8-year-old creates Kids Zone app using Windows Phone App Studio

Mohamed Tariq Jaffar Ali at the November Nokia DVLUP Day event in Cambridge, Mass.

Like other 8-year-olds, Mohamed Tariq Jaffar Ali plays soccer. His favorite part? Scoring goals, once popping three past the goalie in one game!

He also accomplished another goal off the field: creating an app, Kids Zone, that has been downloaded from the Windows Phone Store more than 1,200 times from people in many countries, including Portugal, Mexico, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, India and Lebanon. The free app aggregates YouTube videos and clips from popular cartoons such as “Tom and Jerry,” “Curious George” and “SpongeBob SquarePants” and sorts them into channels easily accessible for kids – and their parents. Tariq, for instance, added Mickey Mouse as a channel for his 4-year-old sister.

The app – and the coverage it’s attracted due to the age of its creator – has made Tariq a bit of a celebrity at his school, among his friends and family and to strangers around the world.

“It’s very exciting. One day at school, everybody started asking me about it. They saw me on the Internet,” says Tariq, a third-grade student at The Islamic Academy for Peace in Methuen, Mass.

His journey to fame started In November, when he attended a Nokia DVLUP Day event with his dad, Jaffar Ali, who is a software engineer at a manufacturing company. Before the event, Tariq had already tried App Studio, and was interested in learning more about it. “I was interested in cartoons and making apps for kids,” Tariq says.

During that one-day event, in which tech evangelists from Nokia and Microsoft train developers of all skill levels on different tools, Tariq was the youngest of the 240 developers (and would-be developers) there. And he was the only kid in the room during the Windows Phone App Studio session.

By the end of the day Tariq had completed his very first app. He showed how it worked after being side-loaded onto his dad’s Nokia Lumia 920. He showed it to Bob Familiar, a Microsoft tech evangelist whose team teaches sessions on tools such as App Studio, C# and Visual Studio in New York, New Jersey and New England through events like the one Tariq and his father attended. Games, news readers and productivity apps were the most popular results of the November event.

“Just add content, then the data,” Tariq says. “It was just easy.”

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Tariq’s app went live in the Windows Phone Store in December – with help from his dad – and after the Ali family’s winter vacation, Familiar set up an interview in February for Tariq with BetaBoston’s Cal Borchers at the Microsoft Technology Center in Cambridge.

“Tariq was very bright and engaging, taking Cal through how to use App Studio,” Familiar said. “It was like watching an 8-year-old technical evangelist. He explained the data source, demo’d the app on the phone and saw it projected on big screens in the room.”

Tariq’s experience with App Studio shows how the program is reaching even the youngest of creative types.

“We’re now working to bring App Studio workshop to the retail stores,” Familiar says. “Mothers who are home schooling kids are very interested in activities like this … In our experience, students are very interested in the app economy. They want to participate but don’t have the computer science skills to do so from scratch. On the college level, there are business students who want to understand the app economy, and what drives downloads. It’s that story arc of bringing a product to market.”

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Tariq isn’t done with App Studio yet. “Right now I’m thinking to do an app about the solar system, and then countries and capitals. I feel like it would be good and good for other kids,” he says.

He used the family’s Surface RT to build his app, and for playing games like “Zombie Panic” and “Logo Quiz.” He loves the touchscreen display and how easy it is to carry. He uses Bing Sports to keep up with his favorite football team. He’s such a big fan, he cheered for the Seahawks during the Super Bowl – because the Broncos beat his beloved Pats.

In fact, Tariq enjoys his Surface so much, he wants to see his app in the Windows Store, so he’s working on a Windows version, too.

He also used the Surface to print out the poster board text for his award-winning science project. “I made a robot that can draw,” he says, matter-of-factly. He named his robot, which runs on an ADC motor, “ARTBOT” and chose to explore how the weight on top of the motor affects the robot’s drawings.

Proud father Jaffar Ali says his son became interested in all things technology at the ripe young age of 6. Tariq not only knows that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were Microsoft’s first two CEOs, he also knows Satya Nadella is the current one. Since Nadella also hails from Tariq’s family’s homeland of India, his ascent is a source of inspiration for the third-grader. Tariq sees his own future as a “developer, making robots and an engineer!”

He’s on his way toward those goals. He has attended a three week YouthSpark summer camp program organized by the Microsoft Store at a nearby mall in New Hampshire. Tariq also attends a computer club at his school that meets on the weekend. Organized by volunteer parents, students learn basic concepts of science (i.e., electricity using snap circuits, solar energy), computer programming, Kodu Game Lab and robotics using the LEGO MindStorms EV3 kit. Tariq’s classmates will also find out what App Studio is all about, as the same trainer who taught him has agreed to give a session to his classmates through the computer club.

For now, he’s focused on his app, regularly checking the dashboard to see the download count (it doubled from March 7 to March 10) and reading the comments and reviews. One reviewer gave him the kind of encouragement he’s now used to getting since the app went live: “Keep up the good work little buddy…. YOU ARE THE FUTURE.”

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Athima Chansanchai
Microsoft News Center Staff