Students Develop Apps for the iPhone and iPad

ACU students develop student newspaper app

Settle down, students! Your assignment this semester is to develop an app for the Apple iPad!

That was the task that faced students at Abilene Christian University in Texas earlier this year—before the iPad had even been released! They had the software development kit from Apple and a rough model of the iPad made of wood, approximating the size of the new platform. Their challenge was to build, test, and submit the app so that it would be available in the App Store when the iPad when on sale—ready, set, code!

Students at ACU had a bit of a head start in thinking about the assignment. For the past two years, every student entering the school had been given an iPhone (or iPod Touch, if they already had a phone they were happy with) as part of the ACU Mobile Learning Initiative. In addition, over 90 percent of faculty members teaching first year students had incorporated the iPhone and related apps into their classes. (I wrote more about this in Campus Technology magazine:

This student-led app development project faced a lot of pressure. The entire campus community was aware of the project and knew that a small team of students and faculty planned to port the school newspaper to the iPhone/iPad platform. No incompletes for this assignment—they had to deliver!

Students work together and make their deadline

The Abilene Christian University staff saw this collaborative effort as a way for students to engage in real-world experience: working together with students from different disciplines (journalism, graphic design, and computer programming) with a very public deadline. Grant Rampy, former White House correspondent for WGN and current Vice President of Public Relations for ACU, said that the students didn't see it as something their classmates were going to be using immediately because they knew every student wasn't going to get an iPad that first month. However, "They saw it as a kind of Everest that they were going to conquer, and in one year, two years, or however long it takes for this kind of iPad readership to develop, they would be there in advance of it."

Professor Bill Rankin added, "It's been a really great learning experience for students – and for the instructors, frankly. It seems like a good way to start thinking about this new information world."

AcuOptimistThe students met their deadline. The ACU Optimist for iPad (free, was available for download on the day the iPad section of the App Store opened. The app takes advantage of ACU's new converged media newsroom, where articles are written, video is shot and edited, graphics are produced, and it's all pulled together through data-driven processes. AcuOptimistThe iPad app pulls its content from a WordPress database that manages all the student media stories published on the iPhone and the student newspaper's regular website (

The ACU Optimist for iPad app was launched on the same day as the iPad itself. Sports photography is especially impressive in the iPad environment, compared to the same story viewed on Safari through the iPhone.

The app uses some of the best features of the new iPad platform. Pages are large, easy to read, and turned with a swipe. Many of the photos will be embedded in articles as interactive slideshows in future releases. And unlike the printed version of The Optimist, the app's content is continually updated.

The ACU app has be downloaded over 1,000 times in its first month in the App Store. And although it mostly covers stories of local interest, the app has some international appeal—it's been downloaded by people from at least 36 countries.

What's next for these student-programmers? One has gone on to work with USAA to assist in the development of the USAA - Mobile Banking (free;, to be used by armed forces personnel to let them deposit checks using their iPhone.

Valparaiso students develop Battery Go!

Battery ChargeBattery Go! ($2.99; is a more practical and popular app that was created by a group of students from Valparaiso University in Indiana. The app was featured in the Circuits section of The New York Times and student developers Mike Cameron and Cameron Banga of were interviewed on Fox business news.

Battery ChargeMany articles and tips have focused on how to extend the battery life of the iPhone. There are so many great things to do with the device, but answering phone calls, checking e-mail, browsing the Web, and listening to music all tend to quickly drain the iPhone's somewhat limited battery. It's important to know how much power you have left, but it's also important to know what a percentage of remaining battery charge means in terms of remaining usage time.

Battery Go! not only tells you what percentage of charge is left in your battery, it tells you how much usage time you have left in different scenarios.

The answer to this question varies, depending on how you're using your iPhone. If it's in your pocket on standby, the remaining battery charge will obviously last longer than it would if you were watching YouTube videos. Battery Go! not only tells you what percentage of charge is left in your battery, it tells you how much usage time you have left in different scenarios (see screenshots). The app even differentiates between Web browsing using a 3G, Edge, or Wi-Fi network. (Note: Although an Edge network is slower, you get an hour more surfing time than when you're using 3G. However, Web pages load slower over an Edge network—the extra time you get with Edge may not be worth it in the long run.)

Stanford alumni create iStanford, Duke Mobile

A couple of sharp undergrads at Stanford pitched the idea of a campus app that would connect students and faculty to campus services through the iPhone. Given the go-ahead, Kayvon Beykpour and Joe Bernstein created iStanford (free; It was not only an immediate hit, it was the basis of MobilEdu, a more advanced app platform which they used to develop custom apps for other universities.

DukeMobileThey also created Duke Mobile (free;, which not only includes the basic features of the initial release of iStanford, but incorporates features from the enhanced MobilEdu platform. For example, you can use the app to access the campus directory; course, athletics, and event schedules; news, videos, and images; Duke iTunes U and YouTube content, and much more. DukeMobile-ad Access sectionImages include old advertisements, sheet music and song books, photographs from throughout the 20th century, manuscripts and woodcuts from the Bloomsbury group, and even Nazi propaganda comics. Copyright information and other details are available at the bottom of each image. This one section provides potentially hours of fun—and it's free!

(Note: Their company, Terriblyclever Design, has been bought by online education giant Blackboard.)

Duke Mobile (above left) accesses a variety of Duke-specific, campus-related information. The Ad*Access section (above) offers a view into the past through advertising images. The app also lets you access and view other images in the Duke Library Collections (left).

Graduating into the world of app stardom

Abilene Christian isn't the only university that's incorporating Apple's mobile technology into its curriculum. The Illinois Institute of Technology has announced that they will be giving each entering student an iPad this fall, and other educational institutions are following suit. As iPhones, iPods, and iPads become more ubiquitous in the academic world, students will have better access to educational resources and have the opportunity to develop apps for them. Stanford is doing its part by offering an iPhone app development course—taught by Apple engineers—available as a free download on the Stanford site (

With an ever-increasing amount of support and resources made available to students, we can expect to see more students graduating from college… and into the world of iPhone and iPad app stardom.

It beats flipping burgers for a living.

Real-world experience in collaborative efforts
Sept/Oct 2010
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