By Jim Shimabukuro
This journal, Educational Technology and Change, is built in a WordPress web publishing environment. I hesitate to call it a “blog” because people tend to immediately close on it and can’t see that WordPress is no more a blog than the smartphone is a phone.
I’ve had my iPhone 4 for about two months, and it’s already changing my view of what it means to be connected. WordPress and iPhone, together, are redefining the publishing landscape for me. They’re not only placing publishing in the hands of the many, but they’re making it possible for them to do it from anywhere at anytime. It’s no longer a matter of waiting until I can get to a computer with web access. Instead, I have it with me at all times wherever I am, eliminating the waiting altogether.
I can now write an article using the built-in notes application and a Bluetooth wireless keyboard that I originally purchased for the iPad. In fact, I’m writing the first draft of this article on the iPhone. A couple months ago, I would’ve scoffed at the idea of composing on a screen the size of a credit card. Impossible, I would’ve sworn. But I’m doing it now, and I find it just as comfortable as my laptop or desktop.
But the clincher is mobility. The iPhone is tiny: 4.5″ x 2.3″ and less than half an inch (0.37″) thick; it weighs 4.8 ounces. It can easily fit in my shirt pocket, the backpocket of my jeans, etc. The most comfortable method for me is a little leather case that hooks onto my belt. I can quickly hook and unhook it, slide it to the front, side, or back, depending on the activity. It’s as much a part of me as a belt, and it doesn’t restrict my activities.
It charges quickly and goes for hours without recharging. The spec sheet claims up to 10 hours on wi-fi, but some have found that this is very conservative. For me, it’s never run down despite constant use throughout the day. I simply plug it in overnight, and it’s good for an entire day.
I no longer have to lug a backpack holding a notebook computer, an extra battery, an AC adaptor with a tangle of cables, and a wireless USB modem. The batteries were always a hassle. I had to make sure they were both juiced, and over time they’ve lost their capacity to hold a charge. Now, I can barely get an hour out of each, and replacements are expensive and often unreliable.
Mobility with a notebook was a clunky affair. With an iPhone, mobility is a given. No backpack, unless I decide to bring the wireless Bluetooth keyboard along for serious writing. But it’s small, thin, and nearly weightless: 12.8″ x 7.3″ and 1.4″ at its thickest end; it weighs 1.5 pounds. Eventually, I may become proficient enough with the onscreen keyboard to not need an external one.
As I’m writing this, I’m discovering that WordPress’s mobile app has been updated to allow for easy access to all my blogs. I can now use the iPhone to review and act on comments, compose and edit posts, add photos and videos to posts, and control the publishing of articles. I can take excellent photos and videos. I can add the photos to articles, and I can upload the videos to YouTube and embed them in articles.
As a teacher of completely online classes, I publish all of my course info in WordPress. Thus, I now have anywhere anytime access to all of it via the iPhone. I can read, revise, edit, compose, publish, etc. I can access my university system’s course information pages to monitor class rolls and the Sakai course management system where all the online class discussions are held. I can review and post in the different class forums as well as in the chat room. I can check for personal mail. In other words, I can do nearly everything that I normally do with a notebook or desktop.
For web publications, mobile friendliness is essential to survival. Thus, I can surf the web and read the local papers as well as the NY Times, Chronicle, etc. I can do email as well as texting. I can watch movies via Netflix. I can carry libraries of my favorite music with me and listen to them in high resolution. In fact, with my Grado HF2 cans plugged into the eighth-inch headphone jack, the sound quality of lossless tracks is very good. I can shoot and create albums of photos and videos.
Granted, the screen is small and for complex composing and editing I still prefer the desktop with powerful applications such as MS Word, Excel, PhotoShop, Soundbooth, etc., but I can do most of the essentials and basics on the iPhone, and I believe it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be able to use it in conjunction with larger monitors and sophisticated apps.
At about $200 for an iPhone and internet and phone access for less than $100 a month, I’m finally free from my home office, desktop and notebook computers, and countless cables, adaptors, modems, routers, and peripherals. This combination of freedom and connectedness is exhilarating. Empowering. And this is only the tip of the iceberg, a small glimpse of how the smartphone will change the way we connect with the virtual world.
For education, the writing on the wall is huge. The iPhone and similar smartphones is where the action is, the learning environment that counts, the face of future computing, of ed tech, of the web, of the internet, of the way we will all communicate, learn, teach, work, and recreate. It goes wherever we go with no cables. It fits in our pockets and gives us instant web and phone communications with the world.
The iPhone has quickly become a mobile extension of who I am. From almost anywhere in the world, I can remove it from its case, click it on, and have instant access to the web and all its power. It’s essentially a powerful, wireless, fully connected computer the size of a candybar.
We can expect the prices of iPhones and similar devices to drop as their power continues to spiral upward. Internet and phone service costs, too, will drop as providers proliferate and compete for users. Consequently, the digital divide will shrink dramatically and most who cannot afford a notebook with wi-fi services will be able to afford a smartphone.
In education, a requirement for all content will be smartphone friendliness. In other words, it has to be optimized for smartphone access. Learning activities, too, will be designed to take full advantage of smartphones. A natural correlative to this trend will be off-campus online learning and teaching activities. In a mobile-oriented learning environment, this means that some of the funds currently reserved for capital improvements and maintenance could be used to provide smartphones and access services for students who can’t afford them.
My guess is that innovation will swarm around the smartphone, providing external technology to boost its power. The first of these are Bluetooth keyboards and speaker systems. In the near future, we can expect to see a wide range of larger LCD monitors with the ability to convert and enhance the smartphone’s video signals. Following the lead of the Apple wireless keyboard mentioned earlier, these will be light, flexible*, and portable. Smartphones will continue to evolve to take advantage of these external, extensive features. iPads and similar tablet PCs will continue to thrive, but they’ll gradually be replaced by smartphone-driven alternatives.
* See “Bend It, Flex It, Wear It?” in Laptop, June 2011, p.20.
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