iPhone apps spark classroom iNgenuity

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By Lauren Strapagiel

A mole named Flip is updating the face of new media at Ryerson and will soon be available on an iPhone near you.

Fourth year new media students John Coutts, Cole Docherty and Eyeopener fun editor Leif Parker are making an iPhone application for a class assignment. App development is something new media professors and students have wanted but that has not been possible until recently.

Last October, Apple dropped its non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that made it impossible for developers to talk about their creations, let alone make an application as a class project. Without the NDA, new media students can use this of-the-moment technology.

“Flip: Mole Survivor” follows the adventures of a mole digging through the Earth’s layers, investigating the cause of an undetermined global crisis. Flip tunnels past magma and fantasy worlds filled with fellow moles and mutant bunnies, solving puzzles along the way. The game will take advantage of the iPhone and iPod Touch’s built-in-technology such as the accelerometer.

The accelerometer translates real world movement into interactive game play and rotation of applications from portrait to landscape.

“It’s kind of the pinnacle of technology right now,” said Coutts. He said that as a new media student, having the ability to create iPhone applications is something that will still be valid a year from now, which isn’t always the case for the program’s curriculum. Docherty said techniques they learned in their first and second years are already no longer relevant.

The application is being created for Professor David Green’s class Authoring for New Media, or “making a game class” as Coutts called it.

“He seems much less a teacher than a mentor who assigns you marks,” said Coutts.

“He’s probably one of the coolest profs I’ve met at Ryerson,” said Docherty. He added that Green, an experienced coder himself, loves the idea of students using the iPhone platform for the assignment.

“There are over 10 million iPhones and possibly more iPod Touches in circulation,” said Green via e-mail.

“Many of my students own one or the other so I think that it is good that they are interested in developing for that platform. It was one of the platform options I gave at the start of the term and I am quite happy that a group of students took it on as a challenge.”

Other students in the class are using Java and Flash to create their games, but iPhone applications use Objective-C and Xcode, both new to the group. Coutts said it’s like relearning French after forgetting it for years; they can understand bits and pieces of it but there’s still much to learn.

In their group, Coutts and Docherty are using the Apple’s Software Development Kit to code the program and Parker is creating the graphics with Photoshop.

Ultimately, the group would like to see Flip in the iTune’s App Store after they finish in April. They plan to release the it for free. But the possibility for charging a fee is on the table, they just need to wade through the legal implications. Coutts bought the license himself, but the application is being created for a Ryerson school assignment, so there’s a question of who owns the rights.

“One aspect of emerging technologies that is of interest to us is seeking answers to these kinds of questions,” said Green.

“Intellectual property remains the students’ unless their work is done contractually. Products of our current classes will be given away at the App Store. Students are free to develop independent work for sale.”

Flip again raises the question of whether new media will formally integrate iPhone technology into the classroom. Coutts said because technology moves faster than curriculum changes, this may never happen.

“By the time they get an iPhone class up and running it can go for one year, maybe two,” said Coutts.


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