was finishing up his Ph.D. in computer science at Washington University
last summer when his research advisor asked him if he'd be interested in teaching an entire undergraduate class on developing apps for the uber-popular iPhone
. "I was kind of surprised, like, 'Really? I can do that?'" remembers Sproull.
The course debuted in the fall with 20 junior and senior computer science majors
who spent all semester inventing a slew of intriguing apps: a workout manager for personal trainers
; a pace calculator for rowers of crew
; a browser for StudLife
, Wash U's student-produced newspaper; a virtual "crisper"
to keep track of when perishable food will go bad, and an app that trains you how to card-count in blackjack
Now several students are perfecting the apps further, and working on obtaining their $100 developer's licenses from Apple
so they can pimp the products to iPhone users.
Sproull, meanwhile, has become a little infatuated. He's working on a super-secret app that he hopes might have some utility for reality-television contests, and has already created two holiday-themed iPhone games. "Cupid Hunter"
became available this morning, just in time for Valentine's Day
It works like this: Cupid is an evil little fellow who swoops in to a technicolor universe to steal sweet-somethings like roses and candy, depending on the level. Players get to "shoot" him with the touch of a finger, to the tune of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze."
Was it a nasty break-up that inspired this, uh, happy concept? Not exactly. "Yeah, it's a little bit of dark humor," says Sproull. "But if I'm not laughing when I'm making a game, I don't think it'll be any good."
For the "Santa Hunter"
special that he created back at Christmas time, Sproull thought for a second about putting Mrs. Claus
in the mix...then nixed the idea. (The game didn't get approved by Apple until after the holidays; sales were slow.)
Sproull says he modeled the Wash U. class after one at Stanford University
, the only other iPhone apps course he knows of at a liberal arts school.
Apparently word got out of a class teaching skills that might yield more than, say beer money
. This semester, Sproull has twice as many students.