By Patrick Avenell

SYDNEY: The Apple iPhone, set to be released in Australia soon, is famous for combining the various media playback elements of the iPod with the ultra-fashionable new smart phones.

When you see a person with the all-too-familiar white ear buds, you can never be too sure whether they’re listening to music, catching up with a podcast or taking a phone call.

Or perhaps they’re listening to a university lecture for a course they are studying.

Apple has today launched iTunes U in Australia. Previously successful in the US and Europe, iTunes U is a partnership between Apple and seven Australian and New Zealand universities to provide university content for download off the iTunes portal.

The content available is totally up to the university to determine. There are lectures, guest speakers and group discussions. Also available are promotional and informational broadcasts, which can be accessed by prospective students to find out more about the university.

The universities involved are the Australian National University, Griffith University, Swinburne University, University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, University of WA and Otago University.

When asked about how the universities were selected, Apple public relations spokesperson Fiona Martin replied, “They applied to us.”

Through an application system open to all universities, the seven universities worked with Apple to set up this new feature of iTunes. Martin went on to say that no universities who applied for the program were knocked back.

Therefore, there are a number of leading universities, including G8 members Sydney and Monash, who were evidently uninterested in this innovation. This is surprising, given the unique appeal Apple and iTunes has with current university students and with prospective students still in high schools.

In order for this appeal to translate into a quantifiable success, the program must have the custom of university students. Currently studying science in his third year at ANU, Thomas Bennett was supportive of the launch.

“I would use it — it sounds like a good idea,” said Bennett.

You don’t have to be a student, however, to access this content. Anyone wishing to learn more about a subject or value-add to their education can download the podcasts.

“iTunes U … gives everyone the ability to extend their learning, explore interests, learn more about universities and stay connected to an alma mater,” said Apple public relations executive John Marx.