Monday, October 18, 2010

Vanderbilt students release first app; efforts for schools vary widely, third party developers take advantage

The student journalists at Vanderbilt University have released a universal news app today, the app is free in iTunes this morning.
InsideVandy is the latest effort by a university team to develop for iOS. Last year the students at Abilene Christian University released an iPad app for their student paper -- ACU Optimist for iPad was a student project that managed to release an iPad app shortly after the tablet was first released. Because the students weren't able to get their hands on an actual device they were forced, like many at that time, to use the simulator when developing their first app.

The release today from the students at Vanderbilt got me wondering how other universities were doing.

The first thing one notices in iTunes is how many independent companies want to take advantage of the college sports scene. Taking one school as an example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this Big Ten school, like many others, has their own home page within iTunes. But all their materials are still within iTunes U -- that fantastic reservoir of podcasts and other learning material. So far at least, the schools is light on apps.
But independent developers are not shy in trying to take advantage of America's love of sports -- especially college sports. The Badgers have several different iPhone apps targeted at their program, including an 'official" app developed by CBS Interactive. The UW Badgers app costs a whopping $4.99 and has not been well received by Badger fans. CBS Interactive has over 60 iPhone apps inside iTunes (some under 'CBS Interactive', others under 'CBS Interactive, Inc.' -- it gets confusing inside iTunes). CBS Interactive also offers a "lite" version of its app for free though that has landed inside iTunes with a thud.

The local paper, owned by Lee Enterprises, has launched a free app through Handmark. Badger Beat might be free but it doesn't help that it opens to the football schedule -- a schedule that has a glaring mistake (it shows a home game listed as away, a minor mistake for some, but not for rabid football fans).

Worse yet, the app only has football content, a big mistake considering that UW-Madison is known for its hockey program -- men's and women's. If anything, the Lee Enterprises app only shows the newspaper's disregard for properly covering the university. (And things get even worse the further you explore the app. Looking further one sees that this app is promoting other apps from Handmark -- none of which have anything to do with the school, Madison, Wisconsin, etc.)

Most of the time the question I would ask a newspaper company would be "are you serious about mobile?" In this case, I'd simply ask "are you serious?"

So who would you expect would develop good apps for their university? I immediately thought 'Stanford' -- I was not disappointed, that's for sure.

A search for "Stanford" inside iTunes immediately pulls up a wealth of material listed under iTunes U, including several series of podcast on app development. The apps themselves are varied and numerous, including several apps involving the medical program (the magazine Stanford Medicine has its own iPad app, for instance).

If a publisher wants to understand the varied uses for mobile and tablet media, look at what is going on at the major universities -- both internally and externally. There is unlimited potential . . . if you take it seriously, of course.