Galloping down the beach, Charlton Heston suddenly stops his horse and dismounts, staring up in disbelief at an object just coming into view. He begins approaching the object before descending into a fit of rage and screaming: “We finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you. Damn you all to hell!” Zoom out to reveal the charred remnants of the World Wide Web, half-submerged in the shoreline, revealing that the website he was on was actually an application the whole time, and that the paradise that became The Forbidden Zone was once New York City.
A disjarring image, but one that the techno-pundits are beginning to warn us might appear around the next corner. “The Web is Dead,” says September’s issue of Wired Magazine, “Long Live the Internet.”
Increasingly we turn to applications, whether for communication on Skype, or IM, listening to podcasts, tuning your favorite music on Pandora, or watching TV shows on Netflix. Need the weather forecast? Another app. In their Wired article, Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff blame us, the consumer for this massive shift. We are picking apps because they are just better and offer a more comfortable fit to our lives. It is, as Wired observes, becoming “less about browsing and more about getting.”
The Apple iPad led the way, with dozens of new pads and tablets arriving on the market in the months ahead, boosting the clamor for applications even further into the stratosphere. What does this mean for those of us who design, build and deliver e-learning? Are we looking at abandoning the web and embracing the cloud of single-purpose apps? But apps are currently tethered to industrial giants; if we lose the Web will we lose our noncommercial, free-wheeling access to the learning marketplace?
Hard questions, but one thing we can be sure of on the Planet of the Apps: there will be sequels.
Several months back, I posted a comparison of the iPad, iPod and Kindle from the perspective of e-reader functionality. Now, I’d like to provide some input about the iPad relative to what I see as its true product category: the family room web device. Alas, I’ve already revealed the true nature of my feelings for this iconic tool now that I’ve assigned it to a floor plan and more specifically to a room where one generally relaxes and interacts with content in a more passive manner. Associating the iPad with content consumption as opposed to production is probably not a stretch as I’m guessing that even the most enthusiastic iPad user would concede the device falls short in terms of input. So, I’m hard pressed to imagine the iPad finding its way into the home office when it is obviously so comfortable in the family room.
If nothing else, the iPad has generated some interesting discussions around the state of mobile computing. Case in point: I’ve had discussions about the iPad with my barber, my children, colleagues, Luddites and complete strangers. My barber and several strangers have sworn to me in hushed tone that the iPad has ushered in a new wave of accessibility for elderly readers who use the pincher functionality to increase font size on the fly and relieve strained eyes that have suffered under “pinch-less” monitors for years. Forget increasing font size or display size, from their standpoint, “pinch-to-expand” is the new killer feature that will revolutionize modern mobile computing.
All of the OSU college students I’ve spoken to about the iPad believe the device is “OK,” but not worthy of the cost since most of them already have a mobile phone with Internet access. Hence, the reoccurring statement from many of the student types, “It’s basically a large iPhone.” Steve Job’s recent comment that the iPhone came out of development efforts on the iPad reinforces the connection between the two and form factor similarity. While the lineage of the iPad is established, its utility to the average user is still less clear in my mind.
My own view after seeing it for the first time in March was that it was the ultimate family room device—a tablet device that was more robust than a mobile phone and less obtrusive than a laptop, which could fulfill the typical family room computing tasks: web surfing, email, very light word processing and gaming. To test my hypothesis and provide more substance to my barber banter, I brought an iPad home last week and let my wife and two boys (10 and 5) try it out. The iPad was placed into “circulation” alongside of our laptop and my iPhone—the results?
My wife found the iPad virtual keyboard a challenge. Many of the educational games my boys play are Flash powered. With no Flash support on the iPad, their interest in the device dropped significantly. The virtual keyboard was also not extremely intuitive for them. These two constraints pushed them back to the laptop until we were able to load some iPad apps. Cogs HD, ACrawler, TM Zero were well designed, but the selection for iPad-formatted content is still somewhat limited and one would be hard pressed to describe the iPad as a true gaming device, especially for a younger audience.
Overall, my impression of the iPad changed after this testing period. It was obvious to me that my wife and children prefer using a laptop when at home or tethered to a wireless network. I also found the virtual keyboard a bit tedious and for some reason (even with two right thumbs), felt the iPhone keypad was more intuitive. On the positive side, I found the iPad’s speed impressive. Like the iPhone, the ergonomics in general are sublime and set the bar for other mobile devices. Magazines like Wired are seeing their iPad subscription base close in on their print-based numbers and this might be an indicator of a new growing demographic of well-heeled magazine mavens who will provide needed consumer viability around attempts to coalesce marketing, content and high-end digital manipulatives around a magazine’s brand and readership interests. In short, the iPad may become one of the crucial pieces needed to change one segment of the online reading experience. However, it’s premature to assume examples like Wired suggest a more broad scale adoption of more augmented reality or digitally enhanced subscription-based magazines is feasible or achievable in the near future. A recent post by Advertising Age unpacks some of the magazine specific enhancements found in these examples and the Atlantic also published a telling article entitled “Is the iPad Saving Magazines Yet?”
I’m certain that these examples showcase the potential of online magazines and demonstrate some of the pieces we’ll see in the years to come: more integrated video, 3-D models, the inclusion of social media, content formatted more specifically for mobile or tablet devices. In the meantime, our family is perfectly content passing the laptop around the family room and pulling the iPhone out of dad’s pocket when needed.
A few weeks ago I boarded a flight to St. Louis for a conference and met a young man who made me realize how connected we’ve become with mobile technology, across not only distance, but across cultural and social divides.
