Thursday, 24 September 2009

Smart phones to overtake PCs by 2011... School use to follow?

Becta's TechNews service (which is excellent by the way; digestible and just technical enough) recently commented that recent trend analyses indicate that more smart phones than PCs will by sold in 2011.

This is staggering, but quite believeable once you consider all the people you know who have iPhones* who, to be fair, aren't exactly members of the technorati. OK, so my mum may still be clinging onto her Nokia 3210 ("It makes phone calls, why would I change it?"), but in every meeting I attend there are at least 3 iPhone-toting ladies and gentlemen of *ahem* advancing years whose interest in technology seemingly plataued with Pong, happily sharing photos of various grandchildren.

Smart Phones are probably best understood as miniature computers with the additional capacity to make telephone calls. Mine has wi-fi for the internet (and has thus become the weapon of choice in settling arguments over obscure TV actors) as well as 3.5g access to mobile data when I'm out and about. It checks my emails and synchronises with my calendar and tasks. I runs downloaded programmes (it comes with Word and Excel already). It's got a bunch of videos from BBC iPlayer of Charlie Brooker getting angry about stuff for when I'm stuck on the tube. It plays music and could replace my iPod touch if I could be bothered. The GPS is fantastic too - I was in Paris this Summer and it enabled me to navigate my way around, checking Wikipedia entries wherever I went (Coco Chanel was a collaborator? Zut alors!) and see photos of the street view to help me recognise things I was looking for. In short, it's a thing of beauty and joy and just 2 years ago, did not exist.

Education would be mad to ignore this. Once virtually every learner has in their pocket a device which can access the internet at high speed, run programmes, display video and audio, the posibilities for how this could impact in schools are incredible. I'm working with several new build schools at the moment and it's amazing to think that the laptops they are planning to purchase are really just an interim solution to bridge the gap between the ICT suites of yesteryear and tomorrow's student-owned device promise.

The challenges are considerable however. Inappropriate use of phones is a real and constant issue for schools now and technical solutions are needed to help mitigate this risk before schools can be realistically expected to embrace the technology. This can be partially addressed at the policy/ sanctions level but it would be interesting to see if management software for phones could be created to automate this, just as exists to control the use of the school's PCs currently.

For me, the real hurdle to overcome is that of input; yes, the iPhone has a touch-interface keyboard, but you really wouldn't want to have to enter your rambling blog entries using it. Equally, my E71 has an ultra small form-factor querty keyboard. It's my normal form-factor fingers which are the problem. Unless this issue can be solved (projected keyboards?), Smart phone use will probably remain nomadic and ad hoc, but useful none the less.

I'd give my E71 to my mum when I next upgrade if it wasn't for her response to my request to upgrade the family TV to colour in 1986; "I'm just waiting to see if they've got it right before I try it out".

*other smart phones are available