Story by Justin Van Nostrand, NewsNetNebraska
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has launched a new mobile application for students called the Nebraska App. The application connects with various web services on campus and makes them easily accessible on a mobile device. These services include access to the campus directory, athletic schedules, events calendar, course bulletin, campus maps, videos, news, access to Blackboard, emergency dialing, and access to the library.
Students have previously had access to many of these services on their mobile devices, but it had to be done through a mobile web browser. The Nebraska app makes this experience native to iOS and Android devices and puts all the services in one easy-to-find place.
Benjamin Walk, a sophomore at UNL had been using the application iHusker on his iPod Touch previously, but has now moved to the Nebraska App on his HTC EVO 3D.
“I had something like this on my iPod, but it’s really great to have this on my phone now,” Walk said. “It’s just nice to have all this stuff around whenever you might need it.”
UNL Freshman Ali Britzman appreciates the convenience of the Nebraska App and having all that information in her pocket.
“It’s nice to not have to lug my computer around or log into a computer just to check if an event is going on tonight or to see what grade I got on my last quiz,” Britzman said.
The app isn’t perfect, though. Clicking the library icon takes you straight to the mobile version of the library’s website. It works, but it would be really nice if was more integrated like the other sections of the application.
According to Heath Tuttle, coordinator of Technology Transforming Teaching at UNL, developing the Nebraska App was not an in-house job. The application was developed by Blackboard Inc., the same Blackboard that runs the online end of the University. According to Tuttle, the app took about 8 months to develop and customize to work with UNL’s services.
Though UNL didn’t directly develop the Nebraska App, Tuttle learned a lot about the difficulties of developing two separate applications for different platforms, but at the same time trying to keep the user experience consistent between the two applications.
“The development of an app for different smartphone platforms at this time essentially involves maintaining separate expertise and code bases for each platform,” Tuttle said. “This is a significant problem for any entity trying to support a large user base across different smartphone platforms.”
Currently the Nebraska App is only available for iOS and Android devices and Tuttle says there are currently no plans to bring it to other platforms like BlackBerry or Windows Phone 7. This is largely due to the development differences between platforms and the lack of developer tools to bridge that gap.
“There are some toolsets designed to bridge different platforms using HTML in a native wrapper, Tuttle said. “However, in our opinion, this does not always provide a good user experience and is not necessarily an improvement over a mobile-compatible website.”
Tuttle says the application’s roadmap for the future is still undecided, but other departments on campus have expressed their interest in integrating into the application.
More information about the Nebraska App is available here.