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ASU journalism students develop light-rail app for Apple Watch

Apple Watch light rail app
April 24, 2015

As Apple launches its new smartwatch today, Arizona State University students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication have developed an innovative light-rail transit app for the high-profile gadget.

Students in the Cronkite School’s New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab recently completed On Time PHX, a free mobile app designed for the Apple Watch and iPhone that delivers real-time information, maps and alerts for Phoenix Valley Metro light-rail commuters. The app uses public-transit information from Valley Metro and GPS to provide accurate train arrival times as well as distances to light-rail stops.

The New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab teams ASU students from different disciplines with media professionals to create cutting-edge digital products. Lab director Retha Hill, a former senior executive at BET and an award-winning digital media leader, said they wanted to create an app that resolved a community need.

“We wanted to do something that went beyond a news notification app,” Hill said. “The students have been doing spectacular work. They are so excited to create an app for the Apple Watch and can’t wait for people to see it.”

ASU students Akshay Ashwathanarayana, Craig Cummings, Domenico Nicosia and Shivam Prakash collaborated with Hill and Cronkite Web developer Hari Subramaniam to build the app. They started working on the project in January, testing  designs for the app, which was created independently from Valley Metro.

Cummings and Nicosia worked on creating the app’s exterior look, while Ashwathanarayana and Prakash did the programming with guidance from Subramaniam. Cummings said the app will make it easier for commuters to track trains by using the iPhone or Apple Watch.

“Wearables like the Apple Watch and Google Glass are going to be the way we interact and get around in life,” Cummings said. “To have the opportunity to design something that falls under that spectrum is really cool.” 

The innovation lab was conceived by ASU President Michael M. Crow and the late Sue Clark-Johnson, president of Gannett’s newspaper division. In the past eight years, students in the lab have created mobile apps, interactive games and social-media sites for a variety of media companies and non-profits.

“The New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab offers students the opportunity to be at the forefront of disrupting and advancing journalism,” Cronkite School Dean and University Vice Provost Christopher Callahan said. “It is exciting to see our students developing exciting new media products for devices such as the Apple Watch.”  

The New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab is one of a growing number of immersion programs available to Cronkite students. The others include a nightly television news broadcast that airs on Arizona PBS, digital news bureaus in Washington and Phoenix, sports bureaus in Los Angeles and Phoenix, a strategic public-relations agency, a media and community engagement bureau, a business reporting bureau and a newsgathering bureau and a digital production and design bureau.