Last month App School was mentioned here on the IIA blog and since then it has had its first run. There was a really great cross-section of students from all over the industry, which included professional developers, a CEO, a third level student and a staff member from an Institute of Technology. Most had never programmed on any Apple system before, and a few did not even own one, but by the end of the week everyone had made a lot of progress. A few days in a couple of students managed to get a 2D physics simulation going, with a button rolling around the screen and bouncing off the edges! On the last day we had a couple of Twitter clients working (and that’s including profile picture support!)
Some of the students were developing their own personal or business applications during the course, and now there are four apps (that I know about at least) on their way to the App Store from App School students. Some of these apps will display information to users that they would normally access through a website, but what can an iPhone app do that a website can’t? Well, there are few obvious ways that the user experience can be enhanced for your customers with iPhone-specific features.
Looking at the very tip top of the iceberg:
- The iPhone can store data to be made available offline. This has worked out very well for Patrick Collison‘s Encyclopedia app, which gives users access to Wikipedia when they do not have internet connectivity.
- Apps can use the iPhone’s GPS location to find information local to your customer. This is core to many travel apps, restaurant review apps, hotel reservation apps, and social networking apps.
- The user can take photos and upload them to you. Yelp‘s app allows users take photos of restaurants and upload these for other users to see. Just about any Flickr app will let you do this too.
- With a bit of effort, the multi-touch screen and the 3D graphics support can be leveraged to allow customers interact with your business in a way not possible on a desktop computer.
While on the topic of interaction, people enjoy using their iPhones and this can really help if you rely on user-submitted data for you service (“Web 2.0”, if you like to call it that). Above, I mentioned getting the phone’s GPS location, and getting access to the phone’s camera. You can go beyond GPS co-ordinates, photos, bits of user-entered text, email address/phone numbers selected from the address book though, and upload data-types specific to your service. Ocarina is one of my favourite apps and allows users play music by blowing into the microphone while pressing “holes” on the screen. This lets the iPhone work as an ocarina, a wind instrument. Music played by the user is uploaded to some server, along with the user’s location. Users than then explore a 3D earth and hear songs played by users from all around the world.
If you allow customers upload this information to you, what could you do with it? Can you think of how that could add value to your service?
There are so many exciting possibilities with this platform. If you don’t have access to an iPhone or iPod touch to try out some apps for yourself, there are plenty of video demonstrations online. There is definitely something there for everyone… after all, the App Store really does have an app for everything!