PORTLAND – Smartphone applications — the handy, sometimes quirky programs known as apps — have become wildly popular in the last year, with more than 250,000 available for Apple’s iPhone alone.

Maine-based techies are part of the frenzy, launching app development firms and releasing programs that help users traverse national parks, correct speech irregularities and view real-time marine weather.

Now some of them are pooling their talent and swapping ideas as part of an app developer networking group.

Brian Reeves of South Portland is working on a speech therapy app that tracks how often a speaker uses “like” and “you know.” He formed the Portland iPhone/iPad Developer Network in May.

“So often projects have many parts, and it’s hard for one person,” he said. “I don’t have the skills that other people have.”

So far, the meetings have only drawn a handful of developers, but Reeves said he hopes more developers will attend. There is no way to know how many Mainers are working on apps, since so many work alone or as hobbyists.

Worldwide, the smartphone app industry is thought to have revenue as high as $6 billion. some predictions, industry sales could hit $20 billion in a few years.

Some local app developers already have had products hit the market.

Carrabassett Valley-based Discover Motion created Fan Misery, which gives users comprehensive sports statistics and news. And in July, two Waterville residents released iLobster, an app that helps users crack and order lobsters.

One Portland company created in 2008 has six employees and has the next six months of work already booked.

Tap Tapas co-founder Michael DeSouza, 34, said they do the app development for others. Among their larger clients is Toyota Australia.

“People come to us with some kind of idea (for an app) and we help them understand it and create a mobile solution,” DeSouza said.

The firm released Parking Mate, which helps users avoid parking tickets; Surf Watch, which gives ocean conditions; and Talk Watch, a distance and time tracking app for runners. DeSouza declined to discuss any current apps in development.

DeSouza said he’s still looking to hire developers, but finds it tough.

“The developer pool is pretty thin in Maine,” DeSouza said. “There is a shortage of skills.”

Harpswell-based software development firm InfoBridge has faced a similar problem, according to founder Shaun Meredith. Most of his 30 contract developers are from out of state. He has two full-time employees.

InfoBridge, founded in 2001, is known for MarineCast, an app released in February that provides marine weather information. In August, BoatUS Foundation named MarineCast its “Top Pick” iPhone app for marine weather. The $5.99 app has been downloaded more than 5,000 times.

In the coming months, InfoBridge plans to release a psychological assessment app and an app to help first responders diagnose concussions.

A Yarmouth app developer has been working with InfoBridge to program his apps.

Kerry Gallivan, founder of smartphone application development firm Chimani, has produced several apps for visitors to national parks. The apps, for Maine’s Acadia National Park, Cape Cod National Seashore and Yosemite National Park, include tours, ranger-led events, shuttle bus schedules and tide and sunrise/sunset data. He said the apps, priced from $1.99 to $9.99, have been downloaded more than 1,000 times.

The Acadia app was one of the top 100 apps in Apple’s iTunes travel section last summer, he said.

Now he’s working on similar apps for five national parks — Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In July, Gallivan received a $12,500 local entrepreneur grant in July from the Maine Technology Institute.

“I want a portfolio of the top ten most-visited national parks by springtime,” Gallivan said.

 

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or: jhemmerdinger@mainetoday.com