iPhone 4 – Redefining Mobility in Education

Jim ShimabukuroBy 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.

An iPhone showing the text of a note about itself,  with a wireless Bluetooth keyboard and a coffee mug, on a glass table.

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.

14 Responses

  1. Great overview of the use of iPhone in education, Jim. It’s good to have a first person account from someone who is using it a lot and exploring the capabilities of the phone. I have an android and am impatient for an iPhone (being a Mac person), but I need to wait until my contract says I can upgrade. Wondering if you can tell me if the iPhone is limited in its ability to play flash the way iPad is? I work on Moodle and we use flash for self-paced courses so I need to carry more than I’d like when I travel.

    I agree that mlearning is the wave of the future. I’m seeing more and more webinars and workshops around mlearning, mostly using games, which I admit scare me a bit, not being a gamer. My other issue is aging eyes for the smaller screens!

  2. Hi, Jan. iPhone and iPad still don’t have Adobe Flash Player capability but some have found ways to get around this. I personally haven’t had any problems since my main video sources are YouTube and Netflix. Here’s a quote from an unconfirmed source that seems to explain the issue:

    “Steve Jobs mentioned that both battery life and performance would suffer greatly if Flash were to be used on the iPhone 4. In addition, Steve Jobs generously pointed out that Adobe has yet to successfully release any mobile version of Flash to date” (source).

  3. Thanks, Jim. I knew about iPad since I have one, but was hoping for a different outcome for iPhone. Adobe and Jobs don’t see eye to eye on this one at all and unfortunately the customer suffers. A fix Apple put out for the iPhone (re privacy I think) prevents jailbreaks if you download it so that will probably end whatever “work arounds” were available. Adobe elearning suite and other flash based programs are used by a lot of designers and it’s really too bad flash isn’t supported by iPad and iPhone.

  4. […] iPhone 4 – Redefining Mobility in Education « Educational Technology and Change Journal… 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… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  5. […] iPhone 4 – Redefining Mobility in Education « Educational Technology and Change Journal… Source: etcjournal.com […]

  6. Thanks, Jim. Interesting post. The Bluetooth keyboard still limits mobility though less than a laptop. I do use my iPhone for note taking at meetings … so I’m getting better at typing on a small screen. I still can’t see myself writing longer articles on it.

    Do you watch full-length movies on your iPhone? I haven’t tried but think it would be a poor experience compared to the desktop – never mind the big screen

    • Hi, Niall.


      Re “I still can’t see myself writing longer articles on” the iPhone — I felt the same way, and that’s why I held off getting one for years even after my children started using smartphones. My primary “computing” is writing, publications, and email, and I couldn’t imagine doing the first two on a tiny screen. However, the email and texting functions finally convinced me that I needed an iPhone. The photo and video sharing features, too, impressed me.

      Emailing and texting showed me that writing with the iPhone is actually quite easy, and the fact that I could do it anywhere at anytime made an impression on me. I found that the Notes app is extremely readable despite the small size of the screen. I also found that the portrait mode worked best for me

      I already had an iPad and the Apple Bluetooth wireless keyboard so I decided to experiment with more serious writing on the iPhone. (See the photo in the article.) I was completely surprised when I found how comfortable and intuitive the iPhone + keyboard combo was — from the get go. There was no learning curve or need to “warm up” to the process.

      I should note that I’ve never been an Apple person. I’ve never owned an Apple/Mac computer, and I’ve used them only sparingly in the course of my work. I’ve been a Microsoft OS (MS-DOS, Windows) person since the mid-80s and still am.

      Re watching Netflix movies on the iPhone — no, I’ve never watched a complete movie on it, but it’s primarily because I normally watch movies at home, where the TV is the natural choice. But out and about, e.g., at a coffee shop, I have used the iPhone to review Netflix movies and to select some for my personal viewing queue. The parts of movies that I’ve watched have been clear and crisp. I think I could watch a complete movie under certain circumstances.

      I’m focusing on the iPhone in this article, but it’s only because I’ve had no experience with the other smartphones that are out there. I believe most or all of them have features and power similar to the iPhone, and if Flash is a critical need, then one might want to explore some of them.

      The point is that the 21st century individual loves her/his freedom, especially in personal communication options, and she will naturally gravitate toward the options that are most empowering and least cumbersome, intrusive, complicated, and costly.

  7. To make it even more powerful, instead of using Notes, type directly into Google Docs. That way the content isn’t stuck in your phone in anyway and is immediately available to any device you might use.

  8. Hi, Brian. Thanks for this suggestion! I’ll test this approach to see if it’s better. Currently, with Notes, I simply email a copy to myself when I want to refine it on a larger screen or copy-paste it directly into a WordPress post and massage it there.

  9. Does one need to be a full-fledged geek to jailbreak – and to handle a jailbroken – Apple device?

    I’m asking because a friend is hesitating between buying an iPad and an Android-powered tablet. On Android, she could have Swype, with which users can “swipe” over the virtual keyboard instead of touching each letter separately. Useful for all, but particularly for people with motor issues, like her.

    So I checked whether Swype was also available for Apple things, and I found Swype For iPhone, iPad Now Available (Unofficially), Lets You Type Without Lifting Your Finger [Jailbreak Tweak].

    Hence my initial question: my friend is not a geek, actually, though she can type, she has never used a computer so far. She could probably find someone to jailbreak an iPad for her and install Swype on it, but what about afterwards? Mightn’t she be in trouble with updates of the IOS?

  10. Claude, here is one take on the issue of jailbreaking: http://www.techrepublic.com/forum/discussions/102-334310?tag=content;siu-container.

    I think I also read someplace that Apple will ‘fix’ the jailbreaking with an update of the IOS. If a jailbreak took place on a device the update cannot happen. I’ll send that blog to you if I can find it.

  11. Thanks, Jan. I’ll tell my friend to rather go for an Android-powered device, then. Even if there are also security flaws in Android, at least she wouldn’t have to jailbreak the device to use Swype, and thus cutting off the possibility to do future the security updates, as with an IOS-powered tablet, if I understood you correctly.

  12. Hi Jim,

    I just read Paul Andrew’s 15 Free WordPress Themes with a Responsive Layout (Speckyboy. Sept. 5, 2011), where “responsive layout” means a layout designed to adapt to the screen size of various devices.

    So that post made me think of this article of yours, and wonder: how well does ETCJournal.com’s own theme display on an iPhone?

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