Don't be Dazzled!

6 09 2007

So Apple launched the next generation of their iPod range today, including a touch-screen iPod that looks and works pretty much exactly like the iPhone… but, er… without the phone. And without a camera and Bluetooth (but, just like the iPhone, it has a sealed internal battery and no support for additional memory card expansion). Oh… and without email. And all this on Apples’ closed, proprietary platform.

But already I’ve heard the clamour of excited educators, some touting Apple as somehow being at the forefront of mobile learning. Brent Schlenker extolls the new iPod Touch:

“Can I here [sic] anyone say “Ultimate mobile learning device”? I had heard of schools testing iPhones with wi-fi only (they disable the phone service but utilize the wi-fi with the on-campus wireless network). Maybe we don’t give every kid a laptop. Maybe we give them each a Touch…without the impending molestation charges of course. “

Oh dear. It seems to me that in this case, the iPod Touch’s remaining functionality – basically, a wi-fi web browser and a media player, with no expansion capabilities – are being vastly over-valued.

Yes, it is possible to learn on a (small) web browser… but seeing as this one will only work if you have wi-fi access – and not if you wander out of school and down the road – a large chunk of the “mobile” in “mobile learning” seems to go out the window with the Touch. Away from a wi-fi access point, all you have is, um, an iPod: you can play music, videos and view photos.

You can’t even take photos, record audio, or make videos (not that you can record videos on the iPhone, either, mind you); and independant remote resource creation, documentation, and sharing tasks like moblogging become completely impossible. This from the same post, however:

But who the heck even WANTS a smartphone anymore when you can have an iPhone or a Touch? I mean really, people! Aren’t you just a little embarassed when you have too pull out that dinosaur Treo or Blackberry in front of your iphone toting colleagues? Your geek cred is on the line.

When Apple make a phone that will allow me to do the things I’ve always been able to do on my current Smartphone (record a video; send an MMS; add my own applications), I’ll give the people who own one a great deal more “cred”.

Tony Vincent asks:

“With so many iPod choices, which does your school choose?”

and my honest opinion is “none of the above” – in my opinion, neither the Apple iPhone, nor the iPod Touch (which has no additional features over the iPhone, and loses many) is a serious learning device, or even a serious working device… let alone the “ultimate” mobile learning device.

Don’t be dazzled. All that’s shiny (and these are *really* shiny) is not gold. 🙂

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22 responses

6 09 2007

Gee Len, guess I’ll have to take your name off the team order that we’re just about to put in then 🙂

6 09 2007
Leonard Low

Sure you can. Just save my money for one of these in December, okay?: 🙂

6 09 2007
Tony Vincent

While the new iPod touch is indeed shiny and attractive, it also has potential in classrooms. Sure, devices like Palm handhelds and Pocket PCs can do so much more and fit the model of mobile learning better. However, the reality I see in handheld-using classrooms is that teachers are using only a small portion of what these handhelds can do. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I started considering iPods as a viable alternative to more functional handhelds. Why? iPods seem to get more use in classrooms–probably because they are friendlier to use and manage.

Besides being a media player, iPod touch is an Internet tablet. I’m looking forward to lots more websites and services optimized for the mobile version of Safari. I’m thinking services like Google Docs and Spreadsheets would make iPod touch even more useful.

You’re right, though. The problem with web applications is that they require a Wi-Fi connection. If students take the device to their homes without Wi-Fi, the iPod is very much crippled. But here’s the thing: I’m still not seeing many schools allowing handhelds to be taken home. So in situation where the school knows the iPods will always remain at school, I think they can be an excellent choice. Perhaps this situation doesn’t fit into the definition of “mobile learning,” but at least teachers and students have handy and engaging learning devices for classroom use.

Just like with any technology purchase, schools need to consider available time for professional development, budgets, and features against what they hope to accomplish. I’m not suggesting that every school should be placing orders for iPods. But, they shouldn’t be left out of consideration either.

