A rush of articles on smart phones emerged in mid-February stemming from the Mobile World Congress (Mobile phone industry’s trade show) with companies trumpeting 12 megapixel plus cameras, new advanced applications, wrist watch types phones etc. Although in the current economic climate it is estimated that the overall sale of handsets will be down 10% this year, the estimated growth in smart phones is 17% (See Wray in the ‘The Observer’ 22/2/09). In the same article Steve Ballmer argues the term ‘Smartphone’ will die out because these devices will be ubiquitous’. In addition there has been a significant growth mobile phone applications available (see the iPhone App Store and a multitude of other such stores from various manufacturers and operators).
Data from the International Telecommunications Union (http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/icteye/Indicators/Indicators.aspx) demonstrates the scale of mobile phone use in the UK with 118 mobile phone subscribers per 100 of the population. Further, an analysis published last week indicated that teenagers in the UK are spending in excess of £1000 pa on mobile phones, MP3 players and downloads (Osborne, The Guardian 2/3/09).
These trends and developments obviously have an impact on the technologies that learners carry with them and how they are used to engage with learning activities, even if as some of the preliminary findings from the E4L project (http://www2.northampton.ac.uk/learningteaching/projects/externally-funded-projects/e4l) indicate students reluctance to use a specific technology for a formal learning activity unless advised to by staff.
The MoRSE project has surveyed students on their mobile personal technologies and how they are using them. This data is currently being analysed and will provide an important input into the baseline study. However it has also been useful to look at the type of functionalities that exist in common mobiles today, and it is worth noting that as mobile devices become increasingly more sophisticated that basic mobiles still have a number of potential applications:
Basic or perhaps very basic phones with no more functionality than the ability to make and receive calls and send texts are still available on the high street for less than £5 (last week). However such a phone in conjunction with Web 2.0 technologies have some perhaps surprising abilities:
- Micro-blogging, e.g. Twitter (http://twitter.com). Twitter provides the facility to submit ‘tweets’ or micro-blog entries by SMS text message.
- Blogging, e.g. Blogger (http://www.blogger.com). Blogger supports blog submission by SMS text message.
- Podcasts/ Recoding audio, e.g. Dial2Do (http://www.dial2do.com). Dial2Do provides a range of tools based on voice to text conversion. For instance the user can record a memo or even for example a submission to Twitter or other equivalent tool. The text version can then be automatically published including a link to the voice recording. Also see other providers such as Gabcast (http://gabcast.com)
- Participation in audio conferences. I suppose an obvious example and there are a number of web-based synchronous conferencing environments available. The normal means of access will be for the user to dial an access number and enter a pin number.
- Electronic voting, e.g. Polleverywhere (http://www.polleverywhere.com/). This tool allows a student to respond to a question by texting in one of a set of automatically generated response codes. A useful feature of this tool is that the receiving software automatically tabulates the results and produces a graph that responds in real time.
- Update RSS feeds – Micro-blogging and blogging sites normally have RSS feed capability. It is therefore possible to send an SMS text to a blog or micro-blog and then feed the message to multiple other sites.
- Geo-location – This is now perhaps stretching the point as a basic phone will have no inbuilt GPS technology. However it is technically possible to identify the location of a mobile phone based on the transmitters with which it is communicating. This will not provide the location accuracy of GPS, but there are some fairly sophisticated tools that can make use of this capability such as Google’s Latitude. In the case of a basic phone it could be used in conjunction with a service such as World Tracker (http://www.world-tracker.com), which although not accessible from the phone would allow the phone to be used as a basic tracker.
- Emailing – Using the voice to text capability of services like Dial2do can be used to send emails.
Once a user starts to pay more than £5 PAYG for a phone the functionality available rapidly multiplies, e.g. phones with MMS and GPRS based internet access are availanle for less than £10, and then additionally with camera and video support for less than £15, and then Internet with 3G/HSDPA at under £60 (purchases at these prices do normally seem to involve buying additional call credits). Taking for example PAYG phone retailing on the high street at less than £90 the following functionality is available beyond that described above:
- GPS – integration with Google Maps
- Inbuilt camera with photo and video support
- Expandable memory
- Inbuilt audio recorder with the ability to export the audio file.
- Subscribe to Podcasts
- MMS messaging allowing video and images to be submitted easily to sites such as Flickr (http://Flickr.com) and Youtube (http://www.youtube.com).
- Video calling
- Internet access with a 3G/HSDPA connection providing general web access including accessing Twitter, blogging sites (with the ability to edit blogs), social networking sites such as Facebook. Phones with Internet access, even GPRS based, are able to take advantage of mobile optimised websites, and there are many types of plugins available for web based tools that enhance access by mobile devices. The phone will normally come equipped with an inbuilt web browser, but as in the case of this example phone the ability may exist to install a third party browser such as Opera which can provide a range of additional functionality.
- Skype – receive and make Skype calls
- MSN messaging
- RSS aggregator receiving feeds from News sites, Blogs and University sites.
- Email with the ability to attach videos and imagesAbility to download further applications e.g:
- Second Life via Vollee (http:// www.vollee.com/secondlife)
- Barcode reader with the ability to read QR codes and then access encoded websites.
- Opera web browser
- Passable ability to read ebooks in ePub format.
All of the above but may additionally have the following:
- Larger screen
- Qwerty keyboard or touch screen
- Ability to read and in some cases write standard Office type documents
- Substantial library of additional applications including for example the iPointer (http://www.i-spatialtech.com/ipointer.htm) that takes advantage of GPS and electronic compass data to identity objects that the user is pointing the phone at.