Free iPhones for college students: catching on?

Today I read an article in the New York Times about a few colleges giving some or all of their students either iPhones or internet-enabled iPod Touches. Students could use the devices to be connected 24/7 with their campus’ wireless networks. The examples of uses in the Times article were learning about cancelled classes, delayed busses, campus crises or changes in the cafeteria menu.

So far the Times has confirmed four schools have announced plans for this type of distribution—the University of Maryland, Oklahoma Christian University, Abilene Christian University, and Freed-Hardeman. But if this spreads, mobile marketers may see this as an opportunity to reach college students that may not have had mobile internet previously. Geotargeting for a particular city or campus could be particularly effective if a marketer knows that every student on a campus has an iPhone.

The article also states that with student permission, colleges could potentially track the location of student on campus. This could mean no more skipping one class to finish a paper in the library for another.

This idea raised other questions for me. Who pays for the AT&T service? (The student) Do colleges get discounts for buying the devices in bulk? (Unclear) Will the devices, as the article suggests it might, replace the use of laptops on campus? (I’m guessing no) And most importantly, will this lock students in to using mobile internet, iPhones and AT&T services after graduation? (I’m guessing yes)

This could be the future of technology in higher education. Not to mention, if it continues, a way to ensure that more and more people will become users of the mobile web and at a much faster rate than we thought.

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