6 09 2007

Safari? Yick

You lost me right there Tony V 🙂

6 09 2007

Why does safari lose you? By the way, no one ever said the ipod was built as a ed device. I’m only aware of one portable digital device that ever truly has been (OLPC). All the rest we’re just adapting and working with it. We should never be dazzled Leonard, but why not take wharever advantage we can of the tools that are common. Until all schools get OLPC’s or similar, that’s our educator’s lot I’m afraid… Or is there another alternative device out there?

6 09 2007
Leonard Low

No, indeed, no-one ever said that the iPod was built as an ed device… but there certainly are some handheld devices that have been, such as the EDA (and there are others I’ve encountered over the last couple of years). I’m not saying I’d call the EDA the “ultimate” mobile learning device either, mind you; but I will say that it’s a great deal more functional than the iPod Touch!

As you say, educators interested in m-learning are adapting and working with what’s available. And using “the tools that are common” is one of the most compelling reasons to explore m-learning, with so many of our students carrying their own mobile phones.

But claiming a closed platform stripped of content creation facilities (such as audio, photo and video), with limited connectivity and no ability to expand (in terms of both applications and memory) as the “ultimate” m-learning tool can’t be allowed to go undebated.

And I certainly don’t know if the iPod Touch or the iPhone are going to become the most common platforms amongst our students. Both plaforms are expensive, and both are not perfect devices in their own rights – the Touch has a paltry 16GB on board and no email, while the iPhone has issues I’ve previously described.

There are some other up and coming platforms that hold much more promise for educators. The Neo1973 ( is a completely open platform which could well be customised for educational needs. It features GPS, Wi-Fi, camera, expandable memory, and the ability to connect to any telecommunications network (though it still misses out on 3G). Customised software can be run on it, and customised hardware can be added to it. It’s been designed that way.

That’s not a scenario we’ll ever see from Apple. Their iPhone was released as a closed system, restricted to a single network. Apple have threatened legal action against those who’ve taken steps to open this platform. And the Touch is no different.

If there’s going to be an “ultimate” platform for sharing, creating and learning, it won’t come from a company whose very business model is based on closedness, exclusivity, and restriction of development.

7 09 2007

You’re definatly right about the ultimate tag – very fan-boyish! The Neo1973 looks interesting. Ipod system is closed, but like I said, they are a buisness, and you can;t even get an education discount on iPod’s anymore! So I think that is a pointer as to Apple’s attitude (tho there is a page for them somewhere in Apple’s education site).

The EDA really seemed just a modified PDA – a buisness PDA, not built for Ed from the ground up – and a very expensive as well in an age of cheap laptops (another reason like you said for the iPod touch devices not to become entrenched in education). (Fujitsu has left the PDA buisness now also – actually apart from the new iPaqs, does anyone even make new PDA’s now?).

7 09 2007
Brent Schlenker

Hey folks! Great conversation! I created 3 movies with my Treo and published none of them. Why? The Treo wouldn’t let me publish them anywhere. Don’t know why. Don’t care. It would have meant another 2 hours on Verizon tech support trying to either get it figured out or pay for an additional service maybe. So creating video is not necessary for me and as far as I know not for any mobile workers I know. If I need to shoot video I grab the video camera…period.

Pictures – iPhone grabs great camera snaps even at 1megpixel (or whatever it is) I email them to Flickr and they are posted on my blog or .Mac account (gallery). If I buy the Touch its because I like my phone and all phones take snaps to I don’t need the Touch to take snaps or video. My other phone does that.

If you are a student you spend most of your life on campus. Most campuses are wireless. If you are working stiff, your office is wireless. If not, get a new job…seriously. Are you still running CAT5,6 in your house? Probably not. MOST of the places where we spend our time have wireless capabilities and its growing significantly with each passing day.

