New iStanford platform draws student criticism

April 11, 2013, 11:32 p.m.

Due to student complaints, the developers of the iStanford app will withdraw the recently updated product on April 15, with a plan to re-release the app in several months after further adjustments.

Courtesy of Andrew Bellay
Courtesy of Andrew Bellay

The newest version of iStanford, which launched on April 1, is currently available on both the iPhone and the iPad. The update revamped major features like the maps, courses and athletics components, and allowed software developers to “soft-launch” their apps in iStanford before sending them to the App Store.

Andrew Bellay M.S. ’11, one of the developers of the new iStanford platform, said that, although the development team wanted to maintain functionality, they also focused on incorporating “the next wave of innovation” in the platform’s redesign.

“We have this idea of, ‘Let’s take iStanford and give it back to students,’” Bellay said. “I expect that over time the whole app will be controlled by students. What I know is that we need to get out of the way.”

Since the original iStanford app was launched five years ago, the app has undergone several rounds of renovation, growing from four tiles to 28 with the addition of functions that, among other Stanford-specific tasks, allow students to change their class schedule online and check the Marguerite bus schedule.

The developers of the new iStanford platform organized a focus group about the old app and found that many students were unsatisfied with certain features.

“There was universal agreement that there were unmet needs from the old platform,” said James Mwaura ’13, marketing director at iStanford. “For example, the map was outdated and you couldn’t zoom in correctly. The event feature just wasn’t as useful as it was supposed to be.”

In order to fix the flaws of the older version and give students greater control over their experience with the app, the iStanford team launched the redesigned version.

“We want to let the students control the app,” Mwaura said. “We want the students to be able to recognize what they need and what needs to be fixed and to be able to just fix it.”

By the end of last week, 20,000 users had already downloaded the updated app, according to Bellay. While the developers received positive feedback about the new graphical user interface, some students complained about the loss of several functions from the old version of iStanford.

“The biggest problem that we made was including a map with limited functionality in that you couldn’t search,” Mwaura said. “For example, we just had many kids emailing us saying that we wished we had a better map [because] we were lost right now.”

Some students were also confused by the interface’s new blue color scheme, a color traditionally associated with the University of California, Berkeley.

After soliciting feedback from students, the iStanford team decided to pull back the new version of iStanford while they polish the features of the platform.

“Right now there is a little bit of a sting from [the new platform],” Bellay said. “The app has to take half a step backwards, so that in the next three months we can leap forward.”

The team is also rolling out the iStanford Developers Club, which allows developers to launch their self-designed apps on the iStanford platform.

According to Mwaura, the club will be fully launched in six to 12 months, and the club’s developers will “have their own space and their own resources to form an unofficial pipeline to the developers’ page.”

While the concept of the Developers Club is still fresh, some developers have already expressed enthusiasm about the ability to have their apps featured on iStanford.

Anda Gansca ’11, co-founder of Knotch, an app that allows users to share with friends their opinions on topics ranging from TV shows to airlines, said that she looks forward to seeing her app on the new platform.

“We were incredibly excited to know that we can finally bring Knotch to the Stanford campus in a more formal way,” Gansca wrote in a statement to The Daily. “There are a ton of consumer startups similar to us who really want to have access to the Stanford campus and become the next campus app and iStanford is an amazing platform to enable that so we’re very grateful to be part of it.”

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