Reuben Bijl and Toby Vincent are iPhone pioneers. Soon after Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, the Christchurch school friends had built 50 apps for the smart phones.
Their company Smudge Apps takes a holistic approach to software, exploring opportunities and “helping people solve problems using technology”.
From humble beginnings as bedroom developers, Bijl and Vincent continued to up the ante year on year as smartphones became mainstream. If you’ve got a smartphone, chances are you’ve used a Smudge app, from the Vodafone My Account app to Flicks, Sky Go and numerous others.
Smudge now does most of its work for corporate clients, working on apps to streamline business. They recently worked with Coca-Cola on a range of apps including sales tools to help their representatives take orders. They’re busy and employ a talented staff of full-time developers.
Bijl says Christchurch’s connectivity helped Smudge to succeed. Small enough to foster a community feel, the city was “also large enough that you’ve got access to things on a world scale”.
“Christchurch is a unique place right now because it’s had so much change, and continues to have so much change,” Bijl says.
“We’ve got great graduates coming out from computer science and engineering programmes, the airport has international links, and the reality is that being physically closer doesn’t make that much difference anymore.”Reuben Bijl - Smudge
“We’ve got great graduates coming out from computer science and engineering programmes, the airport has international links, and the reality is that being physically closer doesn’t make that much difference anymore.”
Christchurch’s tech sector is the second largest in New Zealand, contributing around $2.4 billion of GDP and exporting $1.1 billion annually. Smudge’s apps have been downloaded by more than eight million users globally.
Smudge recently developed a range of apps for New Zealand Police called OnDuty, helping to eliminate the equivalent of 1.5 million forms a year, or 500,000 hours of police time. The Family Harm app picked up four awards at the 2018 Best Design Awards.
He says physically exploring the problems they were trying to solve with their apps was “part of the DNA” at Smudge. Team members spent months shadowing NZ Police officers to get to grips with the job and its challenges. They take the same approach to many of the apps they develop, having also spent time with Coca-Cola in Jakarta.
“To have our whole team going out and exploring, it’s really part of our creative process, actually understanding how people work.”