Cameron Cohen is shown here with his parents, Lisa and Jeffrey Cohen, who were amazed when their 11-year-old son programmed a new iPhone application and sold it to Apple Inc.
[UPDATE: Feb. 8]
Now 11, Cameron Cohen has created his second app for the iPhone and donated $20,000 in proceeds from its sales to Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA.
Bill Gates, the legend goes, started the empire that would one day become Microsoft in his garage. More recently, Cameron Cohen got a start on what looks to be a promising future while stuck at home in a hip-to-toe leg brace for six months. Cameron taught himself computer programming, came up with and wrote the software for a new iPhone/iPod application called iSketch and submitted it to Apple Inc., which now sells it in its online apps store.
All this would be an achievement for anyone, but given that Cameron is only 11 years old and in the sixth grade, it’s amazing.
Like Gates, Cameron has become a philanthropist. He decided to donate a substantial portion of his iSketch profits to Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, where his story began last March when he underwent surgery for what fortunately turned out to be a benign bone tumor. He remained hospitalized for about 10 days, then headed home to West L.A. with his parents and older brother, where he would be stuck hobbling around for months instead of being the active tennis, football and basketball-playing boy he usually was.
“All my friends were doing sports and games and I couldn’t,” Cameron said during a phone interview. To keep himself busy, he started teaching himself programming language for his iPhone.
Not that computer language was completely new to him.
“I was always interested in computers,” he said. “I had done programming in C++ [language] before and had gone to two summer camps learning computer programming. But I hadn’t done iPod or iPhone programming.”
To learn, he watched iTunes University lectures by Stanford computer programming professors, read programming manuals of all sorts and, in particular, studied Apple manuals and tutorials. After mastering Objective-C, the language of iPhone applications, he started thinking about coming up with an inexpensive new application for drawing on an iPhone.
“I had some other drawing apps on my iPod that were either a dollar or free, but they were boring or hard to use,” he recalled. “The ones with better features cost $3 to $5. I wanted to create an application with great features that would cost less — 99 cents.”
His parents, Jeffrey and Lisa Cohen, are quick to admit that they possess no skills whatsoever when it comes to computer programming — not that they don’t possess talents of their own. Cameron’s father, an alumnus of the UCLA School of Law, is a corporate attorney with the downtown firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates. His mother holds a master’s degree from UCLA’s School of Public Health.
During the time Cameron was developing iSketch, his father recalled, “He would come to us and say, ‘I had a problem (with something in the programming), but I figured it out.’ I’d say, ‘Good,’ but I really had no idea what he was talking about.”
iSketch is also available at iTunes, which features this description along with ratings by users, most of whom give it a top rating of five stars.
Cameron finally got out of his leg brace last September. In November, he submitted his iSketch application to Apple. Just three weeks later — against humongous odds, judging from stories that circulate on the Internet about the difficulties of selling Apple on a new app — iSketch got the green light and became available for instant, online purchase.
Justifiably pleased with how iSketch turned out, Cameron described features that include a “really intuitive and easy-to-use” interface and, unique to drawing apps, a text feature that enables the user to add captions or speech balloons to drawings.
“I still can’t believe that something he did we can pull up just like that on the iPhone,” his mother, Lisa, said. “The night it (went live), we were so excited we immediately drew a picture of our son, Justin, and e-mailed it to him.”
Cameron’s contribution of a portion of his earnings to Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center will go toward the purchase of electronic and entertainment items for other pre-teens and teens to enjoy during their hospitalization.
“I had great care in the hospital,” said Cameron. He said he also knew he was fortunate in having had his iPod with him for entertainment — “but other kids in the hospital need things to help make them feel better, too.”
“I know Cameron was so pleased with his doctor (orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Eckardt), and I was glad he decided to help other kids,” said his mother, who volunteers with Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA’s Today’s and Tomorrow’s Children Fund, which helps support research by faculty in the Department of Pediatrics.
Even though he’s back in school and busy with sports again, Cameron continues to fine-tune iSketch. “I work on it on weekends or during holidays or vacations, and sometimes [on school nights] after I finish my homework. I’m thinking about it all the time.”
He’s also thinking about ideas for other new applications, and he has a website, CCC Development (the three Cs are his initials). With the help of his friends, “who have sent me some pretty cool drawings” done with iSketch, he is running a contest on his website, inviting people to submit their iSketch drawings in exchange for displaying their artwork and crediting them by name on his website’s app store.
“This all started out as a hobby for him, a diversion,” his father said. “He was having a terrible year, but with this he was enjoying it.
“If we ever had any doubts about him before, we learned that we should never doubt him. When he sets his mind on something, he’ll do it.”