Students finally have a tangible incentive for staying off their phones in class — discounts on local bites and coupons for stores around campus.
Pocket Points, a free app two California State University, Chico students invented and launched in late 2014, awards users one point for every 35 minutes their phones remain locked when in certain campus buildings. Users can then redeem these points for discount coupons to local restaurants.
The app is available at more than 200 schools in the United States and Canada — including Pitt — amassing more than 100,000 users daily, according to the startup’s data.
Brent Glowatch, the app’s administrative manager, said the company initially wanted to offer its users extra credit from professors, but then had a better idea.
“What would incentivize students to stay off their phones more than free food?” Glowatch said.
Apps like Pocket Points takes advantage of lock screen technology in a new way. Similar to an UNICEF app that donated water to children in need when users kept their phones locked in 2014 and one app that pays users to look at randomized ads on their lock screens, Pocket Points wants you to keep your hands off your phone and to yourself — at least until it’s time to eat.
Since fall 2015, Glowatch said the app, which uses GPS tracking to determine if students are on campus, has kept students off their phones for a combined time of 550 years.
“The problem of smartphone usage in the classroom was obvious, so we decided to create a solution,” Glowatch said.
The app has campus-specific leaderboards so users can compare their points with their friends if they log in to the app using Facebook or Twitter.
Pitt’s leaderboard shows the top students are consistently earning 12 points per day, which they can redeem for deals at 11 businesses near campus, including Subway, Popeyes, Quiznos, Fuel and Fuddle, Razzy Fresh, Waffles INCaffeinated and more.
Users can also redeem points for discounts at businesses that don’t serve food, such as Underground Printing, a screen print company on Meyran Avenue, and Head of the Glass, a head shop on Bates Street, and online retail websites like Greek Gear.
Glowatch said when the company adds new campuses to the app, it partners with local businesses to secure deals and ensure students can use their points on campus.
Starting with 15 points when they sign up for the app, students can find deals for as little as 10 points. A $5 foot-long sandwich from Subway costs 20 points, while 30 points can get a coupon for 25 percent off an entree from Fuel and Fuddle.
“We get at least a couple people every day coming in to redeem points,” Brandon Smith, owner of Fuel and Fuddle, said. “I figured it would help bring new people in, and it’s done just that.”
For junior computer science major Hannah Tarzian, downloading Pocket Points was an easy route to free snacks between classes.
“I love coupons, so it was a no-brainer for me,” Tarzian said. “I mostly use the points for free Quiznos subs.”
Though the app has its glitches, according to Glowatch, it prevents users from earning points when they’re in their dorms, at restaurants or at the gym. He said the app’s purpose is to reward students for staying off their phones in class, not just while they’re on campus.
Glowatch said the app has multiple “anti-cheat” protocols in place, such as turning off the timer in certain buildings and making sure points were earned validly before redemption. The company is working to perfect those protocols, according to Glowatch.
Desiree Rodriguez, a senior communication major, was originally a fan of the app, but as the novelty has worn off, so has her incentive to stay off her phone.
“I had heard about it before, but didn’t download it until my friends told me about it,” Rodriguez said. “I used to use it religiously in class and in the library, but as this semester goes on I use it less and less.”
Rodriguez said she’s only redeemed her points once — for 10 percent off a frozen yogurt order — but hasn’t used it recently because she couldn’t find deals at the restaurants she wanted.
Despite complaints like Rodriguez’s, Glowatch said the app is becoming more popular and widely used by the day, and is satisfied with the feedback the company has received from students and schools.
“Pocket Points has been expanding to additional schools as fast as possible to keep up with the demand of students, teachers and businesses,” Glowatch said.
At Pitt, the app has grown increasingly popular, garnering attention from the sisters of Gamma Sigma Sigma, who discourage sorority members from using their phones during chapter meetings.
Danielle Bilger, a junior studying neuroscience, said she uses Pocket Points to stay off her phone during GSS’ chapter meetings per another sister’s suggestion, and turns the app on during class.
“I honestly use it every single time I am in class and usually for the entire duration of the class,” Bilger said. “It has been a really effective way to keep me from using my phone and allow me to stay focused.”