July 17, 2019 | 92° F

Students create iPhone game during hackathon

Photo by Nisha Datt |

One Rutgers student and three Claremont McKenna College students created a game for iPhones during a hackathon in July. The goal of the game is to see who can throw their iPhone the highest in the air.

Ever wanted to chuck an iPhone higher in the air than anyone’s chucked an iPhone before? Well, fortunately — or perhaps unfortunately — there’s an app for that, and it’s named for exactly what it does: Phonesmash.

At the Greylock Partners Hackfest in San Francisco on July 27, a team consisting of a Rutgers student and three Claremont McKenna College students built an app that is perilously addictive.

The gameplay is simple, said Sean McQueen, a Claremont McKenna College senior and computer science major who led the app’s development.

“Phonesmash is a competition to see who can throw their iPhone the highest in the air,” he said.

The app is a browser-based game that uses a phone’s accelerometer data in real time to measure how long the phone spends in a physically dynamic state, according to the app’s website.

Reaction to the hack was overwhelmingly positive, with many in the audience vertically parting ways with their iPhones before the team could finish presenting, McQueen said.

“Even Kevin Rose, the founder of Digg.com who was in the crowd at the time, threw his phone,” McQueen said. “It wasn’t a very impressive throw though!”

Kenny Bambridge, a School of Engineering sophomore, brought his friend’s idea for Phonesmash to the hackathon. He said that the three students finished in the top 10 of all teams after voting and won a meeting with Reid Hoffman, a partner at Greylock Partners.

To their dismay, the team was unable to compel Hoffman, a co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn.com, to launch his phone. Despite Hoffman’s hesitation, the meeting went well Bambridge said.

“Hoffman is a really smart and insightful entrepreneur who just understands trends in modern technology like very few others,” he said.

Although there are no known cases of a phone actually breaking from playing the game, some throwers have come dangerously close, said Josh Rael, a Claremont McKenna College senior who worked on the front-end design of the app.

“During our presentation, someone ran into the lobby and chucked his Android phone really high,” Bambridge said. “He didn’t even come close to catching it, only to realize afterward that Phonesmash doesn’t even work on Android devices.”

Rael said the team takes no responsibility for damaged devices.

“I think we’re just going to rely on people catching their phones,” he said. “But just in case, we put a link to AppleCare on the homepage.”

McQueen said Phonesmash scores are captured in milliseconds, beginning when the phone departs and ending when it returns to a static position.

“The average score is about 1,000 milliseconds or 1 second,” McQueen said. “Anything over 2,000 milliseconds is pretty good. Over 3,000 milliseconds is legendary.”

The team is working on creating a way to track global high scores for app users, also known as Phonesmashers. The application currently resides publicly on GitHub, and the team encourages developers to fork, or redevelop the project, according to the website.

“We think the idea has a lot of viral potential,” Bambridge said. “Oddly, an almost identical app came out about two days after ours and is doing really well.”

The other app, S.M.T.H., which stands for Send Me To Heaven, challenges users to throw their phones as high as they can to score points, Bambridge said.

The iOS App store immediately banned the app, but it already has more than 100,000 downloads on Android, according to the Google Play website.

Since Phonesmash is accessible from the Safari browser, it cannot really be banned, Bambridge said.

“Also, S.M.T.H. only works by throwing a phone up and then catching it,” he said. “Phonesmash works on any free-falling distance, so if you want to drop your phone off a roof, we’re totally cool with that.”

Phonesmash can be accessed at http://phonesma.sh. The app is built using Node.js, which is a server-side script that enables developers to write their backend in JavaScript.

Socket.IO is also included, which is an application programming interface that enables developers to connect with a client and pass data in realtime without having to reload a page. It is also built with Foundation, a design framework that responsively adapts to different screen resolutions on the front-end, Bambridge stated.

By Nis Frome

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