Tech taps into iPhone app

Students with smart phones have another reason to gloat this week with the release of the official Georgia Tech application for the Apple iPhone.

The free-to-download application acts as a one-stop-shop for all things Tech and provides students with instant access to several campus-related tools.

The application has several utilities, ranging from remote access to campus resources like the library, to updates on campus news and videos, to GPS-based NextBus widget and a sliver widget.

The application was developed jointly by the administration and students, including Noah Witherspoon, a fourth-year CM major and a veteran of the iPhone development environment with over a dozen personally made applications and two summers working at Apple under his belt.

Witherspoon first got the idea for a campus application when he was thinking about improvements to the earlier GT Login application. While that application’s main function was just to get users logged onto the campus wireless, it also included a few extra features that had Witherspoon thinking about other tools that would be useful in a similar application.

“I had a lot of ideas for a more comprehensive Tech [application], with things like a location-based NextBus, [but] I had a lot of other things to do at the time, so I dropped that [idea],” Witherspoon said.

As luck would have it, at this time, the Department of Communications and Marketing began conceptualizing an application.

“We had seen some of the other applications that other schools came out with, and we knew that our students would be interested in an application, but we thought that, being Georgia Tech, we could probably do it better than a lot of those schools,” said David Terrasso, a communications officer in Communications and Marketing.

“[W]e thought, why don’t we see if we can find a student who could build it? We figured a student would have his or her own ideas on what they’d like to see. In addition, it would give us a chance to make a statement about the kind of enterprising students we have here at Georgia Tech,” Terrasso said of student involvement in the project.

Other parts of the application are homegrown at Tech as well.

Jiten Chabra, a Ph.D. student in the College of Computing (CoC) at the time the application was developed, created Usable Health, a function of the application that allows users to track their nutritional consumption and diet. The tool is an expanded version of the ‘Dr. J Says’ health program that was featured in campus dining halls.

A big part of the application’s design process focused on finding what students wanted and needed in a mobile application.

“We really wanted to make sure that the students would find the application useful, so we had a group of them do some beta testing for us,” Terrasso said.

Both Terrasso and Witherspoon said that they did not see the new application as a replacement for applications such as GT Login, so much as they saw it as a different category altogether.

“I wouldn’t say that we have improvements to the application over GT Login. That application is a fine application, and the student that built it filled a need for the students. They’re different applications that do different tasks,” Terrasso said.

No single aspect of the application is particularly innovative in relation to other colleges’ mobile applications, but that innovation was not the main concern, according to Witherspoon.

“I think the main innovation is that it brings all this stuff together. There are a few new features that I’d never seen before…but I don’t think of it as an innovative idea, so much as a bunch of really useful things, in a relatively nice looking package…That was pretty much my goal: to make something that was well-designed and useful,” Witherspoon said.

The applications’ developers are currently seeking feedback from the student body on what works, what needs to be improved and what they would like to see in the future. In particular, they are looking for students to send in bugs they have run across, issues where the application fails to meet expectations and what they would like to see in future iterations and updates to the application.

Communications and Marketing is also looking toward expanding off of the iPhone platform onto other mobile device platforms for more universal use.

“We are also looking for a student who’d be interested in talking with us about building an Android [application]. That’s probably the number one request we’ve received: ‘Great [application], now where’s the Android version?’” Terrasso said.

Students can e-mail feedback to [email protected].

Like most mobile applications, the Tech application is available for download either directly to the iPhone or from iTunes.