There may be more than 85,000 iPhone apps in the market and some 125,000 developers in Apple’s iPhone Developer Program, but there’s always room for more.

University of Saskatchewan offers Canada’s first iPhone app course

Plugging into a rapidly growing market, the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) recently became the first Canadian school to officially offer students a course on developing iPhone applications.

There are now over 85,000 apps available for the more than 50 million iPhone and iPod touch customers. There are also about 125,000 developers in Apple’s iPhone Developer Program, but Chad Jones, one of the three instructors of the course, believes there’s room for more.

Bay Street may be forecasting slower economic growth, but Apple’s announcement in September that downloads from its App Store has exceeded the two billion mark points to a runaway success and an ever growing appetite for more apps.

“There’s a huge market out there. I heard iPhone apps bring in about $500 million a month,” said Jones, a 31-year-old former Apple software developer who approached the U of S computer science department last year with the idea of opening a series of iPhone app summer workshops.

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The series of one-day workshops which were offered for $100 a pop was an immediate success and that paved the way for the development of the full-blown credit course which was offered in September this year. More than 62 students enrolled in the course that just finished this week. The U of S has a student population of about 18,000.

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Even at this early stage applications developed by the university’s students are already being noticed.

Case in point is the iPhone app developed by Fred Buschau, 39 and Ryan Ukrainetz, 36. Both are graduates of U of S’s computer science program and practicing developers who were drawn to the course because mobile app development appeared to be a very viable career segway.

The duo created a downloadable quick diagnostic tool for doctors. Essentially, the application turns an iPhone into a portable Web-enabled repository of a wide range of diagnostic information including text, videos, images and statistics.

“Doctors can key in the patient’s symptoms and use the available data and statistics as well as the application’s calculation features to determine the probability that a patient has a particular disease,” said Buschau.

It is still the doctor “not the application” that conducts and determines the diagnosis, he pointed out.

“This is the same principles that doctors employ when consulting medical books. But the process is much quicker with the iPhone app,” Ukrainetz said.

Buschau and Ukrainetz, were recently approached by Michael Sikorsky, a multi-million dollar angel investor called an “Internet Revolutionary” by Profit Magazine and named “CEO to watch” by CNN Money.

“Michael Sikorsky was really interested in their application and signified his intention to invest in it,” according to Jones.

Potential investors like Sikorsky will find better performing apps from graduates of the course, according to the instructor.

“We know first hand what Apple wants in its applications and we are able to impart that knowledge to our students so that their creations have fewer issues and are of a higher quality than most applications,” said Jones who once worked at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.

Theory and application

The course being offered at U of S comes with the perfect combination of theory and practice, according to Allan Yeung and Victor Huang.

Yeung and Huang recently created an iPhone game based on a very popular computer game in China. The fourth year computer science students consider themselves very lucky to get into the course.

“I’ve been hoping for a course like this because I’ve always wanted to get into mobile app development,” according to Yeung. But since the iPhone was only introduced in 2007 there has really been no iPhone app development course available in Canada to Yeung.

“The instructors don’t only teach me the theory behind the technology but also give me the opportunity to apply it,” he said.

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This type of education is what the technology industry needs to rekindle student interest in IT, according to Joe Astroth, vice-president of worldwide education and learning at Autodesk Inc.

Enrolment in computer science and math subjects in North America are at an all time low, Astroth recently told ITBusiness.ca.

“Less than five per cent of students pursue these subjects in North America and we’re doing nothing. In Asia, governments become worried when enrolment drops to 30 per cent,” he said.

“I believe we need to move away from the traditional text-book mode of learning to a more analytical and problem solving model,” the executive of the San Rafael, Calif-based design software company said.

He said basic such as mathematics, science and literature still need to be emphasized but the method of teaching could be focused towards enabling students to become “analytical thinkers”.

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