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By Lauren Strapagiel

This fall, universities in the United States are handing out free iPhones to their students and offering courses on developing applications for them– while Rye profs are stuck trying to fight for the ability just to develop iPhone apps in the first place.

Apple recently launched the iPhone Developer University Program. This new tool would allow post-secondary institutions to develop their own applications in the classroom and release them to the App Store.

Schools like Stanford have taken advantage of this and are currently testing a suite of applications for their students, including ones for paying fees and selecting couses.

The program is currently only available in the U.S., but Ryerson new media professor Mark Argo is anxious for a Canadian release.

“The program would be a great help to Ryerson students,” said Argo, “especially in new media because they’re really thinking about how interactive mobile experiences attribute to how we live our lives.”

Argo has already been experimenting with the developer tool released to the general public, testing out ideas like a flag trivia game inspired by the Olympics. Due to a non-disclosure agreement developers must sign, Argo is not allowed to use the public developer tool in his classroom.

“Apple is keeping a very, very tight lid on who can develop these applications,” said Argo.

His own request to Apple to get his applications off his computer and onto his iPhone has yet to be approved.

Argo says several of his students have already expressed interest in developing applications on campus. He estimates about 25 per cent of his students already own iPhones, and he has one himself.

One of his students is Cole Docherty, who’s in fourth-year new media at Ryerson. Docherty planned to produce an iPhone application for his final thesis, but was shot down.

“There were way too many logistical, legal and contractual problems with doing it now, but I’m still planning on doing it,” said Docherty.

He now plans to make an iPhone application on his own.

Docherty can’t disclose much, but he is focusing on “a tool for business users and privateers to transfer files and information from one user to another.”

But people like Argo and Docherty now have a new alternative in Google’s recently released Android, a Linux-based mobile technology platform that offers a developer tool minus the restrictions.

Android is only available in the U.S. at the moment. Technologically savvy customers can create their own applications, put them on their phone and release them for others to use.

“I’m looking to jump ship towards the Android program,” says Argo, noting that he’d like to include Android application development in his classes as early as next year. “Students have a desire to learn about this technology, and teachers have a desire to teach about it.”

Docherty is also excited about the possibilities of Android, but has his reservations.

“First, being totally open means a lot of crap will get through. Having no one to test the apps that are going through and make sure they are actually worth while as well as function may make for a very unstable system,” he says.

“The other thing I can see as a problem with Android is the huge variety of hardware the actual system needs to be able to optimize for.”

Unlike the iPhone Developer University Program, Google’s Android can be used in Ryerson’s university curriculum.

Last year MIT offered a class on creating Android applications, and released seven different applications including a tracking system for small businesses and a to-do list application that incorporates Google Maps.

The MIT students won a $25,000 prize in the Android Developer Challenge with their program Locale, an application designed to change the settings on your phone according to the time of day and your location. Meaning you could set your phone to automatically go into silent mode when you’re in class.

There is no telling when Canadian universities will embrace either new technology the way Stanford has.

“I’d love to see it happen in Canada, but it’s really going to come down to Canadian universities getting their act together and embracing modern technology and taking their campuses out of the 1970s,” Docherty says.

Apple did not return calls inquiring about when the iPhone Developer University Program will be available in Canada.

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