Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Me, Myself, and iPhone

In a previous post, our Steve (MacKenzie) linked to a thoroughly enjoyable article: Why I Miss My iPhone, and Why You Should Care by Steve Hargon. In the article, Steve M commented on something that I've also been thinking of for sometime now here in Staff Training & Development - to trial loaning devices loaded with learning/training material and factor the cost in fees or some sort of partnership with corporations. Device compatibility has always been a major issue in Information Technology with the dissemination of e-learning material, so how about removing this major obstacle by loaning out these portable devices, which have been configured to work seamlessly with out Information Systems. The NHS and Home Office has trialled similar initiatives and seem to have had some positive feedback. Perhaps, by following suit we (DMU) may be able to reach to those members of Staff that find it next to impossible to find time or embarrassing to attend training sessions, and instead tune into the content whilst commuting. Distant-learners or disadvantaged students who may find it difficult to purchase these devices would find loaned devices useful too. Would this not, I ask, be supporting learning through technologies?

Going back to the iPhone, I, like others have been excited at the prospects of the iPhone since Steve Jobs announced the 'revolutionary' device at his Keynote speech early last year. Last week I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one, and after a weekend I was totally hooked. I used to be a mobile phone sales person for some years during my student days; and let me tell you people, this is seriously one awesome device. Never have I experienced the feeling of total portability in any device including my previous Nokia 9300 (a very good Symbian powered device, however mine lacked wi-fi, a later model - the 9300i - has wi-fi).

The iPhone, like many new devices, has many glitches or things you can't do, however these weaknesses also plays to it strengths: Apple pledges commitment to continue developing and subsequently deploy updates through iTunes. A few weeks ago, Apple did as they promised, and there was an update issued with several features tinkered with and added. An unfinished product some may argue, who cares if it's going to be done eventually, previously you were stuck with the bugs on a mobile phone and had to painfully live with them until your annual upgrade.

So in effect I have a device that will continue to evolve and become better than what it is over time. Of course there will be another incarnation but I suspect not for another 6-12 months here in the UK. Judging from the series of iPods and other devices the successor will probably be slimmer, with better hardware and features, which in my mind would justify an upgrade, although I'd welcome a smaller price tag.

Now I know many people have and will continue to grumble at calling the iPhone - revolutionary, but if we look back at the history of the mp3 player that Apple brought in - the iPod, and see how it has liberated in the way people listen to audio and how it presented new dimensions to listening to programmes (i.e podcasts), then it's revolutionary effects to society becomes apparent. A whole industry has formed around one device - the iPod, with major players like Nike, Bose, Belkin and more making accessories specifically for iPods. I can't think of any portable device creating such interest as the iPod has.

Now the iPhone has already spurred other manufacturers to scramble to follow suit (e.g. LG viewty etc), and it's not just mobile phones, but other devices too, and even the mighty Google see's a future in similar 'gesture-based' devices with it's Android project. Remember folks,this is Jobs second bash at a portable touch screen device. The first was Newton which flopped miserably, probably because the average consumer wasn't ready. SJ has had much time to mull over things, 'to get it right'. iPhones are here to stay and it's market is steadily increasing (according to SJ's keynote it already trails the popular Blackberry in the US).

If prices drop then I can see it as a major contender for students and staff to access their learning as it has an iPod already built-in. I'm also hoping that there will be educational rebates to discount the price soon, to enable both students and staff to be able to afford one. Currently one retails for a whopping £269, plus you are tied down to an 18 month contract at £35 per month - the iPhone doesn't come cheap.

Last week I attended the Learning Technologies conference in London UK, and in one of the sessions - the former Vodafone Director of Global Learning Management Gordon Bull was talking of the prospects of m-learning but conceded that it was perhaps 2-3 years away because
of issues with infrastructure (lack of super Internet Speeds) and devices (compatibility and not being able to access webpages properly), towards the end of his lecture he added that if anything that came close to the m-learning reality at this moment in time would be [for students] to be equipped with the iPhone.

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