The University of Saskatchewan has created an app available for free at the iTunes store. ((University of Saskatchewan))

The University of Saskatchewan's computer science department is plugging in to what it sees as an emerging trend in education — and commerce.

The U of S is now offering courses in application development for Apple Inc.'s iPhone smartphone mobile device.

Eric Neufeld, head of computer science said he believes programming for mobile devices could be as big as the emergence of the Internet was in the 1990s.

It's believed the U of S course is the first of its kind in Canada.

First came iUSASK

 It's not the first time the U of S has shown an interest in the iPhone.

In June, the Saskatoon-based university revealed it had built an application for the device aimed at students.

Called iUSASK, the application allows users to check class schedules, campus maps, news and the library catalogue.

The application is available for free to anyone with an iPhone or iPod Touch

"There's some terrific opportunities there, staying current with this very new technology that has just become very affordable and very consumer-oriented," Neufeld said, cautioning people against writing off an iPhone programming class as trendy or trivial.

Apple said in July since releasing the iPhone and another product, the iPod Touch (which can use iPhone applications but has no cell phone capabilities), more than 65,000 "apps" —as they're known — have been developed by more than 100,000 software developers worldwide.

Apple makes the development software for the devices available to programmers for a fee, allowing them to come up with their own apps and sell them through Apple online.

By all accounts, it's huge business. Apple said people have downloaded more than 1.5 billion applications worldwide.

The U of S iPhone programming course is taught by former Apple engineer Chad Jones.

Jones told CBC News he feels the course is something special, and bolstered by the talent of the people he's instructing.

"You have [this] unique set of skills in this one location," Jones said.

Students said they can see the potential in learning how to develop apps for the iPhone.

James Sapara runs a Regina-based computer company and said he's trying to grow his business.

He said the company has some experience with developing for some Apple products, but he has gone back to school at the U of S specifically to learn how to program for the iPhone.

"I guess having that experience in general is useful and writing apps and selling them would also be pretty neat," student Bethany Murray said.