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Spring 2009
Computer Science Students Develop iPhone Applications

The next gaming sensation that has iPhone users tapping away furiously at their screens might come from the University of Houston, where computer science students are exploring the latest frontier in software development for mobile devices.

Apple’s smartphone has been an international phenomenon since launching in 2007. Last fall the computer science department offered a new class where students get hands-on experience designing software applications for the iPhone.

"The iPhone exemplifies a new kind of mobile computing, and we’re providing students with state-of-the-art expertise," said Ioannis Pavlidis, Eckhard Pfeiffer Professor of Computer Science who taught the course.

With its groundbreaking multitouch interface, the iPhone has opened new opportunities for software development, Pavlidis said.

Among the most popular features of the iPhone are third-party applications that can be downloaded from Apple’s "App Store." Anyone can design a program – such as a game or a news, entertainment or networking tool. If approved by Apple, the program is made available to iPhone users. The App Store features thousands of such applications.

So, equipped with Macs and iPhones, students in the class worked in groups on semester-long projects to design iPhone applications. Not only were students expected to design from scratch a complete, user-ready application, but they also delivered weekly updates and demonstrations. This emphasis on teamwork, accountability and deadlines mirrors a professional environment, Pavlidis said.

The results could be headed to an iPhone near you. The group that designed the course’s standout project – a game called iTapFrenzy – will submit their program to Apple for review and possible placement in the App Store.

The game is simple, but addictive. Using both hands, players tap squares moving across the screen in increasingly complex patterns. The game engages, and confuses, both sides of the brain, said Anthony Amolochitis, a computer science student who helped create iTapFrenzy.

"You start playing it, and before you know it, 30 minutes have gone by," he said.

The game was an instant hit. Pradeep Buddharaju, a postdoctoral researcher who co-taught the class with Pavlidis, said he spent more time playing iTap Frenzy than grading it and now has it installed on his iPhone.

With mobile computing becoming more widespread, the iPhone class is essential, Amolochitis said.

"I think all computer science students should take this class," he said. "Everyone has programmed for a desktop, but not everyone has programmed for a mobile device."

The class will be offered again in the fall.
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