Shaping the Future of Tech: 3 Apps Built Out of Arizona College Students’ Dorms


Mobile applications are a strange and ephemeral sort of tech dream. Unlike websites, which can be built in a matter of minutes with various online platforms, mobile apps require extensive programming, graphic design, and digital sound skills—and even then, they have to be good enough for people to want to download. Hundreds of professionals visualize the perfect social, productivity, and gaming apps in their heads, but few have the resources or capabilities to make them a reality.

These three Arizona-based applications, however, were generated by developers unlimited by skill. From the comfort of their dorms, campus libraries, and local coffee shops, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University students Kevin Crommelin, Samuel Robison, and Jake DeBen (and their respective teammates) produced a multitude of apps for entertaining and connecting.

Friender works a little like your average matchmaking application—but instead of setting you up on an awkward coffee date, the app helps you find friends with similar interests in your area. After writing a short bio and selecting your favorite hobbies and activities in the app, you have the ability to view potential friends’ profiles. Swiping left on a profile means you aren’t interested, while swiping right indicates you’d like to chat or hang out sometime (sound familiar?). Once you and a potential friend “match,” you can chat within the app, then arrange a time to meet up and do one of your mutually-loved activities together, whether it be hiking, soccer, shopping, movie-going, or any of the other 80 preset hobbies.

Though Kevin Crommelin, CEO of Friender and now an ASU alumnus, learned quite a bit about technology entrepreneurship and management at the IRA A. Fulton School of Engineering, he couldn’t have created Friender without the help of his business partners: Zach Babiarz (Friender President and business communications student) and Matthew Proud (Friender’s CMO). At first, learning to navigate the mobile application industry was tricky—during school, Kevin and his partners didn’t necessarily plan on launching an app—but their end goal made it worth the work: there were plenty of apps available for finding dates, but none for finding friends after moving for college or a new job. Finally, Friender came to fruition, and the app is now marketed through campus ambassadors at ASU. The Friender team plans on advertising the app through high influencers on social media, TV, and the radio once the spring semester ends.

Tito the Turtle
While at first relatively simplistic, Tito the Turtle works off of a skip-and-jump mechanism reminiscent of the iconic apps Flappy Bird and Color Switch. The user plays a costumed turtle, whose main goal is to hop over food items on a grocery store conveyor belt. The longer a user can go without running into a food item, the higher that user’s score is. Both the visual design and background music emulate a retro, 8-bit style, making it nostalgic and engaging for adult players and addicting for those a little younger.

Tito the Turtle was developed by Samuel Robison, Zachary Timberlake, and Derek Velzy during their freshman year at ASU; Sam and Zach are students of computer science, while Derek studies mechanical engineering. The idea for the app was inspired by a flat ground conveyor belt (the kind that helps people walk to their destinations quicker) Sam and Zach saw at the airport. During the early stages of development, the trio broke into separate departments, with Sam managing the programming, Zach designing the app’s artwork, and Derek creating the music. When everything came together, they had a gaming app with a true, straight-out-of-the-arcade feel. At first, the team used social media to give Tito the Turtle some traction; now they view it as an experimental project from which they’ll learn to build future apps.

Boxel, too, is a skip-and-jump game—but this time, the user taps his or her smartphone screen to make a little box hop over oncoming obstacles. The background changes from a sunny, deceivingly calming landscape to a dark cityscape for variety, while broken ground and spikes approach the box at a gradually increasing speed. Despite its friendly graphics and upbeat, retro background music, Boxel is known on the Google Play store for lovingly teasing its players with simple beginner’s levels and near impossible-to-beat ones toward the end.

Jake DeBen is a one-man developer extraordinaire. Boxel is by far his most successful creation (to the point that it was ripped off and recreated with ads using Jake’s source code), but Jake also produced games like Flack and Cavel—and even a software called Editor, which helps developers build 2D tilemap games—all while studying visual communications at Northern Arizona University. He first gained interest in programming when a family member introduced him to a game called “Load Runner,” which allowed players to develop and play custom levels right on their own consoles. For Jake, this was far more engaging than playing the games, and ever since, he’s been hooked. Since the development of Boxel and the others Jake has graduated from NAU, but he continues to develop apps, computer games, and software.

Kevin Crommelin, Samuel Robison, and Jake DeBen are just a few of the young adults heading the app development scene on Arizona college campuses. Who knows—maybe the game you played this morning was built by the college kid down the street.


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