Roland Horváth

How a self-taught Hungarian whiz kid became a chart-topping app maker.

If someone asks you to think of anything in the world except a purple elephant, you’re pretty much guaranteed to think of a purple elephant. And if an app calls itself Try Not to Smile, you know within seconds you’ll be grinning.

Try Not to Smile is the brainchild of Roland Horváth, a 16-year-old developer from Hungary. The app starts a timer and then shows you short, silly videos in a (usually successful) effort to crack you up.

The timer stops as soon as you chuckle, chortle or guffaw. At that point you can see and share a GIF of yourself trying to suppress your smile – a clip that’s often funnier than the original video.

“I take everyday problems as starting points,” Horváth says, “and I strive to make apps as useful as possible.”

Like a lot of kids, Horváth grew up playing videogames. Unlike a lot of kids, he grew up wondering how to re-create them. In seventh grade he began learning more about programming and mobile apps. He devoured tutorial videos, read online forums, and taught himself to code using Swift and Unity.

“I believe anyone can learn to do anything,” he says. “The tools are available for everyone.”

Hand-drawn renderings of Try Not to Smile.

Horváth has already published several apps, including one chart-topper. His approach: “I take everyday problems as starting points, and I strive to make as useful an app as possible.”

Horváth created his first big project in 2016: an education app called Show Me! that teaches sign language in a fun, intuitive way.

Trying not to smile is the fastest way to make yourself smile.

“It was pretty frustrating how there were apps to learn almost any spoken language, but sign language remained a mystery,” he says. “Yet most of us don’t know enough about sign language to be able to communicate on a basic level.”

In 2017, Horváth solved another basic problem: how to doze off on public transport and not miss your stop. Transitnap acts as an alarm clock that wakes you up when you’re near your destination.

Now kids have an easy way to learn sign language.
Most of us don’t know enough about sign language to be able to communicate on a basic level.

After earning his second Apple scholarship in three years, in June 2018 he headed to California to attend the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose.

“It’s really important to trust your vision and intuition, to pursue your strongest dream,” he says. “Building an app is a lot of work and takes a lot of time, but every second is worth it in the end.”