The iPhone Academy

Photo illustration for Charlotte Etherton

Timothy Ferguson no longer has those all-important, lengthy conversations with his daughter. The Director of Northern Kentucky University’s Infrastructure Management Institute (IMI), says that technology has replaced that pesky role, leaving the father and daughter duo to their own devices.

‘We simply text each other from our phones,’ Ferguson said.

For Ferguson and his daughter, and many like them, the boom of popularity for mobile devices, such as Apple’s iPhone (which surpassed the 21 million sale mark this year) is making’ face-to-face conversations near obsolete. With the recent jump in sales of’ the part phone, part GPS, part web browser, and an all around media device-iPhone has redefined the way industries, schools and even a family like the Ferguson’s conduct daily business.

The convergence of mobile and Web has made applications that perform various tasks on iPhones high demamd, says Ferguson. And, due to this demand, NKUs IMI has created a new program called the Mobile & Web Academy. According to Ferguson, the academy is a first of its kind in the region, and is geared toward the development of mobile applications (or apps), allowing NKU students to attend their regular classes, while working part-time to develop the apps.

Most the students involved in the academy are College of Informatics majors. According to Ferguson, the program is a great opportunity for students who want to gain real-world experience programming various apps to be better prepared for a ‘technology-focused future.’

‘I go to computer science classes in the day, and then I come here and get experience applying what I just learned,’ said Evan Herberth, senior computer science major.
Using a staff made up of mostly students, for the past six months, the Academy has been changing the way we use our iPhones and BlackBerries.

‘iNKU is a good example of an app made at the Academy.’ Ferguson said.
The first iNKU version 1.0 debuted last spring. By interacting with the iPhone’s built-in GPS, it allows students to access maps of the university and surrounding area, in order to assist in traversing the campus. According to Ferguson, the Academy is in the midst of developing an upgraded version, 2.0, to be introduced early next year, featuring access to NKU news and athletic schedules.

The popularity of apps in general has skyrocketed side-by-side with the sale of iPhones. According to an article published on, Apple’s Apps store has reached a staggering two billion downloads as of recent.’ And according to Ferguson, has made the demand for the 85,000 available apps, a new phenomenon.

This growing phenomenon has also caused companies to demand their own specialized apps, molded to their daily business activities. Enter, NKU’s academy. According to Ferguson, many companies are contacting NKU, from all over the world, after hearing the buzz about the College of Informatics, and in particular, the academy’s programming abilities.

‘We have several more applications in the works with organizations in Canada, Washington D.C., Paris, France and Texas,’ Ferguson said.

But, the Academy has developed apps for local companies as well, such as a map of all banks and tellers for Fifth-Third, and an app schedule for the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (T.A.N.K.).

‘We are helping a lot of companies do a great deal of cool things,’ Ferguson said.
Other apps being developed at NKU are for places like San Ramon Valley, California, where the Academy is developing an app for the fire department, which will allow the local residents to receive 911 alerts via their iPhone.

The academy is also developing an app that is focused around national security, and thus, secretive in nature.

‘We are working on NDA (non disclosure agreement) application for a D.C. company,’ Ferguson said. ‘The application is very important emergency homeland security app that should be done in November.’

But, beyond the academy, the IMI, along with the College of Informatics is developing a curriculum that will teach app programming, especially for the iPhone and will most likely include SDK (Development) certification by course end.

‘It is a 400 level Computer Science class that will be offered next spring,’ said Kevin Kirby, Chair of Computer Science. ‘The class is a pilot for a permanent course, and one day may not just be focused around Apple.’

Another app being developed for its debut in 12-18 months, is a program that will enable the student to interface with the Student Information Systems (SIS), allowing the ability to drop and add classes from their phone. And, soon to be released, is an app that allows students access to grades through Blackboard.

Although the Academy and its apps development team are just six months in the making, Ferguson believes the high demand for apps by various organizations is already making the program a great success.

‘Back when the Web boomed, everybody wanted a Web site,’ Ferguson said. ‘Now, mobile-Web apps are becoming huge, and everyone wants their own.’