Recently there’s been a lot of noise made about mobile applications for universities and colleges. Apparently what students want to see is a dedicated app for their institution, providing them with bits and pieces of information on just about everything. There are plenty of examples, a quick search of the iTunes App Store reveals several universities which are keen for you to download their slice of application goodness. Entire products have sprung up to address this market, and some places have even gone all out and written their own.

All this is good. After all, who wouldn’t want to be able to check things like their timetable, their library fees and the state of the university’s IT services from their phone? What could be cooler than tapping a button and being told where your nearest free PC or copy of a book is? We like the concept so we’re having a look at mobile stuff, especially given that according to our analytics an appreciable fraction of our users are now trying to access services from their mobile.

However, we’re not entirely convinced about the route of apps. Sure they let you hook straight into things like geolocation and local storage, but with HTML5 so can a website. Apps also need to be made for the whole range of devices out there. iOS and Android are the big players, but you’re then cutting out Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, WebOS and Symbian devices. Apps also have an approval process to go through, or if not then they have a slightly complex installation route. There’s also a requirement either to pay someone a lot of money to make an app, or to spend a lot of money on in-house development.

All this means that we’re steering away from apps as much as possible, but we still want to make sure we provide kick-ass mobile services. “How?” I hear you cry. The answer is amazingly simple – we’re going back to mobile-optimised websites.

(more…)