Students' iPhone app a hit at global conference

Source Columbia Business Times on July 10, 2009 0 Comments
RJI iPhone Student Competition
RJI iPhone Student Competition covered in the Columbia Business Times.

Four University of Missouri students showcased their mobile phone application recently at Apple’s WorldWide Developer Conference in San Francisco. The students on Team NearBuy demonstrated a new way to deliver classified advertising as Apple Inc. unveiled a new version of its iPhone.

Team NearBuy - Anthony Brown, a senior majoring in convergence journalism; Zhenhua Ma, a doctoral student studying electrical and computer engineering, and Dan Wang and Peng Zhuang, doctoral students studying computer science - earned the trip to Apple’s annual
conference for software developers after winning the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) iPhone Student Competition this spring.

The students who participated in the competition were challenged to create innovative iPhone applications for journalism and advertising. The winners created an app called “NearBuy” that enables users to quickly locate prospective homes and real estate listings on their
smartphones. “NearBuy” quickly climbed onto the iPhone list of top 10 free business apps and has maintained a top 20 ranking for more thansix weeks.

“NearBuy shows real estate listings as pins on a map,” Brown said. “It makes locating prospective homes a snap. People can get directions to listings or call real estate agents with just two taps on their iPhones. NearBuy is fast, easy and takes the guesswork out of locating
homes in classified ads.”

Team Nearbuy members plan to unveil commercial versions of their classified advertising tools as Apple releases its iPhone 3.0 software update on June 17. UM System and MU campus officials have cleared the way for the NearBuy team to retain ownership of their software as they attempt to build a successful business from their competition experience.

Stanford University registrar Thomas Black, who has helped students at the California school develop commercial iPhone apps, believes success for Team NearBuy is likely. “That’s a very slick application,” Black said. “It’s a real competitor in (the real estate) space.”

In fact, the Mizzou students helped Black uncover a flaw in his own real estate listing while demonstrating NearBuy at the WorldWide Developers Conference. Black’s former home in Chicago has been on the market for two years, but his agent hasn’t placed it in the Google
database NearBuy uses for its listings. “I’m going to call my Realtor right now…so that I have a better chance to sell my house.”

University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee, who led a panel discussion following the competition, praised the students’ work and pointed to it as an example of how the university can help the state of Missouri create high-tech products and jobs.

“The university’s world-class researchers and talented students - like those who developed iPhone applications for this year’s competition - are driving innovation across all four campuses and the state of Missouri,” Forsee said. “It is these types of interdisciplinary projects that allow our students to shine while spurring economic development opportunities that benefit us all.”

The competition began in September 2008 with 70 students competing to develop, test and market novel iPhone applications. RJI sponsored the competition in partnership with Apple Inc. and AT&T, as well as the Missouri School of Journalism and the MU Colleges of Engineering, Business, Education, and Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

“It’s an opportunity to harness the entrepreneurial spirit and technological expertise of MU students in order to reinvent media content, format and delivery,” said Mike McKean, an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and RJI Futures Lab director.

MU leaders for the competition included McKean; Dale Musser, director of the Information Technology Program in the College of Engineering; and Keith Politte, manager of the RJI Technology Testing Center.

“While the iPhone Competition has concluded, the initiative will continue this fall through an iPhone development class taught jointly by MU computer science and journalism faculty,” Politte said. “The competition’s impact on student entrepreneurial collaborations is
driving campus conversations regarding emerging intellectual property issues.”

Founded in 2004 with an initial grant of $31 million from The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) has launched more than 60 journalism projects, most of them in collaboration with the nation’s leading private media companies and
professional journalism and advertising organizations.

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