There's an App for Mustangs!

Midwestern State University Mustangs can say, "There's an app for that," when talking about their school. MSU2U is now available for download free for iPhones through Apple's App Store.

Drs. Terry Griffin and Tina Johnson, with students Eric Binnion, Shawn Seals, Miminar Rahman, and Chase Sawyer, submitted the iMustangs app for Apple's approval in May, and the app was available for download July 9.

During a 2010 iPhone workshop at a computer science conference, Johnson saw the importance of MSU having its own mobile application. At the same time, Griffin had been researching mobile Web programming (websites pre-formatted for mobile usage) and its growing importance. Both realized that an app would keep MSU at the forefront of mobile technology. "This is where everything is going," Griffin said. "Not just for the apps, but for mobile websites, too." Statistics pointing to a mobile future: According to Apple financial reports, 37 million iPhones were sold during the first quarter of 2012, and Android is activating 900,000 units each day according to PCmag.com. Mobile Internet usage will overtake desktop Internet usage by 2014 according to digitalbuzzblog.com.

A faculty research grant made the app development possible. Johnson and Griffin received enough funds to pay their team of students and to use certain mobile programming language, such as Objective-C, the standard for iPhone app development.

Features of the first version include a master event calendar, with a selector for different sports events and the capability to set reminders for the events. In a map using Google Earth, campus buildings are pinned, along with the user's current location. Parking areas are color-coded according to lot parking restrictions. A gallery link shows photos of the MSU campus and another link takes the user to MSU's main webpage. Users can rate the app and make suggestions and comments on the feedback page. Because Mustangs are a spirited bunch, another link will feature audio of the MSU band playing the fight song.

Johnson said now that the first version is up and running, updates can be added. Those already under construction include emergency information and a route marker, showing how to get from one campus location to another.

The app is only one benefit of the faculty research grant. What the group is learning now may be the basis for a future course. "We're a COPLAC (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges) university, we emphasize liberal arts and undergraduate work," Griffin said. "This grant had the goal of undergraduate research and turning this into a course. It's a two-fer." Johnson said that she was glad undergraduates were able to participate because they will have longer to develop the program.

As for the students' thoughts on being part of the team, Binnion said that the work had been hard but fun. "It's been good to have a significant project to work on," he said. "Class projects are geared differently than this. In this, you're almost in over your head, but you have to find your way out."

Seals said he learned more on this project than in a classroom because he had to dig for knowledge. "This fills in the gaps, things you don't get in class," he said.

Griffin agreed. "You don't always get to understand things unless you have a problem to solve. You need a target or goal. That's what this project gave us," he said.

Others involved in the development include MSU technology analyst Robert Steflik, who in the future will be exporting all campus events for the calendar; MSU web designer Adam Chavez, who designed the backgrounds within the app; and Christopher Kelly, who designed the MSU2U icon that will be seen on the iPhone's home screen.

Currently the app is only available for iPhones but Android users, take heart. An Android-based app is in future plans.