Technology Trends

Dialing Up the Future for iPhones on Campus

An interview with Jay Dominick, Wake Forest University

[Editor's note: Jay Dominick will present an update on MobileU and converged devices at this coming summer's Campus Technology 2007 http://campustechnology.com/conferences/summer2007 conference in Washington, DC, July 30-August 2.]

At Macworld in San Francisco earlier this month, Steve Jobs delivered a keynote unveiling Apple’s iPhone. Consumers can line up to get them this coming June. But what does the announcement mean to the higher education market? CT spoke with Wake Forest University Assistant Vice President and CIO Jay Dominick for some insights.

Jay L. Dominick

CT: How was the announcement of the iPhone received on your campus?

DOMINICK: I would say the iPhone is probably the biggest technology announcement in the past year. It has generated a phenomenal amount of interest, certainly all across our campus—I’ve received many e-mails from our faculty and from the technical staff saying, “Check this out! What do you think?” So it’s created a lot of energy and buzz.

CT: How will the availability of this new phone, which is supposed to ship in June, affect your planning?

DOMINICK: We’ve had [converged] cell phone/PDA pilot programs MobileU here for a couple of years, and one of the big challenges we’ve seen is user interface issues. I think if Apple can address the interface issues surrounding smaller devices—like cell phones or PDAs—they will have a very, very interesting and applicable product for higher education.

But the iPhone is still a little bit of a “vapor” product right now. We haven’t seen yet how it’s going to work, or whether or not it’s going to be open enough to write applications for it. It’s more ethereal than substantive at this point. When we start to get our hands on these things and begin to understand how they actually work, we’ll have a better idea of what the utility of the device is going to be.

CT: There’s a lot of interest in the consumer market for the iPhone. How will this translate to student demands?

DOMINICK: It’s certainly going to be the “buzz” product of the summer for our incoming students. So, to a certain extent we are going to deal with these things whether we had planned to or not.

CT: You selected Cingular--which will soon be known by the AT&T name--as your provider at Wake Forest University. Apple announced its partnership with Cingular in launching the new iPhone. Will you be supporting the iPhone in your MobileU project?

DOMINICK: We have focused our own internal work on the Windows Mobile platform, because we can develop for that platform—we can write software for it, and we can modify the behavior of the device. So our work has been primarily in Windows Mobile. However I think the way that the iPhone has been hyped and the way this product is going to be launched, we’re going to have to address it, period.

The questions we have at this point are: Can we develop software for this Apple device? Or, will it be a completely closed device, where we are in essence dependent on Apple—given their digital rights management or their interface for the device—to put materials on it? That could be a limiting factor.

Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone at Macworld

CT: Are there any other technical drawbacks to the iPhone you can spot right now, even before seeing a copy? —For example, the choice of cellular technology.

DOMINICK: The iPhone does look like it has a very sophisticated Web browser on it, and just as a browsing device, it could be quite useful. However, since it doesn’t support the newer communication technologies—supposedly it just supports 3G—the data rates are going to be limited. It also does not appear to support a native GPS either, and location aware services are very interesting to us.

CT: And would a phone that incorporates VoIP be more interesting to you?

DOMINICK: It might be. Certainly that’s where we’ve been looking. But Apple is sort of the 800-pound gorilla in the personal device space right now. So, we are probably going to have to be more responsive to where that market goes, than not.

CT: How will you adjust your programs, then, to the technology directions in the market?

DOMINICK: We are already trying to figure out how to deal with iPods, just in general—podcasting, music services for them, that sort of thing. And now, the iPhones will have WiFi connections as well as cellular connections. They’re going to start showing up on campus with people who are ready to use them regardless of what our strategy is, I think.

We’re still interested in the VoIP phones. But if Apple comes out with a user interface for the iPhone that’s anywhere near what they did for the user interface for MP3 players, then that’s going to change the phone business like the iPod changed the MP3 player business. And they have done a great job with user interface in the past.

CT: Do you see the iPhone and iPod as going forward together into the future? Given some of the similar functionalities for audio and video delivery, will Apple ultimately have trouble differentiating these product lines?

DOMINICK: I think that’s one of the reasons that the iPhone is priced so high—with a two-year contract, you’re going to be paying about $500 for the device. But in one sense this is the top end of the iPod line. I don’t think, because of the price, that the iPhone is going to actually compete with the iPod per se, but Apple may end up cannibalizing a little of its iPod business.

At the same time, I would point out that we are getting more and more requests from faculty to do things that look like podcasting. So the general acceptance of the iPod as a content delivery vehicle is continuing to grow. And the iPod is a virtually ubiquitous piece of technology on campus today.

CT: Do you think the iPhone will eventually be offered by other carriers? Will that open the door for more adoption in higher education?

DOMINICK: I think they’ll have to branch out, and once it gets past being a single carrier technology, it will be more open to more people adopting it. Cingular has about 30 to 35 percent of the domestic US market, so Apple will want to address reaching the majority of the domestic market who might want this phone. And they will want additional partners to address the global market.

CT: Are you ready for these devices possibly appearing on your campus next fall?

DOMINICK: Not yet! This phone will launch in June. If we pick a phone that works with Windows Mobile, but is not as appealing as the iPhone, I think we’re going to be inundated by students who are caught by the glitter and glam of the iPhone at the same time that they are trying to make a purchase decision about what we’re offering.

Right now I’m thinking that we are going to have to look seriously at this phone, because there is going to be so much buzz about it in the June-July-August timeframe—just when students and their parents are making back-to-school purchasing decisions. We’re going to have to understand what impact that’s going to have on our programs.

CT: So if a student shows up with an iPhone, will you be able to accommodate them?

DOMINICK: We really don’t know yet. We have to work through that question in the next couple of months. And we haven’t had our hands on an iPhone yet. So, we don’t fully understand what it is, other than what we’ve read in the blogs and so forth. So in the next couple months we’re going to have to make some decisions, some in April, before we even will have a chance to see the device…and we don’t have a lot of information at this point.

CT: Yet this could be an important decision...

DOMINICK: The iPhone is something that has risen to the top of our radar right now—that’s pretty amazing.

Jay Dominick is assistant vice president and CIO at Wake Forest University.

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