For the alpha geeks among us, the iPhone and the Touch, and ANYTHING from Apple for that matter, will never measure up. I’ve heard the closed system arguments ever since Apple kicked out Steve and opened up their systems to nothing but junk machines. Remember the clones? God help me forget! But I digress. Y’all can wait…and wait…and wait for that one magic device that gives you EVERYTHING. But me? I’ll pass on the dream and the vaporware, and go with the guys that have a product in the store.

The iPhone is the ultimate learning device simply because it exists in a functioning form that is a remarkable experience. Its out there NOW! I love the idea of the openmoko too. Hey, open source! Yeah baby! Let’s tinker, tinker, tinker, and have a little inventor fun. But while we’re all dreaming about it and then trying to make it work, I will be lovin’ my iPhone for its killer mobile web experience, beautiful video, and seemless integration of my most used and needed mobile features.

Yes. I’m a Mac fan boy. But I’m also a recent switcher and haven’t looked back. Don’t even care about Vista…or the Zune…too busy getting work done and having a great time doing it.

7 09 2007
Leonard Low

It’s great that you’re enjoying your iPhone Brent, and I agree, Apple did with the iPhone what they do best: create a terrific user experience (as well as some equally terrific hype (a term I use with the greatest respect for Apple’s marketing folks)).

User experience has a very large part to play in the way we use technology; but I believe that the *behaviour* of a system is quite different to the *capability* of the system. The behaviour of the iPhone/Touch interface is superb… but underneath that veneer, the functionality seems crippled. For example, you mention that the iPhone camera takes good pictures… but it doesn’t have a flash, so I’m assuming you mean in good lighting conditions. And not being able to shoot video seems to me to be an omission of a really useful feature that would not have compromised the simplicity of the iPhone interface or form at all.

“Ultimate” is a big word which indicates a device which is superior to its competition in *every* respect. The geek circles I frequent would probably use the term “Uber” to describe a device which pwns [sic] the competition in this way. Now, I really like the iPhone interface – I loved the idea of multitouch a year or more before Apple incorporated it into the iPhone and it was just a gleam in Jeff Han’s eye at the TED 2006 conference. But an “ultimate” device must marry an engaging user interface (e.g. NOT Windoze Mobile!) with a highly functional feature set. Just as some other mobile devices are highly functional, but a chore to use (and therefore wouldn’t be called “ultimate”), so too does the iPhone showcase the best of *behaviour*, but miss out on a lot of *capability*.

What capability is it that I speak of? you ask.

Well, fundamental tools supporting established learning theory and the developing body of mobile learning practice, I suppose.

Social constructivism (Vygotsky 1976) posits that learning is a process of “building” new knowledge within a social context. As such, some of the best mobile learning approaches developed to date have revolved around the creation and sharing of knowledge: taking photos, recording videos and audio, and exchanging knowledge with other learners.

The closed, proprietary nature of iPhones as well as their lack of video recording and camera flash, as well as the complete omission of a camera at all on the iPod Touch all disregard this philosophy of “learning by creating”. The lack of MMS, 3G, and removable (exchangeable) memory on the iPhone and apparent lack of email and even Bluetooth on the Touch all impose barriers to sharing. These factors combined amount to barriers to the use of the iPhone and iPod Touch as a mobile learning device.

Another strand of mobile learning theory and practice focusses on the ubiquity of mobile devices – that they are tools that learners carry everywhere, a “Swiss Army Knife” of learning tools which affords opportunities to learn anywhere and anytime.

But the iPod Touch, in particular, is only a small subset of the potential tools that a learner could employ – a Swiss Army Knife with a basic blade and a pair of scissors, as it were. Not being able to connect to the internet away from a Wi-Fi access point means that opportunities for connecting and sharing are *not* “anytime and anywhere,” but rather “here and there”.

Don’t get me wrong, thought – the iPod Touch and the iPhone still incorporate some really useful tools. The use of even basic iPods in education is well established through practices such as Podcasting, and both the iPhone and the Touch build an the capabilities of the basic iPod in substantial ways.