On a typical connecting flight, the person in the seat next to me will be from thousands of miles away from my home , and sometimes light years away in their social, cultural and world view. Not surprisingly, this disparity can lead to just the briefest of conversations followed by hours of reading, listening to MP3 players, or watching in-flight movies.
But within moments of putting on our seat belts, we both had our mobile devices out, making our last-minute online connections before the plane’s door was closed. I had my new iPhone and Marc had his iPod Touch. There was an immediate connection as we nodded at each others technology, and the conversation began that would last for the entire three-hour flight.
Marc offered me half of his sandwich (I had foolishly neglected to get something before the flight) and we began comparing notes on our favorite apps. I described my latest hobby using Geocaching, with the iPhone’s built in GPS capabilities. Marc countered with Trapster, an app to alert you to the location of speed traps.
I shared a picture of my ride—a two-seater—with photo altered with ColorSplash. Marc countered with a photo of his motorcycle. I tapped up Cartoon-Wars, and Marc pulled up Wooden Labyrinth.
Eventually our conversation began to enter more serious territory–learning from mobile technology. I showed him how I could view science lectures on my iPhone from MIT for free on YouTube. We ruminated how open education is truly arriving, and learning about any topic (including the Theory of Relativity—another common interest) can be fully realized for free, on-line and while in motion.
We parted ways, with me promising to listen to his favorite music, rapper Juelz Santana, and Marc promising to look into the TED talks online. It was a wake-up call for me about how mobile technology can help break down so many walls, whether economic, cultural, or just the barriers set up by seat dividers.
I’ve been waiting patiently, but couldn’t take it any longer as I’ve watched more and more friends whip out their iPhone 3G to get a GPS fix on our location or perform some other mundane task sliced, diced and served on the micro-mobile-super computer that is the iPhone 3G. I know, I’m late to the party, but from the perspective of a technophile, I have to admit I’ve felt very much like Batman’s understudy in these situations. Ultimately, I just couldn’t wait for Verizon and Apple to make nice. I honestly don’t know where to start and I’m not accustomed to blushing, so I’ll simply share where I see potential as it relates to learning apps on the iPhone in general. But first things first: I’m now convinced that any dialog about the iPhone should begin with a mandatory effort to share one’s favorite iPhone apps. In that vein, the list below highlights my top 10 learning or educational apps for the iPhone, and attempts to point out where innovation and learning potential inherent to each app might paint a picture of potential future approaches in the world of online learning experiences.
Chris’ Top 10 Eductional Apps for the iPhone
A glimpse of the future now: seamless, motivational learning that is fun, kinesthetic and fully accessible. Learn about friction, gravity, mass, angles and other principles of physics via a clever game that allows you to exercise agency on both the physical and mental level–suitable for just about any age over 4 years old. I’m completely intrigued by the category of “Doodle games” (games where you draw objects on the touch screen that instantiate themselves in the game). These games open up a world of possibilities for any subject and seem like the perfect convergence of device, content and user motivation. I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention Geared by Bryan Mitchel–an extremely elegant interface that allows the user to manipulate spinning gears around variables of distance, proximity and speed.
2. Kindle for the iPhone
Of course you lose some ergonomics when compressing the Kindle into the iPhone shell, but the distribution system for e-books (especially those in the public domain) is wonderful. This app has a clever interface, lots of free books and access to the Amazon catalog via a “get book” button.
It’s not so much that my five year old adores this application (he does), but it’s what this type of application represents. For language acquisition, the approach is a highly compelling supplement and the touch screen features allow users to trace letters while listening to the sound or word.
Need to learn Chinese characters? Try eStroke Chinese Characters
This application brought back memories of the first time I realized that the Wii controllers house an acceleramator and a gyrometer to measure motion and tilt. This application allows the iPhone to react to various types of external motion. This app provides a very innovative way to learn about how motion is translated into a digital representation. You can submit your data directly to a website that associates your location with your seismograph data. Can you think of some learning contexts for this technology?
I think it is safe to say that for most of us the personal computer is the first place we go when we are looking for web-based information; however, new web-ready mobile devices are emerging with increased speed and are blurring the line of what traditionally constitutes a viable endpoint for digital content. Have you seen the new Verizon netbook? Is it a laptop, a souped-up PDA? Neither, it’s a “netbook”—netbooks have been around for awhile now, but the fact that this one was selling for under $200 definitely caught my eye.
As the computing power of mobile devices improves and they become more affordable, the demand for content that works well on these platforms continues to grow. Consequently, new possibilities for delivering E-learning content to mobile devices are redefining the E-learning industry in exciting ways.
While many user interface and usability people have given lukewarm reviews of the Kindle, the popularity of this E-book device has revealed what appears to be strong evidence of consumer demand for this type of technology. It’s hard to find fault with the practical benefits of having an ultra-lightweight E-book that holds up to 200 books, connects to the Internet wirelessly to download content and displays text in a relatively familiar format without the flicker of the CRT monitor. A sign of things to come? Many think so, like Steve Brotman in his Vcball blog.
How might a ubiquitous E-book like the Kindle and other new mobile web-ready devices reshape the world of instructional content? Smartphones like the iPhone and Palm Pre are quickly building a loyal following of application developers and end-users. The iPhone 3 will be released soon and Apple recently stated they have over 50 thousand applications for download in their App Store where over 1 billion applications have been downloaded by their 40 million iPhone and iPod Touch customers. Until the Kindle can withstand the rigors of being tethered to a 3rd grader and Mom and Dad are willing to pay for little Johnny’s new iPhone, it’s hard to imagine these types of devices displacing the book on a large scale for the K-12 demographic (although there are numerous educational applications available for this group). Nevertheless, let’s look at some examples of how mobile devices are already enabling new ways of delivering educational media.