USAirways, Apps, and Higher Ed

This fall I have 3 flights on USAirways. Unless something changes between now and EDUCAUSE, on none of these flights will I be able to manage my travel on my iPhone.

September 30, 2012

This fall I have 3 flights on USAirways. Unless something changes between now and EDUCAUSE, on none of these flights will I be able to manage my travel on my iPhone.  

The reason - as of this writing USAirways does not have any mobile apps. No iOS app. No Android App.

Instead, USAirways offers a mobile site, which seems to have many of the features I need (check-in, flight status, booking) but with an interface and user experience that feels like one not really designed for an iPhone.

So this morning I find myself annoyed at USAirways, wondering why the airline can't get it together to create a mobile app.  The competition (Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, American, etc.) are all well represented in Apple's app store.   Sure, I can do most of everything I need through my mobile USAirways site, the but the experience is not commensurate with what I get from a dedicated iOS app.  

Is your university the USAirways of higher ed?  Have you also gone down the mobile browser road, rather than the dedicated app path?  

Doing so makes a great deal of sense. The resources required to create, maintain and update dedicated mobile OS apps are considerable. 

Sourcing this work to vendors may realieve your IT department of building the apps yourself, but beyond the direct costs of these contracts (which are considerable), there is always the need to integrate back with campus authentication and directory systems.

Many of us in higher ed have determined that it makes more sense to design our web platforms and tools for mobile first, using techniques such as responsive web design. A responsive architecture is where pages are dynamically re-sized and re-formatted based on the screen size and the device in which these pages are being viewed. 

A mobile browser strategy allows for a faster conversion of existing browser sites to smart phones (and tablets), with less up-front expense and a better ability to evolve and improve the services.   

These are no doubt the calculations that the people at USAirways made in deciding against dedicated iOS/Android apps in favor of mobile.usairways.com.   

The problem is that the mobile browser experience is just not as a good as what we get with a dedicated mobile app. 

I want my USAirways on my iPhone to work offline - holding my itinerary and boarding pass.  I want USAirways on my iPhone to work with Apple's new Passbook application, so all my mobile digital boarding passes are in one place and can be easily accessed.  I want seamless integration between the functions of my travel app and the other tools on my iPhone, from calendar to notifications.   I find dedicated apps to be faster and slicker than mobile browser based apps.

Perhaps the mobile browser experience will improve quickly. I hope so. The costs of developing and maintaining dedicated campus mobile apps do not seem sustainable.  We in higher ed should spend our limited dollars on core parts our mission - teaching, research, and service.

The question is, what costs do we pay, in reputation and user perceptions, if we follow the USAirways' model?   

Can you point to a mobile site that works as well as a dedicated app?

What direction is your campus taking in the dedicated app vs. mobile browser app debate?


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