But there are other mobile devices which provide better pedagogical support through a broader – and more open – set of features. I really do hope that Steve Jobs’ next iteration of the iPhone provides better support for creating and sharing – pillars of contemporary education – but I’m not holding my breath, either… 🙂

7 09 2007
Brent Schlenker

Since when is “building knowledge” and “sharing within a social context” only possible with photos, video and audio. Many m-learning pioneers are still finding great success with the simple use of voice mail and txt msgs. Check out Cellcast. Have you seen the Its a thing of beauty. Its more social than any other social app. The amount of sharing that occurs and with such a large volume of “friends” is simply amazing thanks to Safari.

I want to know what these other devices are that “provide better pedagogical support through a broader – and more open – set of features.”

I’m still perplexed by comments of a closed system. How much more open do you want THE WEB, of all things, too be? If the iPhone did not exist and the Touch only had Safari and Wi-fi I would still buy it.
I never thought I would see the day when a drupal web site would look normal in a mobile web browser without some SERIOUS redesign work. But, on the iPhone, not only do they work but they work well. And look great!

Oh wait, no Flash. Crime of crimes. Flash was never a true web standard anyway yet all the purists still insist that something is wrong with the mobile web experience if it doesn’t have Flash. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Its the mobile web experience that truly puts the iPhone, and now the Touch, into the ULTIMATE m-learning device space. Is it missing a lot of technologies? Yes. Are basic cell phones missing technologies? Yes. Basic smart phones are also missing technologies. Sometimes less is more…oh so much more.

So, currently there is no other device that I can lay out cash for today that is better than the iPhone. That makes it the ultimate mobile learning device. And now its little brother the Touch brings that ultimate mobile web experience to those unwilling to give up their current phones. Oh yeah, and all the other cool iPod features.

I won’t buy any of the new products because I have the iPhone. However I could use a $200 credit 😉

9 09 2007
Leonard Low

Related Link for Brent which I just found, on Moblogging from a Treo:

10 09 2007


Does anyone have experience with the Apple-managed iTunes U?

It seems that the iPod Touch *could* have potential in schools and campuses which have (high-bandwidth) WiFi, for audio and video materials (podcasts, etc, etc) to be made available to students?


11 09 2007
Nicola Avery

Sorry, I’m a bit late into this one, but I saw a post from someone at Admobs which said that iPhones are in fact not handling / rendering HTML, Flash as well as other devices so companies are starting to build iPhone friendly sites – why because the iPhone is there – yes we know !! But when did you ever have to design device specific websites whether pc or mobile – if this is true, then it completely sucks !

11 09 2007

They don’t support flash – but strangley seem to be getting on well without it! as for mobile versions of sites – well there are hundreds of thousands of these – mainly because on devices where people are paying big $ for data these mobile optimised sites use much less – see the appeal? The .mobi url extension is often used for these.

12 09 2007
Nicola Avery

Brian Fling is running a session at Future of Mobile this year on iPhone and impact, will be interested to hear his thoughts

12 09 2007
Brent Schlenker

Nicola, in response to…
“when did you ever have to design device specific websites whether PC or mobile”
…I would say since the dawn of mobile devices. WAP was the standard, NOT html.
Facebook works GREAT as is, but its a little slow. So they whittled it down a little and optimized the interface to improve the experience on the iPhone.
Good designers will always take the device into consideration when delivering an experience to the device users. Designers have always done it and will continue to do so. There is limited screen realestate on any mobile device so no matter how great the device is it simply makes usability sense to redesign to support the platform.
However, the reality is that many sites will not redesign and the fact the many sites still work fine on the iPhone despite being designed for 1024×768. That’s a huge benefit that no other mobile device can touch.
I’d like to know if any of you OWN the iPhone?

