With numerous colleges throughout the country releasing native apps for iOS, Android, and the ever-growing iPad as portals for interaction between teachers, students, alumni, and other constituents, the writing is certainly on the wall for major changes in the way schools think about digital communication with their constituents.  Mashable Tech writer Jeff Kirchick’s recent article about “5 Ways Higher Education is Leveraging Mobile Tech” will definitely jog your imagination about what mobile development might be able to accomplish for you as an innovator in your institution’s technology department.

As a fairly recent graduate, it’s very exciting to watch the proliferation of mobile development in academic institutions first-hand.  The idea of having a University of Virginia app probably would have seemed a touch ridiculous while I was still slogging through McIntire, but now that I’m on the ground floor of university app development, it’s a little hard to believe that I relied solely on e-mails and desktop-based collaboration portals for information that could have been walking with me the whole time.  But we’re not just talking about tonight’s homework assignment or the hours for the career services office – Kirchick’s article shines a light on functionality that makes a university mobile app more than just a simple tool of convenience.

Imagine grabbing your textbooks in a crowded school bookstore and checking out with a single swipe of your SmartPhone rather than painfully waiting in a long line with about 30 pounds of paper on your back.  Imagine touring a campus with the ability to point your iPhone or Android camera at a building to get its full history and purpose.  Imagine instantly polling all of your students on a classroom question with graphically-displayed outputs on the projection screen in real-time.

Guess what: there’s really no need to imagine – these things are already here.  Kirchick’s Five Ways are just a sampling of some of the marvels that our grade-school teachers probably smiled…

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tl;dr: ICS introduces a new design philosophy, revamped notification bar, improved browsing, photo, and video, and a ton of behind-the-scenes SDK changes that comprise an evolution of the Android operating system.

Last night, Google and Samsung presented the next iteration of the Android operating system, version 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). In conjunction with the new OS, they launched the new Google Experience phone, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. A Google Experience phone indicates that it will not have any carrier or manufacturer modifications; that is, it will be a “vanilla” Ice Cream Sandwich phone. And how delicious that will be!

I want to go over some important features introduced last night, mainly focusing on ICS from a developer’s and end user’s perspective. These are ordered mainly by how important I think they will be to both devs and customers.

Roboto and Design Philosophy

ICS introduces a huge overall shift in Android’s UI and design, considering it’s a jump from Gingerbread. With Honeycomb (a tablet-only OS), Android moved to a very futuristic, almost Tron-like design. This has been toned down with ICS, and Google has introduced Roboto as a new font to replace Droid Sans. From the looks of it, Roboto improves readability dramatically and looks great on the Galaxy Nexus’s 1280×720 screen.

With Roboto, Android shifts from the possibly too-futuristic design of Honeycomb to a muted but still modern feel. It’s not just a new font, and Google wanted to emphasize that Roboto introduces a new design philosophy that is geared towards simpler user interaction and a faster and more intuitive overall experience.

Notification Bar

The new notification bar looks flat-out gorgeous. It’s simple, elegant, much more usable, and remains one of the greatest core features of Android. To devs, last night’s highlight of the notification bar was huge. Google has added swipe deletion…

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WillowTree Apps, Inc. is a privately held provider of mobile applications and mobile web design and development services on iPhone, iPad, Android, and Blackberry platforms. WillowTree has designed and developed apps for leading corporations, bands, universities, and politicians, including The Game Show Network, Crutchfield Electronics, BabyCenter.com, the University of Virginia, and Nevada Senator Harry Reid. Apps developed by WillowTree have been featured in Apple’s newspaper and television advertising. For more information visit http://willowtreeapps.com.

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