Atholton student designs apps for Apple store

Atholton High School student Eric Lu whipped out his cellphone and displayed information about the 7.3-magnitude earthquake that occurred off the west coast of Sumatra on Tuesday. The information came courtesy of mobile application software called Quakes — Earthquake Notifications, and Lu vouches for its accuracy.

After all, it's his app.


Lu, 17, is an independent software developer who has four applications on Apple's App Store sites. They include Quakes, a free app that Lu says offers users information on earthquakes greater than magnitude 2.5, along with data from the U.S. Geological Survey. The app includes maps and seismograph charts that show when and where an earthquake has occurred.

Software development has become a rewarding venture for the Laurel student, whose passion for science also led him to build a hovercraft in seventh grade. He also began writing Web languages like HTML and JavaScript in middle school and began toying with software application development shortly after watching an online presentation of the Apple iPhone.


Lu said his Quakes app has received more than 100,000 hits.

"I taught myself the programming languages behind it; it was something I wanted to do, so I did it," said Lu. He also has an app called Countdowns, which allows users to log the time leading up to and after a particular event. His app Batteryd allows users to determine how much battery power is left in their devices.

Lu's first app to be released on Apple's App store is called HTML Editor; released in June, it allows users to view, copy and paste the source code for a Web page.

Atholton Principal Jennifer Clements said Lu is among many students at the school who are putting their passions toward successful ventures.

"He's an outstanding student," she said. "It's a wonderful opportunity he's taken advantage of. It's something we try to encourage in all of our students, to really think about what their future aspirations are, and how can they start working toward those now.

"For many kids, that comes in the form of the coursework and the foundational skills and information they're learning," Clements said. "In his case, he's taken that to another level and has found opportunities to actually apply his interests and his skills and expertise. He epitomizes what we're trying to foster in all of our students."

Lu's apps are listed on the Apple Store website, with him as the copyright holder and Ming Lu, his father, as the seller, which Eric says was done for legal reasons. Though Quakes is free, it comes with the option of purchasing more features. (Countdowns sells for 99 cents; HTML Editor sells for $4.99; Batteryd is also free.)

Lu earns royalties from his apps, but he declined to say how much revenue he has generated.

"Some apps [that I've developed] I use just for myself to speed things along, like schoolwork," said Lu, who has also written software code for the Android system.

Lu said that it can take days to develop an app and that it can be much like writing a school paper. "You always polish it and update it, and you take the initial steps toward writing it, and sometimes you have difficulties so you have to stop and rethink it," he said.

"Personally, for me, I've always had issues with data management; when you manipulate data, you have to decide when you want to save it so that it's transparent to the user," Lu said. "In the past, my apps have had some issues with that, but I think I'm getting better at it."

The App Store site listed 647 ratings for Lu's Quakes app as of last week, including 280 five-star ratings and 99 one-star ratings. The site also lists more than 470 reviews, with many recent comments requesting that Lu bring back an earlier version.


"There are some negative reviews, but there are a lot more positive in the end," said Lu. "I would always prefer positive reviews, of course, but I learn from them and take their feedback."

Lu said he thinks he could make a living writing apps and is proud that people are using his creations.

"I view this," Lu said, "as a steppingstone for bigger engineering projects that I have in mind."

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