12 09 2007
Steve Dembo

My 2 cents:
If students HAVE an iPhone, there’s plenty you can do with it in the classroom. It is currently the best browser on a iPhone that I’ve seen yet. And so long as you have a browser, there’s plenty you can do.

That being said, if I were BUYING devices for an educational setting, it wouldn’t be on the list at the current prices. There are so many better devices for the money that would do so much more, as has been mentioned.

I’m a firm believer in making use of the technology students are hiding in their backpacks. But that doesn’t mean its the best technology you could buy 🙂

13 09 2007
Nicola Avery

Hi Brent, I don’t think I was entirely clear in my very short post. I cannot speak from mobile web design experience other than WML which I tried years ago and I code XHTML and CSS for my website which displays ok-ish on my mobile phone. I am about to launch into my own experiments with mobile learning by hand coding the pages myself and I will be using Cameron Moll’s new book and the .mobi web developer book which help designers choose whether to use XHTML-MP, XHTML Basic, cHTML, WML etc.

Sorry, just wanted to set background. So re iPhone – thanks for your comments, I don’t own (they are not in UK yet) but I did get to play with one for a few mins yesterday, its surprisingly light ! And fun, but I have to say that I’m not convinced yet about it being a great mobile device (I’d put it at good – but its not the first touch screen blah blah but definitely the best touch-screen to date) or a great mobile learning device – I still don’t believe that there is enough mobile learning evidence from other devices to benchmark it against right now (Although Leonard here is doing a great job !)

As far as I am aware, WAP is not specific to say a Nokia or Sony or Siemens or Motorola or whoever – so I would not call it device specific. But I might be wrong and if so, please correct :o)

This is the full post which is why I raised it here:

AdMob (my employer) has been hearing from publishers that they are frustrated with the iPhone’s handling of traditional web sites (HTML, Flash, etc.). These pages seem to be loading slowly, even when the device uses 802.11. We are seeing sites choosing to build iPhone-specific versions of their sites. This is interesting given the low relative number of devices in the market – people don’t build Blackberry-specific sites!

This is also interesting because it directly contradicts the way Apple has been marketing the iPhone (“not the ‘Mobile Internet, but the Internet on your phone…”).

AdMob has fielded a bunch of interest for iPhone-specific ads. We heard this from publishers who don’t want to serve rich-media ads. We also heard this from advertisers who want to reach the early adopter using the device. To address this, we’ve built an ad unit that takes advantage of the iPhone’s capabilities but is mobile focused. See our video on this here:

Personally I like what Opera Mini is doing, their community forum seems to be driving the development of a better browsing experience – which is not specific to one particular handset.


PS I do like Safari on Windows though, even though I have had to slightly tweak my CSS on my website to take account of it, so a mini-version can’t be a bad thing and I wish you the best of luck with any iPhone learning venture you undertake.

13 09 2007
Nicola Avery

Hi, I just did a massive reply but I think I hit something and its gone.
re owning an iPhone – Brent if you’re on commission 🙂
I did get to hold one and briefly play with yesterday. Its a nice device, but not the first touch screen – definitely the most interesting – its a fun phone. I do think you are a little premature in saying its the ultimate mobile learning device – benchmarking mobile learning is fairly limited so far…
Re WAP – as far as I understand – it was not limited to designing for say a Nokia or Sony Ericsson or whatever – so I would not say WAP is device specific. But please feel free or anyone else to correct me on this.
The Opera Mini Browser has made a better browsing experience for lots of different devices. The Sony PSP is one of the best mobile web browsing experiences I have come across to date, the screen seems to be a nice size.
Re my original comments – this is the full post I was referring to:
“AdMob (my employer) has been hearing from publishers that they are frustrated with the iPhone’s handling of traditional web sites (HTML, Flash, etc.). These pages seem to be loading slowly, even when the device uses 802.11. We are seeing sites choosing to build iPhone-specific versions of their sites. This is interesting given the low relative number of devices in the market – people don’t build Blackberry-specific sites!

