Read all about it! Teen’s news app scores him a WWDC scholarship

By

Varun Shenoy, standing outside Apple headquarters, created an app to summarize the news.
Varun Shenoy, standing outside Apple headquarters, created an app to summarize the news.
Photo: Narendra Shenoy

Cult of Mac 2.0 bugVarun Shenoy is so busy with high school clubs that require him to keep on top of current events, he has no time to do the reading to keep up with the news.

So Shenoy came up with a solution, an iOS app with a language-based algorithm that distills the essence of news stories and presents the user with quick summaries. His app, Summit, earned him a highly coveted young developers scholarship to next week’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.


Howdy neighbor

Since 1998, WWDC is an annual jamboree for developers where Apple showcases new software and technologies. Apple limits the number of attendees to 5,000 but offers scholarships to 350 student developers to offset the $1,500 tickets and, in some cases, travel expenses.

At 14, Shenoy is likely to be among the youngest app developers invited — and also one of the most local. On his way to the conference, Shenoy will be able to step outside of his family’s home in Cupertino and wave at Infinity Loop.

Living down the street from Apple HQ may be inspiring for some, but Shenoy credits his father, Narendra, himself a software engineer, and his own interest in UX design with his early jump on a career in computer science. When he was in the third grade, father introduced son to Scratch, a software that uses building blocks to introduce kids to coding.

“My dad really knows his stuff and he wanted me to think more logically,” Shenoy, who just finished his freshman year at Cupertino High School, tells Cult of Mac. “He’s the first person I go to for help. I’ll show him some code and he’ll rewrite the entire thing from the bottom up and I have no clue what’s going on. He’s helping me understand.”

Busy kid still needs to know the news

To understand what Shenoy’s app, Summit, can do for you, you should know what it does for him. If necessity is the mother of invention, Summit was birthed from the logistical crunch of this kid’s schedule.

In addition to staying on top of classwork, he participates in Bay Area hack-a-thins, is a member of the school robotics club, holds the number one ranking for student game developers in California (as determined by Future Business Leaders of America), enters science competitions, and is a top performer on the varsity speech and debate team. Both the science competitions and speech and debate require him to do a lot of reading just to stay on top of current research, trends, newsmakers and events.

He said he simply did not have the time to glean what he needed from lengthy research papers or news articles.

Summit summarizes the news in a few paragraphs and gives you the option to read the complete article.
Summit summarizes the news in a few paragraphs and gives you the option to read the complete article.
Photo: Varun Shenoy

“It’s not about knowing every single thing,” Shenoy said. “There are a lot of in-depth political reports or pure research that are very wordy. A lot can be cut out to still understand what you need.”

Shenoy did the research to find a text-based algorithm that ranked words and information to provide summaries of a few paragraphs. Finding the right algorithm took him less than a week, but Shenoy, inspired by the simplicity of Apple user experience, spent three months making sure the design was clean and attractive before submitting it to the App Store.

Summit debuted in the app store in May (under his mother’s name since he is too young to sign a contract) with more than 40 news sources, from The New York Times and NPR to Tech Crunch, Wired and Science News.

You can download it for free here. The app asks you from which sources you want your news summaries and each time you launch the app, it quickly loads headlines from those sources.

Pick from more than 40 news sources and quickly get headlines from the top stories.
Pick from more than 40 news sources and quickly get headlines from the top stories.
Photo: Varun Shenoy

The summary appears and surprisingly the app is designed to cut through more florid writing styles to reveal the gist of stories. Each summary lets you click on the full article, so it’s interesting to see how the app summarizes each story.

Summit has had about 3,000 downloads but right away received favorable reviews from Mashable, AppAdvice and The Cyber Advocate, which listed it as a must-have app for lawyers. It was even featured on Product Hunt. The attention from the tech press is encouraging when you consider there are more than 1.5 million apps in the App Store.

Summit also is available on iPad.
Summit also is available on iPad.
Photo: Varun Shenoy

He will try to gauge whether users might one day pay to use Summit, but for now, he is just interested in building a loyal following.

“My dad and I were talking about the idea of introducing advertising to the app,” Shenoy says. “He helped me understand that there is greater value in keeping people happy than getting $5 from an ad.”

Not to mention, earning a free opportunity to meet Apple executives, engineers and designers at next week’s WWDC.