Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years
Considerably smaller and less expensive than a laptop, the mobile is clearly evolving into the next form of portable computer. New interfaces, the ability to connect to wifi and GPS in addition to a variety of cellular networks, and the availability of third-party applications have created an almost entirely new device with nearly infinite possibilities for education, networking, and personal productivity. The continuing pace of innovation around mobile devices and software promises that even greater capabilities are on the way, and ensures that mobile will continue to be a space to watch.


Mobiles have been evolving rapidly over the past few years. Initially just for voice calls, mobiles became multimedia devices with the addition of cameras. Increased storage capability led to mobiles holding images and video so seamlessly, they became the storehouse of our digital lives almost overnight, holding address books and photos and connecting us with text messaging as well as voice. Mobiles then became ubiquitous multimedia capture devices. In the process they changed the news and our perceptions of how it is gathered forever — CNN.com, for example, invites visitors to send in newsworthy video captured on cell phones — because it is so likely a phone is near breaking news to capture it on video. Smartphones extended the capabilities of mobiles with advanced features like geolocation, web browsing, and email. Personal digital assistants (PDAs) became history as mobile phones absorbed their functions.

Then, in June of 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone, devices with very different displays and capabilities appeared on the market. We interact with them very differently than we did even with smartphones. These new devices can access the Internet over the cell network or by using wifi. They can sense motion and orientation and react accordingly thanks to built-in accelerometers. They use GPS to locate themselves and they can run robust applications. Most significantly, their manufacturers are working with the developer community to open up the device to all the innovation that third- party developers can bring. Multimedia production, social networking, productivity, communication, and geolocation collapsed into one small device: the next generation of mobile.

The fact that third-party applications can be developed and deployed for our phones represents a profound shift in the way we think about mobile devices. The App Store for the Apple iPhone (http://www.apple.com/iphone/appstore/) is bursting with small applications, including software for games, productivity, education, business, health and fitness, reference, travel, and more. Other mobile platforms are emerging that will encourage similar development, such as the Android platform developed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Android). The first Android phone was released to market in October 2008, and the number of applications in the Android Market (http://www.android.com/market/) is growing by the day. Open APIs encourage the creation of custom widgets that offer even more services; combined with webware applications, the capabilities of mobiles rival those of a computer with a web browser.

Because these applications can be written by anyone, we are seeing a daily stream of new applications that leverage the technical advances of mobiles in ever more creative ways. Applications like TinEye Music (http://www.ideeinc.com/products/tineyemobile/) and SnapTell (http://snaptell.com/) use the camera to record a photograph of a CD, video, or book, then compare it with an online database to retrieve information about the artist or author, publisher, reviews, and where to buy it. Shazam (http://www.shazam.com/music/web/pages/iphone.html) does the same for ambient music — the microphone records a snippet of any song that is playing, and the waveform is compared in a database to identify the song, artist, and album, along with links to purchase the music from several sources. Mobile cameras can record barcodes to get information about products and pricing comparisons, or read quick-response (QR) codes in advertisements or on objects to download further information. E-readers are available that present text in an endless scroll, rather than paginated; tilting the phone up or down slows or accelerates the scrolling.

Newly developed networked applications are supported by multi-frequency radios built into mobile devices. Without the speed and increased access of wifi, many social networking and other web applications would be too slow to use. Location-aware applications take advantage of GPS in mobiles, whether it be pseudo-GPS enabled via cell tower triangulation or newer GPS built right into the phones.

The hardware and software advances are exciting, but they do not represent the whole picture. An equally important facet of next-generation mobile is the way that we use it to connect with one another. Mobile is increasingly about networking on the go. Social networking applications already link us with friends, family, colleagues, and the larger world; those links become even more powerful and meaningful when we can access and interact with our networks on a pocket-sized, portable device. When we are out and about, our mobiles can tell us who is nearby, recommend places to visit, find things we are looking for, and even tell us how to get from here to there. With a mobile in hand, we are in touch with our social networks wherever and whenever we wish to be.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, and Creative Expression

The applications of mobile technology to teaching and learning are virtually limitless. Adoption rate and availability of bandwidth are the limiting factors. Once infrastructure is in place and students routinely carry mobile devices, they will be a natural choice for content delivery and even field work and data capture.

For the newest generation of mobiles, third-party applications for language, maths, science, and elementary education are easy to find. The most obvious materials — flash cards — are already available at all levels for almost every discipline. Tools that tap into the unique capabilities of mobile devices, like the camera, the microphone, and the accelerometer are appearing by the day. Language learners can install applications on their mobiles that let them look up words and even hear the word pronounced in the language they are learning, and it is not unreasonable to project that before long, they will be able to speak into the phone and hear their own voice compared to a native speaker’s saying the same thing.

Reference materials for writing, chemistry, medicine, physics and astronomy — from dictionaries to calculators to interactive periodic tables — can be installed on mobile devices, ready for anytime, anywhere access. Pocket astronomy charts range from iAstronomica (http://artistictechworks.com/iastronomica.html), which includes planetarium- perspective illustrated star maps, to Distant Suns (http://www.distantsuns.com/index.html), a mobile version of an established desktop astronomy package. Google Earth is available for the mobile, complete with zoom and spin implemented through the touch screen. The variety and quality of content available for next-generation mobile devices is growing at a fantastic pace.