This is also interesting because it directly contradicts the way Apple has been marketing the iPhone (“not the ‘Mobile Internet, but the Internet on your phone…”).

AdMob has fielded a bunch of interest for iPhone-specific ads. We heard this from publishers who don’t want to serve rich-media ads. We also heard this from advertisers who want to reach the early adopter using the device. To address this, we’ve built an ad unit that takes advantage of the iPhone’s capabilities but is mobile focused. See our video on this here:

Personally, I 100% do not believe that the ultimate mLearning experience is going to be via an iPhone – the more functionality gets added to your existing iPhone, the further performance degradation you will have (same as with computers, I’m not aware of situations where putting more and more new stuff on old technology makes it better) Mobile devices are being improved far too quickly to talk about ultimate devices.

I’m sure there is great learning to be had using iPhones but comparing it to the OLPC (or the Asus Eee PC)is not a straightforward comparison, particularly when there are hundreds and thousands of good 2nd hand mobile phones which do not need device specific websites . I’m going to be doing my own experiments in hand coding mobile web pages and hopefully some mLearning will come out of it, but I would not be starting from a device.

16 11 2007
Steve Howard

Funny how this conversation is largely taken over by the iPhone. It has two things that other devices don’t have – the cool intervace and the multi-touch screen.

other devices have features coming out their ears in comparisson, but somehow no one noticed.

As for the browser – it’s essentially the same browser that is in the higher-end Nokia phones. And it is great. But again, no one noticed.

Without a doubt the iPhone can be used for great mLearning, but it has far to many limitations to be taken seriously by the device geeks who want to break out of as many feature constraints as possible.

But my, isn’t the Apple marketing engine impressive? 🙂

16 11 2007
Nicola Avery

I was at Future of Mobile yesterday in London and there was some love for the iPhone but a lot of developer discontent. Whilst phone manufacturers (e.g employees from Sony Ericsson etc there) were saying – fragmentation is great, the more personal experience for the user, the better it is, because the phone is such a personal device. But this is a nightmare for developers, standards are essential to allow developers to create applications or they will never get them out there.
Brian Fling gave the presentation about the iPhone, he really likes it and he has been involved a lot in .mobi and mobile web development for years. He said that if iPhones are bringing mobile web mainstream in the US then Nokia were delighted because as we know they have a whole army of very nice phones at their disposal 🙂

I think what Google are doing with Android (they also presented yesterday) will be where the most innovative stuff comes (having a $10 million incentive for development will help) next such as being able to easily access other apps whilst making a call and stuff like that – maybe then we will be a little less ‘dazzled’ .

Or not, again yesterday everyone was emphasising that context is everything in terms of phone choice and phone application usage.

18 12 2007
Rob De Lorenzo

I must admit, that I am really late in this conversation but I do want to ask one question – does it really matter what device is being used so long as it is helping to meet the goal of helping kids learn? Firstly, I’m a little weary of devices made specifically for education as it seems to me that these devices are never as flexible as consumer devices. Secondly, I own both a smartphone (Blackberry Pearl) and an iPod (5G video). To be honest, I love both and feel that each can make significant contributions to education in their own unique ways.

At some point in the near future, the functionality of a PC, phone and media player will converge into one device so it doesn’t matter which brand is selected. Until then, how about having the teachers choose which device best suits their needs and being prepared to support them despite the brand? If accessibility is the main issue and cost is not, then perhaps a smartphone is the device of choice as there is the ability to access the web through the phone’s data system (at a significant cost). However, if this type of continuous connection to the internet is not necessary, then I think the iPod touch is very useful as there is a much larger screen and the ability to easily sync to all the wonderful resources found on iTunes. Also, there any many learning ideas that both the iPod and smartphones allow for – i.e. reading public domain books and listening to audiobooks.

Let’s not get hung up on brand – we will never agree on this point because each of us has our own brand preferences. Let’s put our collective energies together to help promote the use of handheld devices in education.

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