An aptitude for apps

  • TECH
  • Monday, 07 Dec 2015

Lim Wern Jie, 12, showing the iOS-based Countdown app that he created and published on the App Store. — Photos: MUSTAFA AHMAD/The Star

A talented 12-year-old boy in Penang is possibly one of the youngest app-makers in the country.

MANY adults read the paper for news updates but Lim Wern Jie’s dose of daily news comes from the Apple website.

The 12-year-old straight-A ­student from SJKC Peng Bin, Bukit Mertajam in Penang is fascinated by the US technology company, devouring any news about it on a daily basis.

“The website is like his ­newspaper; he reads it every day and is always excited about what Apple is coming up with next,” shares Jacqueline Tan, Wern Jie’s mother, over Skype.

What’s quite amazing is that in October Wern Jie published his first iOS-based app called the Phone Security Alarm.

The Phone Security Alarm anti-theft app created by Lim Wern Jie, 12, in October 2015 which has since garnered over 37,700 downloads (as of Oct 27). Photo: MUSTAFA AHMAD/The Star
The Phone Security Alarm anti-theft app created by Wern Jie has since garnered over 37,700 downloads as of Oct 27. — MUSTAFA AHMAD/The Star

The app will sound an alarm in situations when the iPhone is at risk of being stolen or lost. For example, if the phone is placed on a table and someone moves or takes it, an alarm will go off unless the owner keys in a password within a specific time frame.

Wern Jie says he created the app because his mother is always reminding him to be careful about his iPhone 4s.

“The alarm will also go off if the phone falls out of your pocket or if someone takes it from your handbag,” he says.

When the Phone Security Alarm app was first made available on the App Store on Oct 1, it was downloaded 37,400 times within nine days.

Wern Jie’s father Ken Lim then suggested he start charging for the app to gauge people’s response to it as a paid app. Within 10 days, the US$0.99 (RM4.20) app generated US$70 (RM295).

However, Wern Jie’s aim is to achieve 100,000 downloads, so the app was converted back to free ­status again. As of Dec 2, it has been downloaded 60,000 times and is available in 120 countries.

Child’s play

Wern Jie, who is always searching for news online about the latest electronic gadgets, has been drawn to computers from young.

“When he was seven, he knew about Microsoft Office and could create documents, spreadsheets and presentations. We just gave him a computer and he explored everything on his own,” adds Tan, 40, a homemaker.

However, the boy’s “obsession” with Apple programs and apps only started recently.

In January this year, he ­downloaded Xcode, a suite of ­software development tools that use the Swift programming ­language. However, as he was busy preparing for his UPSR and also piano exams, he did not do ­anything about it.

In July, his father encouraged him to look into the programming language again, as Wern Jie was bored with his UPSR revision work.

1 Lim Wern Jie, 12, showing the iOS-based Countdown app that he created and published on the App Store. 2 Lim Wern Jie, 12, went through tutorials on Youtube on how to create an app and searched for all the requirements and checklists for approval from Apple before he got his Phone Security Alarm app published.3 Lim Wern Jie, 12, showing the iOS-based Phone Security Alarm app that he created and published.4 Lim Wern Jie, 12, published his first iOS-based app called the Phone Security Alarm in October 2015.— Photos: MUSTAFA AHMAD/The Star
Wern Jie went through tutorials on YouTube on how to create an app and searched for all the requirements and checklists for approval from Apple before he got his Phone Security Alarm app published. — MUSTAFA AHMAD/The Star

“I told him since he liked Apple so much, why not go through ­tutorials on YouTube and find out how to create an app,” recalls Lim, a technical manager in a multinational company in Penang. (Although Lim has an IT ­background and taught Wern Jie HTML and web programming, app programming is completely new to the 40-year-old.)

Wern Jie did just that, learning the basics of the Swift programming language within a week and developing a few simple apps like the Rock, Paper, Scissors game, a flashlight and calculator.

In mid-July, Wern Jie asked for an Apple Developer account so that he could test out all the apps that he had created.

In early August, his parents bought him an Apple Developer account for his 12th birthday.

Although it takes Wern Jie just one day to develop the basic ­functions of an app, the process of documentation and getting ­approval from Apple takes longer.

“The YouTube tutorials were quite difficult but once he ­understood the programming ­language, it was easier for him to develop the app. He also searched for all the requirements and ­checklists for approval by himself,” says Tan, who also has a daughter aged eight.

On a roll

One of the latest apps designed by Wern Jie is Countdown, which tells you how many days there are left to special occasions like Christmas or New Year, or how much time has passed since an event took place, up to the second.

The seed for this free app, ­published Oct 31, was planted by Tan, who said that in school, there were notice boards reminding ­students how many days there were left before a major exam.

“So I told him why not do ­something better for the students who lose track of the number of days left to their exams,” says Tan.

App-creator Lim Wern Jie, 12, also excels in piano, and will sit for his Grade 6 exam this year, after three years of piano lessons. Looking on is his mother Jacqueline Tan, 40, father Ken Lim, 40, and sister Wen Syin, 8, at their home in Bukit Mertajam, Penang. Photo: MUSTAFA AHMAD/The Star
Wern Jie tickling the ivories for his mother Tan, father Lim, and sister Wen Syin at their family home in Bukit Mertajam, Penang. — MUSTAFA AHMAD/The Star

Another app from Wern Jie is the Personal Diary, which lets you use a password or fingerprint on supporting devices to lock your memories.

“The app also has little icons to reflect your mood or the weather,” says Wern Jie. The app went live on Nov 5 and has so far generated 2,000 downloads.

He also designed a mobile app for a Penang property blog ­founded by his father.

“This app basically takes content from my dad’s website and sends push notifications to those who install the app,” explains Wern Jie.

App-making aside, Wern Jie is also musically-inclined and will sit for his Grade 6 piano exam this year, after just three years of piano lessons. His favourite composer is Richard Clayderman.

In his spare time, Wern Jie enjoys reading about astronomy, the human body and technology on online encyclopaedias.

Asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Wern Jie says a ­“scientist in electronics”.

“My biggest worry is that he will lose interest in his studies because he is so engrossed in computer programming. But I hope he will achieve his dreams, whatever it may be,” says Tan.

Lim echoes her thoughts, “I hope he goes on to study what he likes and no matter what, we will ­support him.”

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