A Japanese university is giving away Apple Inc's trendy iPhone to students for free, but with a catch: the device will be used to check their attendance.

The project, which is being tested ahead of its formal launch in June, involves 550 first and second year students and some staff of a department at Aoyama Gakuin University, which is located just outside Tokyo in Sagamihara city.

The school's iPhones are meant to create a mobile information network between students and professors, but they are also a convenient way for the teachers to take attendance in class.

As students enter the room, instead of writing their name on a sheet, they simply type in their ID number and a specific class number into an iPhone application.

To prevent students from logging in from home or outside class, the application uses GPS location data and checks which router the students have logged in to.

We don't want to use this to simply take attendance. Our hope is to use this to develop a classroom where students and teachers can discuss various topics, professor Yasuhiro Iijima told Reuters as he demonstrated the application.

University officials insist the project is not intended to infringe on students' privacy or track them down.

With Japanese cellphones it's possible that the location data is automatically sent. However, with the iPhone, you must always confirm before the GPS data can be sent, Iijima said.

Many of the students testing the system said they were happy with it.

Up until now, we've been using little slips of paper to take attendance. But with a cell phone, you don't have to spend time collecting all of those and so I think it's quite nice, 20-year-old student Yuki Maruya.

When the system goes fully online next month, the university also hopes to provide video podcasts of lectures to help students who missed classes, or just can't remember their lessons.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)