The use of mobiles in education is not without issue. Privacy is a very real concern for young people who carry what is essentially a geolocator that is quite capable of broadcasting their whereabouts to the Internet. Further, the continuing question of whether mobiles are more helpful or more distracting during class has yet to be answered. Yet the argument can be made that in class is not where they are most effective; the potential of mobiles for education is that they enable just-in-time learning, exploration, and immersive experiences outside the classroom.

A sampling of next-generation mobile applications across disciplines includes the following:

  • Mathematics By selecting custom applications, students can turn their iPhones into sophisticated calculators. SpaceTime (http://www.spacetime.us/iphone/) and QuickGraph (http://www.colombiamug.com/EN/QuickGraph.html) are just two examples of graphing calculators that display graphs in two- or 3-D; SpaceTime also includes a scripting language for custom computations.
  • Music Instrument simulators for piano, guitar, drums, and other instruments let students practice fingering and chords or compose simple pieces. Applications for ear training, reading music, and generating warm up exercises assist with basic practice. Artists can record multiple tracks or experiment with mixers that capture ambient sounds or voice recordings to create unique compositions. With the right applications, a mobile is instrument, tutor, and recording studio all in one.
  • Campus Life iStanford is a custom application commissioned by Stanford University that includes campus maps, course listings, the campus directory, current sports scores, and other campus-related information (http://stanford.terriblyclever.com/). A future version will include functions to register for courses, view personal course history and grades, and more.

Examples of Next-Generation Mobile

The following links provide examples of applications for next-generation mobile.

Australia Mobile Wind Readings
Select a region in Australia and receive wind readings, updated automatically every ten minutes, on your iPhone.

This chemical calculation application for the iPhone returns the mass of one mole of the chemical that results from a given formula.

Google Earth for iPhone
http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/10/introducing-google-earth-for-iphone.html \The iPhone version of Google Earth includes all the detail of the desktop version and is available in 18 languages.

iPhone in Medicine
(Jeffrey Leow, Monash Medical Student, 10 June 2008.)
Medical resources developed for the iPhone can be used by students and practitioners; a few are reviewed here.

Monash University Courses on Mobiles
Walkabout u-Learning courses at Monash University are offered online and are also formatted for mobile devices. The courses include Web Systems, Web Development, and Internet Applications Development.

Phone a Friend in Exams
(Anna Patty, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 August 2008.) Presbyterian Ladies’ College at Croydon in Sydney is experimenting with allowing the use of mobile phones for research — including call- ing sources — during exams.

For Further Reading

The following articles and resources are recommended for those who wish to learn more about next-generation mobile.

Forget iPhone or GPhone, 3 to debut “Facebook phone” next week
A new low cost cellphone that puts Facebook and other social applications at its center will debut next week on Hutchinson-owned 3 in the UK and Australia.Apart from a dedicated Facebook client the device will also include applications for Skype, email and IM.

How Mobile Is Changing Our Society
(Teemu Arina, Tarina, 18 October 2008.) This blog post explores the blurring boundary between mobile devices and computers and the potential future of what we now call mobiles.

iPhone: 3 Features That Will Impact Education
(Jeff VanDrimmelen, EduTechie.com, 12 June 2007.) This blog post describes three features of the iPhone — multi-touch display, widgets, and iPhone applications with full Internet access — and explains why the author believes they will make a difference for education in particular.

Next Generation Mobile Networks: Industry Leaders on Challenges Ahead
http://blogs.cisco.com/sp/comments/next-generation_mobile_networks_industry_leaders_ on_challenges_ahead/
(Larry Lang, SP360: Service Provider, 28 June 2008.) This blog post summarizes the remarks of several industry leaders in a session at the Second NGMN Industry Conference in June 2008.

Please Wait a Sec, Just Need to Check Training Info on My Mobile Phone
http://aquaculturepda.edublogs.org/2007/08/21/please-wait-a-sec-just-need-to-check-training- info-on-my-mobile-phone/
(Sue Waters, Mobile Technology in TAFE, 21 August 2007.) This blog post describes ways that training is being delivered on mobile devices.

The Scannable World: Mobile Phones as Barcode Scanners
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/the_scannable_world_mobile_phones_as_barcode_ scanners.php
(Sarah Perez, ReadWriteWeb, 24 September 2008.) This article describes how cell phones can be used as barcode scanners, and why one might want to do that. Two subsequent articles, linked at the bottom of the first one, explore fur- ther uses for scannable barcodes.

So Much More than Phone Calls betch.edublogs.org/2007/10/10/so-much-more- than-phone-calls/ (Chris Betcha, Betchablog, 10 October 2007.) An Australian educator shares the tools he uses on a broadband-enabled cell phone.

Time to Leave the Laptop Behind
http:/ /online.wsj.com/article/SB122477763884262815.html
(Nick Wingfield, The Wall Street Journal, 27 October 2008.) Road warriors are increasingly using mobiles to perform business tasks while traveling, leaving their laptops in the office or the hotel.

Top Ten Android Launch Apps
(Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch, 22 October 2008.) This blog post describes ten of the applications that are available as of the October 2008 launch of the first Android phone and why they are useful.

del.icio.us: Next-Generation Mobile
http://del.icio.us/tag/hzau08+mobile (Australia–New Zealand Horizon Advisory Board and Friends, 2008.) Follow this link to find re- sources tagged for this topic and this edition of the Horizon Report, including the ones listed here. To add to this list, simply tag resources with “hzau08” and “mobile” when you save them to del.icio.us.

Related Tags: iPhone, Android platform, smartphone, mobile broadband

Posted by NMC on November 30, 2008
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