Local developer bags Apple Design Award

Clean Shaven Apps co-founder Muh Hong Cheng collected the award trophy in San Jose.
Clean Shaven Apps co-founder Muh Hong Cheng collected the award trophy in San Jose.

It's a first for S'pore and S-E Asia; prizes are for best independent Apple developers

Singapore developer Clean Shaven Apps has emerged as one of the winners of the prestigious Apple Design Awards for its currency converter app Elk on the tech giant's mobile operating systems.

This is the first time a Singapore-based developer has won the award from the iPhone maker. It is also a first win for South-east Asia.

Clean Shaven Apps was one of the 10 winners at this year's awards at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Jose. The results were announced on Wednesday. Apple did not disclose how many entries were in the running.

The Straits Times understands that Elk's thoughtful design and efficient experience on the Apple Watch were key factors in the win.

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Since their inception in 1997, the Apple Design Awards have recognised the best and most innovative Macintosh and iOS software and hardware created by independent developers. Past winners include the popular productivity app Evernote in 2013 and the game Monument Valley in 2014.

Clean Shaven Apps was founded by Malaysia-born permanent resident Muh Hon Cheng, 36, and Singaporean Lin Junjie, 31, in 2015.

Mr Lin is known for the Due reminder app, while Mr Muh is behind the SG NextBus transit app.

The duo first met during a developer seminar. They became good friends and decided to team up to form Clean Shaven Apps.

Mr Muh, who collected the award at WWDC, was surprised but delighted with the win. "Every time I go to (the awards), I hope they would call my name," said Mr Muh, who has attended the annual WWDC since 2010.

Mr Lin, who could not attend the event, said via e-mail: "It is surreal that a modest team of two, working out of a study room in a Housing Board flat, can be recognised at the highest level alongside top developers and designers from the United States and Europe."

Launched in April, the Elk - Travel Currency Converter, as it is called in the Apple App Store, shows the conversions for the user's home currency and a currency of interest. The conversions can be compared side by side across 10 values for each currency on the iPhone version of the app.

Users can just swipe on the app to quickly change the currency values. "We wanted to reduce input via keyboard," said Mr Muh.

Elk also uses a mobile device's current time zone to infer the currency that a person might be using, so he need not manually select specific currencies to convert.

For the Apple Watch version of the app, users can tap, swipe and rotate the smart watch's digital crown to convert currencies. It took about 31/2 months to develop the app.

The idea for Elk originated from Mr Lin's habit of creating a lock screen wallpaper on his phone with a list of 10 values each for two currencies whenever he travels.

Elk can be downloaded for a 14-day free trial from the App Store, after which it costs $5.98 to unlock all currencies. It can still be used for free after the trial period, but users will have access to only six popular currencies such as the US dollar, euro and Japanese yen.

Financially, Elk is not doing so well. One in 100 users has paid for the app so far. "In the 54 days since Elk was available on the App Store, we have about 73,000 downloads but less than $3,000 in profit," said Mr Lin.

While Clean Shaven Apps is not sure if the award would help make Elk more popular, the developer hopes Apple will feature the app prominently in the weeks and months to come. "We hope it will be a long-term feature that will benefit us," said Mr Muh.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2017, with the headline 'Local developer bags Apple Design Award'. Print Edition | Subscribe