October 2, 2009
By Mark Ferguson
The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Maclean’s and CBC National – these are just a few of the places stories about the U of S iPhone application, the iUSASK, have appeared recently. As the first university in Canada to offer an iPhone app, the U of S is leading the way in hand-held technology and the media has taken notice.
“I’m not surprised at all about this kind of coverage,” said Rick Bunt, associate vice-president of information and communications technology. “There’s a lot of demand for these kinds of services and I think the iUSASK is a good demonstration of hitting the right market at the right time.”
Bunt is quick to point out how far the U of S has come technologically in seven or eight years, including the transition from telephone registration to online registration. Perhaps the biggest shift came with the launch of PAWS about six years ago, but handheld devices like the iPhone pose some difficulties for the university, he said.
“Unfortunately, there is a lack of common standards across handheld devices like the Blackberry and iPhone. In the past, we’ve based our services on a certain standard, but in the handheld device world, that standard doesn’t exist.”
Other institutions have expressed interest in having their iPhone application designed by U of S programmers in the Department of Computer Science. “We’re not in the business of offering and supporting professional-quality technology services, but we are having discussions with Computer Science, ITS, and other groups to see how we can work together to make these services successful.”
The limits of the iUSASK seem endless, but there is a long way to go before class registration and other services would be available in the palm of your hand. “This is an institutional challenge,” said Bunt. “We have 17,000 users on PAWS every day and we can’t just take all of the resources from PAWS and put them on the iPhone app. We can only do so much right now. But computer science can do some incredible things. They deserve a lot of praise.”
Over 2,000 people worldwide have downloaded the iUSASK application so far, and with the newest version of iUSASK available for download, instructor and programmer Chad Jones is excited about the growing popularity of the app he helped create. Among other features, Jones said the new campus map might be the most interesting button on version 1.2, as the GPS map shows a user’s location with a blue dot.
“It’s a wonderful tool for finding your way around campus.”
Jones figures about 4,000 people on campus carry either an iPhone or an iPod Touch (which is also compatible with the iUSASK). The Campus Computer Store alone sold 700 iPod Touch models during their back-to-school promotion.
“The goal of the iUSASK from the very beginning was to engage the university through the growing trend of handheld communications,” said Jones. “We noticed students on their cell phones and handheld devices after class and we thought, we want to be there.”