An app-etite for accurate bill splitting

Whoever said nice guys finish last clearly never met the Coyotes.

The team, comprising five Crescent School students, finished second in a late-September mobile application development competition they weren’t even supposed to be in.

The competition was initially meant for post-secondary teams only, but were allowed in after writing the organizers a letter and asking nicely.

“We first heard about it from my dad,” says Grade 11 student Ian Lo. “He sent an email and said this looks interesting — maybe you can think of something and compete.

“We sent them an email and asked about it, and just for us they sort of wrote up some permission slips, and that’s how we got around that rule.”

Lo, along with classmates Adam Murai, Jeffrey Seto and Max Liu, and Grade 12 student Nick Haughton, was tasked with developing an application that dealt with point-of-sale transactions as a part of the Mastercard Mobile Payments Developer Challenge.

The result: a mobile app that can split your restaurant bill evenly among multiple credit cards.

It’s more than just a calculator. The app also issues receipts (right now, through email) and will soon be able to save coupons attached to the email.

“So you register a certain email, then you go back to the same restaurant you have the coupon for, and it will check your email to see if it has a valid coupon and then give you a prompt to see if you want to use the coupon,” Seto said, outlining its function.

While they are still developing that aspect of the app, they have a placeholder for the time being, with a basic trivia game in which a successful result has the restaurant offering the app user a coupon.

After essentially sneaking into the competition, the Coyotes aptly named their invention NIMJA, an acronym of their first names. They managed to get second place in the student category.

The competition began with a written submission. From there, the top 20 teams were chosen to compete in the 28-hour development portion of the contest on Sept. 28 and 29. Knowing there would be stiff competition, the team planned in advance.

“We had a prototype beforehand that had a similar basic functionality (as the final product), but it didn’t have most of the features,” Liu said.

This was the first time the team had worked collaboratively on a project, and they quickly discovered it was not the average programming competitions they were used to.

“Toward the end of the first day and into the second day we were beginning to realize how important the business side was,” Murai said.

During the competition, they had to do a two-minute “elevator pitch” to the judges, who were mainly looking for business value and creativity — two things entirely new to the team.

“This competition had so much more creativity involved on our part instead of just looking at how long it takes to run a code or if it works,” said Haughton, who the group named when the topic of business came up. “The creative aspect is completely different from pretty much anything we’ve done so far.

“And for five programmers we’ve learned a lot about business.”

Following the elevator pitch, the judges then selected the top two student teams to do a full five-minute panel presentation. At this point, the team was thrilled knowing it had had a very successful result.

“I think we’re all happy with second place,” Murai said.

“We were going to be happy either way, whether we came in first or second,” added Lo.

In the end the five friends, who are all looking at going into computer science or software development in post-secondary, felt they had learned a lot about the development industry.

“It was a really good experience to see how professional developers work,” Haughton said. “I think that sort of environment where they were under pressure would happen quite a bit in their workplace when they’re on a tight deadline and they have to release something soon.”

Crescent School’s dream team turns heads

Though they have not completed the app the Town Crier was given a sneak peek at how it works.

The boys set up a sample bill at $61, included a $2 tip (remember this wasn’t a real bill) and, using a credit card with a chip, placed the chip to the back of a cellphone. Immediately, a 16-digit number — the first 12 numbers blanked out — appeared on the screen, with a $63.00 total beside it.

Then to demonstrate that it doesn’t apply only to chip cards, they placed the card under the phone’s camera, took a picture and typed in the expiry date. Within seconds the same last four digits as before appeared again, this time with a $31.50 total beside it.

The Coyotes say they are using the same technology as that being advertised by banking giant ING Direct, where cellphones can take pictures of cheques and then directly deposit them into bank accounts.

Their app cannot split bills into different amounts, but it is something they say they are working on. In the meantime, there are other functions to make bill paying a little easier.

Team member Ian Lo points out that the ability to pay two shares by tapping the card twice is in place, and so are cash placeholders which accommodates members of a group who prefer to pay in cash.

The boys say they are hoping to get industry onboard before launching the app publicly.

“What we have in mind right now is to have maybe the first two or three months free where retailers can give it a try,” Lo said.
“After that, monthly billing rather than taking a percentage or cuts.”

Of course, there is something else the team is focused on for the time being: school work.

“We’re trying to work around school because it’s starting to get pretty busy,” Lo said. “So whenever we have free time, we work on it.”

About this article:

By: Shawn Star
Posted: Nov 12 2013 4:30 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto