Singapore developer wins Apple Design Award in a first for the country and South-east Asia

Mr Muh Hong Cheng of Clean Shaven Apps collecting the Apple Design Awards trophy at Apple's annual worldwide developer conference. His company is one of the 10 winners this year for their currency converter app, Elk. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN
Mr Muh Hong Cheng showing off the Apple Watch companion app of his company's currency converter app Elk. The Elk app is one of the 10 winners of Apple Design Awards at WWDC this year. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN
A screenshot of the Elk currency converter app by Clean Shaven Apps. The Elk app is one of the 10 winners of Apple Design Awards at WWDC this year. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN
Mr Li Junjie (standing) with Mr Muh Hon Cheng of Clean Shaven Apps created the Elk currency converter app, which won the Apple Design Awards at WWDC 2017. PHOTO: CLEAN SHAVEN APPS

SAN JOSE - 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 that a Singapore-based developer has won the awards by the iPhone maker and it also marks a first for South-east Asia.

Clean Shaven Apps was one of the 10 winners globally at this year's awards held at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Jose. The results were announced on Wednesday (June 7).

Apple did not disclose how many entries were in the running for the awards.

Since its inception in 1997, the Apple Design Awards recognise 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 Mr Muh Hon Cheng, 36, and Singaporean Mr 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 been attending the annual WWDC since 2010.

Mr Lin, who was not able to make the trip due to cost issues, said in an e-mail interview: "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 the app is called in the Apple App Store, shows the conversions for two currencies in a table - the user's home currency and a currency of interest.

The conversions can be compared side by side across 10 values, such as from 1 to 10, on the iPhone version of the app.

Users do not need to type the currency values too. They can swipe left to increase the value of the entire list by 10 times, up to a value of 10 billion. Users can swipe right to reduce all the values by 10 times up to a value of 1.

"We want to reduce input via keyboard," said Mr Muh for the rationale of this input method.

Elk also uses the iPhone's current time zone to infer the currency that a person might be using, so he might not even need to 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 on their wrist.

"We actually think the Apple Watch is more natural for the app, because you can do it discreetly and you don't have to take out your iPhone," Mr Muh said.

It took about three and a half months for Mr Muh and Mr Lin to develop the app, from conceptualising it to bringing it live to the App Store.

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.

"I could shave a lot of time and hassle off what I was doing if I could have a reference list that is always on the lock screen of my iPhone, without having to key in anything at all," said Mr Lin.

There has been no official word from Apple yet but The Straits Times understands that Elk's thoughtful design and efficient experience on the Apple Watch - which makes currency conversion fast and convenient - were important factors in securing the award.

Elk can be download from the App Store with a 14-day free trial, after which it costs $5.98 to unlock all the currencies. It can still be used after the trial without paying, but users 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 customers have 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, since the Apple Store can be unpredictable, 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.

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