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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gonzaga students develop, publish Android smartphone app

Gonzaga University students Collin Walker and Tyler Doster (on laptop screen) developed an app called Text Secretary. (Colin Mulvany)

Collin Walker and Tyler Doster should have been taking notes.

Instead, in their Mobile Computing class at Gonzaga, the students were coding, preparing a prototype for their new app called Text Secretary.

“We put way too many hours into this when we could have been studying for finals, but we just were having so much fun,” Walker said. “For some reason the project just clicked with us.”

The project is a smartphone app mainly for business professionals. Available for Android phones, it synchronizes calendar events with text messaging so that a person’s phone will automatically give a customized reply to text messages if it recognizes that person is busy.

In other words, when a user is unable to respond to a text message, the app can automatically notify anyone who texts the user at that time.

Walker and Doster, who will both be seniors this fall, created the app this spring for their upper-level computer science course. For the final project, students were asked to build an app.

Only Walker and Doster published their app.

Walker, a computer engineering major, and Doster, a computer science major, met each other in class during their freshman year. They quickly became friends, then roommates and now business partners.

During the school year, they often shouted ideas to each other through their apartment walls.

The professor of the mobile computing course, Kefei Wang, could not be reached for comment. But another computer science professor, Shawn Bowers, said a class similar to Mobile Computing first was introduced at the university in 2011. The department has integrated mobile app development in other courses as well up until this spring’s course, which focused on app-making.

Other Gonzaga students have built mobile apps as their senior capstone project, including one related to health care and one for Schweitzer ski resort.

“Over the last handful of years, we have really emphasized an entrepreneurial mindset,” Bowers said.

Kathie Yerion, chairwoman of the computer science department, said many upper-division courses carry the potential for students to create applications.

“The field of mobile computing is one of the most accessible for our students to do state-of-the-art apps,” Yerion said.

Still, Bowers said it’s rare for their students to actually publish a mobile app.

The Mobile Computing class, Walker said, was one of the more rigorous computer science classes they have had.

Other apps are available that will automatically respond to text messages, but Doster said what separates their app is the calendar integration.

“Theoretically, if you keep your calendar up to date, you really don’t even have to open it,” Doster said.

Both students are interested in software development in the future, and Bower said the job market is strong for people with app-development experience.

“I could definitely see myself doing more of that in the future,” Doster said.

Since its creation, they have updated the app to respond automatically to missed calls in addition to text messages. They’ve also added sleep capability, which prevents automatic messages from spamming the same contact and lets users turn the app on and off from the home screen.

They would like to implement a custom message for when the user is driving and cannot text, without having to set up a calendar event every time the user gets in the car.

Over the few weeks it’s been available, 33 people had downloaded the app. Walker and Doster do not believe they will be able to open the app to Apple iPhone users, since Apple restricts text messages through any app other than its own service.

Those who have downloaded the app get a free 30-day trial, and then they can purchase the app for $1.

The goal with Text Secretary wasn’t necessarily to make money; Walker and Doster wanted to get a taste of what it’s like to make something professional.

“We didn’t care if we got 1,000 downloads, we just wanted to put up a product that we were proud of,” Walker said. “I think we did that.”