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Impact of Mobile Devices on Universities

rkmelton's picture
Fri, 07/22/2011 - 7:00pm -- rkmelton

Impact of Mobile Devices on Universities
Brian A. Rellinger
Smartphone and tablets have changed the landscape for content developers.  As more consumers purchase these portable, instant-on devices, universities must be able to respond by making their content mobile friendly using multiple technical solutions.  A 2010 study by Ball State found that 99.8% of college students have a cell phone, and 49% of those are smartphones as opposed to feature phones (Truong, 2010).  Additionally, RBC predicts that in 2011, smartphone sales will surpass traditional computer sales (Frommer, 2009).  See Figure 1.  Finally, Gartner expects an increase in sales of smartphones by 56.6%, totaling 468 million units in 2011 (Enzer, 2011).   Since college students are using smartphones at such as high rate, it only follows that universities must incorporate mobile devices in their IT strategy.
Figure 1. Smartphone Sales to Beat PC Sales By 2011.

The two ways to deliver content to mobile devices are through a mobile web browser and a custom application that resides on the device.  While there is debate about which is the best method going forward, applications have been tremendously successful.  Gartner projects $15 billion in mobile application store revenue in 2011, which is an increase of 190% over last year (Gartner, 2011).  Apple, Google, and Blackberry have all launched custom application stores aimed at mobile devices. 
The growth in smartphone devices combined with the success of mobile applications has created new opportunities for universities to reach out to constituents.  A common function at most universities is guided campus tours.  A mobile application allows prospective students and parents to use their smartphone while walking around the campus.  As a user walks near buildings or landmarks, they can listen to an audio recording of what the tour guide would be saying if they were present.  Universities are then able to offer unguided tours that still provide valuable information to the prospective students.
Mobile map applications can allow freshmen to receive custom walking directions to their classes from their residence hall.  Course catalogs allow current students to browse section offerings, class locations, times, and professor contact information.  Alumni and friends of the university can make donations right from their smartphone.  Some universities have even enabled authenticated services to their mobile offering so that students can actually register for classes and pay bills any time.  This additional functionality is certain to become more prevalent over time as student information systems continue to incorporate mobile technologies into their software packages.