Polar Mobile, a 30-person Toronto-based startup, has no shortage of famous customers. TIME Magazine, Sports Illustrated and BusinessWeek have all turned to the company to help develop their mobile applications for smart phones.
Now, Polar is on the cutting edge of a new technology phenomenon fuelled by the rise of the app generation: call it reverse outsourcing.
A number of Asia's biggest publications have just signed deals with the firm to develop the mobile versions of their websites, leveraging Polar's content management system. The deals lend credence to a growing sentiment in technology sectors: that Toronto and Waterloo, where Polar was founded and where Research In Motion has its headquarters, are joining Silicon Valley as the world's application development hotbeds.
"The market had exploded," says Polar CEO Kunal Gupta. "Global expansion is big on our priority list. Polar, which started three years ago in Waterloo and has since moved to Toronto and opened a New York office, has signed deals with Hong Kong news portal MingPao, as well as Indonesia's largest paper, Kompas, and the Shanghai Daily.
The deals illustrate a growing trend among content firms such as newspapers and magazines to give readers a customized mobile portal, utilizing the power of smart phones such as the BlackBerry and the iPhone. However Polar's products are deliberately geared away from customization. Many of the company's content management systems are built on the same basic software, and tweaked to meet the needs of individual customers.
While many major companies will still opt to produce their mobile apps from scratch, Mr. Gupta says, those custom content systems can't be turned around in two weeks - a timeline Polar is able to offer its customers. Polar is one of a number of application developers trying to leverage the recently introduced concept of the "super app."
Research In Motion executives have described the idea as an application that uses multiple smart phone features - such as calendar and e-mail functions - to give users a richer experience. For RIM, the "super app" is a means of compensating for the company's relative lack of apps compared with the number available for the Apple iPhone, by stressing quality over quantity.
For developers, the "super app" is a means of convincing companies in regions such as Asia, the Middle East and Latin America to spend a little extra for a more powerful app, designed by developers who are most familiar with the smart phone platform. "They're paying more for us than they would for a local company," Mr. Gupta says.