A new University of Saskatchewan iPhone and iPod Touch application is getting the computer science department national attention.
The app, called iUSask, is the first of its kind in Canada. It features class schedules, campus news, the library catalogue, a campus map and more. The current version features 12 unique buttons, with four more being added with the next update.
Chad Jones, department instructor and one of the developers of the app, said iUSask is important not only for students, but also to raise the status of the computer science department and of the university itself.
“The more exposure the university gets, the better. It shows that we’re technologically capable. We wanted to enhance the student experience . . . but beyond that, we wanted to demonstrate how strong our department is.”
Jones, also a former Apple engineer, asserts that the U of S computer science department is one of the best in Canada, though this status is rarely recognized, partly because Saskatoon is not one of the big Canadian centres.
He credits the strength of the department to the professors.
“We certainly have a very strong staff and we’ve invested a lot in our program and we try to keep up to date.”
About 90 per cent of iUSask users are in Canada and six per cent in the U.S., with the remaining four per cent coming from overseas.
Overseas downloads have come from places like South Africa, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Austrailia, Japan and Turkey. People downloading the app from outside of Canada may be interested in the university as international students or they might just be interested in the application, said Jones.
Jones’s favourite button is one that hasn’t been released yet: a GPS map of the campus. On the newest version available in the next couple weeks, the campus map is integrated with Google maps and uses local wi-fi hotspots to show your position. While Jones admits it only puts you in the right building, they are looking to make it even more accurate, possibly to locate you in the right room.
“Even for our department head who’s been around 20 years, he has problems finding certain buildings or certain locations, so he uses the map.”
While the app is especially useful to new students, Jones argues there are many reasons a more seasoned student should download it.
“This gives you access to all the information on campus at your fingertips. For some of this you can log into PAWS to get your class info or you can go to the Huskies website to get the Huskies news, but why don’t you just push on a button?
“You’re sitting at the bus stop, you got an extra minute free so you want to take a look at the Sheaf. What’s going on with the Sheaf? You just turn it on, hit the button and you’re there.”
The computer science department isn’t stopping at one Canadian “first” this year; they also have a new class that teaches students how to create mobile applications for the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android platforms. Jones says there has been a lot of interest in the class, not only from students but from people outside the campus community.
“We have people who have programmed for 30 years in the industry and want to take the class,” Jones said.
Even though the class looks at developing applications for several different platforms, for now iUSask is only available for Apple products. About 25 per cent of U of S students have either an iPhone or iPod Touch, and while they don’t have any official statistics on how many people on campus have BlackBerrys, they do know that there are more Apple products, said Jones.
They are currently looking for opportunities to develop iUSask for the BlackBerry, but are relying on financial support from the company to continue.
The developers of iUSask want to keep the app free and user-driven. There is some customization available, but users are already requesting more, including custom colours and the ability to choose which buttons appear on the screen. Such options may be included in future releases.
There is currently a nursing button that users can choose to have on their screen. Both education and medicine have talked to the iUSask team about adding the option in the future.