Imagine being able to find everything you need to know about the University — from your professor’s office phone number to the menu at campus dining halls on any day to the current location of your bus — while listening to Hail to the Victors and standing virtually anywhere.
Thanks to University alums Kevin Chan and Mark Yang, who graduated in 2010, an imagination is no longer necessary — just an iPhone.
What eventually became the official Michigan iPhone application was initially co-developed by Chan and Yang as a class project for a programming class in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department.
“The theme of the class is a semester-long project where you have to create any application that you like for any smart phone; so we chose to make an app for the iPhone because it is the most widely available smart phone and, at the time, Kevin and I both had iPhones,” Yang said in a phone interview from San Diego, where he now lives.
The initial plan had been to create an application, which would streamline the process of using the University Directory to make it more accessible to students.
“I find that the process, since you have to use a computer to search for this information, and then insert it into your phone to be very extensive,” Yang said. “So I wanted to implement the process in such a way that we could access the information directly from your phone and add it to your contacts.”
Once the initial feature was implemented, Chan and Yang decided to expand the project and add more features.
The application now allows iPhone users to check dining hall menus for any dining hall on campus; use Magic Bus to find the exact location of their buses in real time; read University news from several different sources, including The Michigan Daily, The University Record, the U-M News Service and Michigan Today; and to search for buildings with a guide to help decipher the abbreviations of campus buildings.
Though practical, Chan and Yang admit that the Michigan iPhone application also has its fair share of gimmicks.
“We have a feature that plays the Fight Song, so when you click the Michigan logo, the fight song plays and when you shake it, the key sound occurs,” said Yang.
And because it was developed for a class project, Chan and Yang said they never intended for the program to become the official University iPhone application.
“It was really unexpected for me because I didn’t intend to make it the official Michigan iPhone app,” Chan said in an e-mail interview. “I planned to release it to the app store on my own but then Apple rejected the app because it has the Michigan logo in it.”
But after the application was rejected, University officials, who were interested in buying the application, approached the developers.
“We demoed it to the University in February and they seemed very interested and impressed with the app,” Yang said. “We showed it to the ITS department and they gave us an offer to buy it from us and we accepted and we sold it to them.”
John Gohsman, the director for applications and information services at the University, explained that the University became interested in developing an application around the time the class project was underway.
“We constantly look at how students are trying to obtain information; and what we were seeing was more smart phones and things in students’ hands,” Gohsman said.
Gohsman said institutional use of mobile phone applications has been a recent trend across the nation, but certain key distinctions set Michigan’s approach apart from others’.
“I think what’s unique about Michigan is that we started with something that students developed and I think that’s one point,” he said. “The other is what we’re trying to do is create tools and resources for more students, for staff and for faculty to build a lot of things.”
For this reason, Gohsman said the University is expecting to see a lot of mobile applications related to the University in the near future.
“We will help them with the licensing that they need to get it out into the app store or the Android store,” Gohsman said.
Building off of the excitement generated for this application, Gohsman said the University is also running an innovation challenge to improve upon Chan and Yang’s creation.
In the meantime, however, students seem fairly pleased with the Michigan iPhone application.
LSA junior Joshua Brady, who uses the application, said though he doesn’t live on campus, he still finds the application helpful.
“I wasn’t using it so much during the summer, but now that it’s fall, I’ve been using it more. I use it mostly for the directory,” Brady said. “I think it would be more useful if I was living in the dorms, because they have the whole menu up for all the dining halls.”
The most recent statistics show that there were about 6,300 downloads just before school started. However, Gohsman said he believes that number is considerably higher now that the school year is underway.
In addition to providing a service for University students, developing the application has also helped Chan and Yang with their careers. Both developers were computer science majors and are now software engineers at Qualcomm in San Diego.
“We got an A+ in the class, so it was pretty good … I showed off the app in my (job) interviews and all of my interviewers were very impressed by it,” Yang said.