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University gets its own iPhone app

By LÉO CHARBONNEAU | SEP 08 2009

Need to search the university’s library catalogue, check your class schedule or look for upcoming workshops at the learning centre? No problem. Students at the University of Saskatchewan can now do this and more at the touch of a button using their iPhone or iPod touch.

The university is the first in Canada to offer customized touch-screen applications for the popular Apple devices. The applications, known simply as “apps” to Apple aficionados, were developed by a group of about 15 members of the university’s computer science department and can be downloaded for free from Apple’s App Store or iTunes.

Apps have become popular add-on features to the iPhone, allowing users to access all kinds of specialized services and information. “It’s stuff you care about, in your pocket and one touch away,” says Chad Jones, a former Apple employee and now a lecturer in the computer science department who helped develop the U of S app.

Because not everybody is acquainted with iPhone apps, there were some within the university who responded with only polite nods when presented with the concept, says Eric Neufeld, head of the computer science department. But, as soon as they saw the application working, they got excited, he says.

“That’s been a strong motivator for us. We think people will like it and use it a lot.”

The idea for the U of S app came out of a series of sold-out iPhone workshops the department offered back in the spring. Those workshops have since been retooled into a full-credit course this fall on cell phone programming. “While we were at it, we were thinking: instead of just designing toy applications, why don’t we build something for the university?” says Dr. Neufeld.

Mr. Jones says the team would be interested in building similar applications for other universities.

California’s Stanford University was the first university to offer an iPhone app to students. Within the first year nearly 20,000 people – more than the student population of the campus – had downloaded it.

A study of the U of S campus found that about a quarter of first-year students have an iPhone or iPod touch, but Dr. Neufeld thinks that number is bound to rise.

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