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CampusOrb: Custom Apps for Schools – a review and overview

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Smartphones have quickly become a part of everyday life for many people across the major world territories – in the United States, an estimated 84% of Teenagers and 53% of Adults own smartphones; the figures are not too different here in the UK. One of the main reasons for the prominence of smartphones are Apps – tools and programs you can download onto the phone for quick access to information or to provide a handy service to the user so that they're able to do more or find out more when on the go.

Education is one area that has very much benefited from this innovation. Easy access to social networks keeps students constantly connected and engaging each other; while the ability to view the campus website to get information directly from the school keeps them focused. Some schools even go as far as to provide voice recordings of lectures students can play at any time on their phones; or to allow the students to call their teachers. But not every school is equipped to take advantage. Few schools actually have an app or series of apps tying this together – many don't have staff time to work on them, others haven't realised the opportunity. What's more, developing an app can be difficult, as unlike the internet, which is a single, standard platform, there are several different smartphone systems out there which all work differently from one another and have their own development kits. So many schools aren't taking advantage of a clear opportunity because they do not have the ability to work on a smartphone app themselves.

CampusOrb is a US business aiming to provide the solution to this problem. Their services allow schools to design their own, customised iOS (and Android, for some packages) apps for any purpose the school requires; and be able to update it quickly and easily. Established mid-2012, CampusOrb was founded by a student with first-hand experience of this problem. Being enrolled in a university himself, David Shelechi used his iPhone and iPad almost every hour of the day to keep himself in the loop – and found it extremely frustrating that the school had no proper mobile website or app. Designing an unofficial one himself, his project proved popular with other students and caught the eye of Lasell College in Massachusetts; eventually leading him to form CampusOrb as a Licensed Limited Company offering the same service to other schools. And it's not just the schools who can take advantage; the company also lists other clients in "Student Government Associations, Student Newspapers, Bookstores (sic), Greek Life [and] Intramural Programs". Though the apps are sold as monthly subscriptions, customers are not committed into any length of agreement. In a fit of integrity rarely seen in companies these days, CampusOrb offer to design the app to any client's specifications for free and work with them until it's exactly what they want; then after the first payment, the app is theirs to keep; and should they cancel, which they can do at any time, all they lose is the ability to update the app's design or features in future.

How does it work?

Schools or other organisations interested in having a smartphone app contact CampusOrb; and after making clear their desire to make us of CampusOrb's services, give their details for the company to keep in contact. Then CampusOrb and the business discuss their exact requirements and specifications for how the app needs to look and function. CampusOrb create the application based on the client's needs; then distribute it through the Apple Store and Google Play using a developer profile and name specific to the client – thus allowing the app to be the school's property, not CampusOrb's. From there on, changing the app is simple:

You see something you want to update or change (an event, a date, a tab, a button, a colo[u]r, ANYTHING) – you use the website and log in to your control panel. Once logged in, you edit whatever your heart desires and the application will automatically update on every single iPhone or iPad – it does NOT have to go through apple again (and thus delaying your updates for weeks and possibly rejection) and it does NOT have to be re-installed again on user’s phones – they simply see updates immediately.It’s that simple.

The best part is this: to edit the application, you need no formal programming knowledge. The control panel is designed to be used by anyone.

So for an example use: the SGA for Edinboro University (current client) had decided to give the control panel login for their iphone and ipad app to their Finance Director, Public Relations Director, IT Director and the SGA Secretary:

• The Finance Director logs in and updates the links to their weekly budgets.
• The Public Relations Director logs in to update event dates.
• The IT Director keeps in contact with the Campus Orb for support and updates.
• The SGA Secretary logs in to update the congress minutes of the week.

Giving the power to modify the application daily, weekly, anytime (sic), instantly – to those who need it.

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