to develop an app for Apple, a feat known in programming circles to be considerably more difficult.
“Apple screens it for efficiency, first of all,” Charley said. “And I don’t know exactly how they calculate it, but they have a chart or something that says your app should use this much battery power. And if it doesn’t, it won’t get approved. I’d say they have a 50-page list of things about just how the screen should look. The entire screening process is pretty rigorous.”
FriendsForFlickr’s approval process complete, Charley said he believes he’s “in the top two or three” youngest Americans to ever develop an app for Apple.
That’s hard to confirm, though, because to own an Apple development account, you have to be a minimum of 18 years old, or at least claim to be. An Apple spokesperson wouldn’t comment on whether Hutchison was among the youngest developers in company history.
“That’s not something we would confirm either way,” Christine Monaghan said, citing proprietary issues.
Hutchison said Charley has shown an interest in programming and software for a couple years. “He went and bought a bunch of books that dealt with Java” and used them to teach himself, she said. “Then all of a sudden he brought me this Doodles app and that’s when I knew that he was serious. Until then I just thought he was messing around.”
Developing an app — no matter what age the developer is — takes no small amount of time. To provide balance, Hutchison said, Charley is a member of Troop 1 of the Andrew Jackson Council’s Boy Scouts of America, whose monthly campouts are a software-free diversion. Charley has also spent a few weeks out of the past few summers at a camp in Canada.
“There were times when I really wanted him to get off the computer and get outside,” Hutchison said.
His status as an Apple app developer secured, Charley said he’s already decided to build another one, as soon as he decides what type he wants it to be. He hasn’t set a timetable for doing so.
Folks at St. Andrew’s have known Charley’s goals were bigger than his age for a while. When he arrived at the middle school as a fifth-grader, he quickly stood out as somebody who was “notably advanced in his thinking” in a school known for being full of those type of students, said one administrator.
“We often don’t see adolescents that are that focused,” said Ruthie Hollis, head of St. Andrew’s Middle School. “I knew he had a passion that was driven internally, and it wasn’t something his parents were putting in front of him. It was Charley’s dream to do it.”
When Charley started asking one of his teachers about algorithms, Hollis said it was apparent that his ability was beyond his grade level. To accommodate him, he started taking classes — particularly those that deal with advanced math — that were usually for kids several grades ahead of him. It was also obvious, Hollis said, that Charley needed mentors.
“So we just provided him with a network to keep that dream alive. It’s just been so much fun to see him do what he’s done as a sixth grader. But what’s been really beautiful those last 18 months is that he’s not let those be his only qualities. He’s developed the others and is really well-rounded. He’s humble, very much a team player and wants to share his time with his friends and wants to make sure they understand everything as well as he does. He’s the quintessential Southern gentleman.”
Charley Hutchison talks with MBJ-TV video journalist Stephen McDill in the video below.