U.Va. Launches New, Free Android Smartphone App

August 22, 2011

August 22, 2011 — In a near-repeat of last year's launch of "The Official Virginia iPhone App," the University of Virginia today gives Android smartphone users a mobile application suite of their own.

The app, built for the Google-based platform for smart phones, is available for free download here.

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Carl Briggs:

Android phone users now have the same access to mobile features that iPhone owners have had for the past year.

Android users can view maps to find their way around Grounds, check news and sports scores, and play seven classic U.Va. songs, including "The Good Ol' Song." The app is actually made of 26 sub-applications designed to be of interest to prospective students, students, alumni, faculty, staff, friends and Cavalier sports fans.

A separate Android app, WahooBus, is available for download at the Android market.  It tracks the comings and goings of UTS buses and was developed by Rohan Puri, a 2011 U.Va. graduate in biomedical engineering.

U.Va. officials expect strong interest in the Android version of "The Good Old App," but can't predict if demand for the new application will rival that from iPhone users. The free iPhone app has been downloaded more than 23,250 times since its debut last August, and there have been more than 450,000 sessions using the app over the past year. (The app also works on iPads and iPod Touches.)

"We think it will be enthusiastically received, but we really haven't dwelled much on predicting usage," said Zachary Wheat, director of interactive media and Web services in the Office of Development and Public Affairs.

"Many have asked us, 'When are you coming out with an Android version?'" he said.

It's a reasonable question. Android-based phones now have 39 percent of the market, compared to 28 percent for iPhones, Wheat said. Blackberry and Windows phone users make up the rest of the marketplace, but U.Va. currently has no plans to offer applications for those phones.

Android phone users will have to wait another month for the "augmented reality" feature, which lets users point their phones at a building on Grounds and find out its name and information, Wheat said. Users will be notified when it is available.

The Android app cost about $10,000 less to put together than its iPhone cousin. After a competitive bidding process, U.Va. again partnered with developer WillowTree Apps Inc. of Charlottesville, which developed the iPhone app, and spent about $40,000 for the Android version.

The twin investments seem worthwhile to U.Va. officials, judging from the iPhone app's usage. More than 5 percent of people with the application use it at least 10 times a week.

Sports and news have been users' two main interests, Wheat said. He recalled that after a video introducing the iPhone app screened at Scott Stadium during last year's opening home football game against the University of Richmond on Sept. 4, the AT&T phone network experienced major congestion.

Wheat and his colleagues plan to continue to make improvements to both applications.

"The Virginia app has been lauded as being distinctive and unique among university apps and has had lots of positive comments in the iTunes app store," Wheat said. "It does some things differently from a lot of the university apps that you see out there."

For instance, the U.Va. app includes more in-depth information for alumni, and includes "sub-apps" for University employees and U.Va. Health System patients. The forthcoming "augmented reality" Grounds map "remains unique, to my knowledge," Wheat said, and the athletics information is very deep, including score notifications, team rosters, athlete profiles and links to video highlights and commentary from virginiasports.com.

"Usage of the iPhone version continues to grow," he said. "People continue to load it on their phones. It's a nice resource when you're new to the University as a student, a parent or an employee."

Mobile apps have become very popular at universities as smartphones have become more popular, particularly among students, Wheat said. "We're going to be very interested to see if it will gain the same type of enthusiasm among Android users as it did among Apple users."

But is the release of the U.Va. Android app further evidence of the Googlization of everything?

"It seems like a pretty pragmatic move. This is what everybody has to do," said Siva Vaidhyanathan of the College of Arts & Sciences, Robertson Professor in Media Studies, chair of the Department of Media Studies and author of the widely reviewed book "The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry)."

"It's about our dependence on Google to explore the world, and in the broad spectrum of things," he said. But he doesn't have anything cautionary to say about the Android mobile application. 

"It's not a problem," he said. "There's a super amount of competition right now."

Vaidhyanathan himself is a veteran iPhone user who downloaded the U.Va. application. "I just used it about an hour ago," he said during a recent interview. "It's mostly helpful, and the map is really helpful."

— By Carl Briggs

 

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