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iPhone use increasing on campus

Sarah Mervosh | Thursday, April 16, 2009

iPhone usage on campus has increased fourfold this year, according to the University’s Chief Technology Officer, DeWitt Latimer.

This increase is part of a campus-wide move towards mobility, which includes Blackberries and other “smart phones,” Latimer said.

“There has been a large explosion of smart phones on campus,” Latimer said. “There is a clear move towards mobility. The iPhone has kind of become the poster child for this.”

Latimer estimated that as of the beginning of the 2007-08 academic year, the number of iPhones on campus was in the single digits. At the beginning of the 2008-09 academic year, there were 210 iPhones on campus. Currently, there are 838 iPhones on campus.

“I do think a lot of them were probably Christmas presents,” he said.

Latimer said the increase of iPhone usage is not going to affect student reception because the Office of Information Technology (OIT) is prepared for the increase.

“If Apple had a promotion [where] every Notre Dame student got an iPhone and they came back over Christmas break with 10,000 new iPhones … that would be a problem,” Latimer said. “The growth has been predictable enough that we can react fast enough to that to make sure that there aren’t problems.

“We’re not going to get caught off guard,” he said.

One reason that iPhone users should not have any problems is because of the high number of AT&T receptors on campus. There are 17 hidden cell phone receptors spread across campus and AT&T is on all 17, Latimer said.

Verizon also has receptors throughout campus, although they are slightly less prevalent than AT&T, he said.

“Clearly, [AT&T] is the more aggressive of the two,” Latimer said. However, he said Verizon and AT&T have “roughly equivalent” coverage on campus.

Latimer said the move towards mobility, not specifically an increase in iPhone usage, is driving an increase in antennas on campus.

Additionally, campus construction contributes to a need for more antennas. New buildings “block and absorb” cell phone signals, he said.

“If you had great reception one day and all of a sudden they build a new law school between you and that antenna, all of a sudden you don’t have great reception,” Latimer said.

Sprint and T-Mobile have no cell phone receptors on campus, which means that their customers do not get as good of service, he said.

But poor service for Sprint and T-Mobile customers is not something that he can control, Latimer said.

He said cell phone companies must decide to invest in putting receptors on campus. OIT can only encourage the companies to do so, Latimer said.

“There’s only so much money to go around. And it takes active lobbying and an ongoing partnership,” he said. “It’s up to us to convince them to spend it on our campus.”

Latimer said Notre Dame is “carrier neutral” because they would like to have receptors from all companies, but Sprint and T-Mobile decided to not put receptors on campus.

“The Sprint CEO is a Notre Dame alum, and we just haven’t been able to get them to bite,” he said.

“We can’t say it enough. We would love to have Sprint and T-Mobile on campus, but they’re not here. Yes, there are angry students on campus. Yes, I feel sorry for them. But I can’t control that.”

In addition to lobbying for more antennas on campus, Latimer said he has plans to utilize the increase in smart phones by creating applications that could be used by Notre Dame students on their phones.

“We as a University are going to start writing more and more applications … that are smart phone friendly,” he said.

Although he has not committed to any specific applications, Latimer said possible smart phone applications could include that allow students to check their grades or courses on their phones.

The applications would be meant to make student life easier on campus, and have already been utilized by schools like Stanford University and Duke University.

One application used by another university can “tell you when your dryer is buzzed and your clothes are ready,” Latimer said.

“We clearly recognize that mobility is going to be key. We want to deploy more and more of our services that are mobile friendly,” he said.

Ted Mandell, a professor in the Film, Television and Theatre department, sees the increase in the use of iPhones and smart phones as a result of society’s shift towards multitasking.

Although he doesn’t see much iPhone use in his classroom because he teaches in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, where there is little cell phone service, a lot of his students use the Internet on laptops during class.

“I don’t have a problem with students multitasking,” Mandell said. “I think people are being trained to constantly multitask.”

“Like you have to make decisions: Do I listen to the person I’m talking to or do I respond to a Facebook [message]?” he said.

Mendell said the iPhone is just an extension of laptops when it comes to using the Internet.

“I always just assume people are doing three or four things while they’re listening in class,” he said. “I think that’s probably going to be a common thing now.”