When I use the word “mobile web”, I am not referring to the web running in mobile browsers, although I understand that is what the words have come to mean. I believe that mobile devices are bringing web services into our pockets and purses, onto restaurant tables and bars, and into schools and stadiums.
I am not particularly concerned about whether these web services are deployed in a browser or in an app running on a mobile device. I realize that these are big issues for developers and that the mobile web suffers from too many browsers, too many operating systems, and too many device configurations and screen sizes.
But the power of the web in your pocket is so large that none of this really matters at the end of the day. The “mobile web” is where “it” is at right now. And it is also where it is all going.
And this past week was a big one for the mobile web. We got three big things we’ve needed badly:
1) A real competitor to the iPhone – the Droid
2) A scalable business model for mobile apps – in app transactions in free apps
3) A standard for broadcasting video (and audio) to mobile devices
Here’s why I think these are all big deals.
First and foremost, we need competition in the mobile web market. If Apple were to own the mobile web opportunity that would be very bad for developers, for consumers, and for innovation broadly. Nothing against Apple, it would be true with any company. Android is the best hope for a strong competitor to Apple. In fact, as I’ve written here before, Android is a lot like Microsoft’s Windows OS. It was a copy of Apple’s operating system in many ways, but it was open and it could run on many devices. And it became the standard with Apple retaining a small but important share. I believe the same thing will happen with Android and the Motorola/Verizon Droid looks to be the first really great Android phone to come to market.
In addition to competition in the mobile web market, we need a scalable business model for mobile web apps. Display advertising is not likely to be that answer. In app transactions seems like a good one. It has worked very well in social gaming and is starting to show up in other web apps. But it is even more powerful on mobile devices where the user already has a transactional relationship with one or more providers of the device. Apple has decided to allow in app transactions on free iPhone apps, something they have been reluctant to do until now. This is a big deal. I think this could be an “order of magnitude” kind of inflection point for monetizing mobile apps.
We also need a way to offload bandwidth sucking applications from the carrier’s networks. The AT&T network has suffered as iPhone users have adopted rich media on their devices. The same could happen to Verizon if the Droid is as popular as I think it can be. But there are ways to offload much of the high bandwidth services. Instead of watching the Yankees game via the AT&T or Verizon network, you can watch it over the digital TV broadcast spectrum using the ATSC standard that will ultimately find its way onto mobile devices. We’ve already seen this happen with the digital audio broadcast standard, HD Radio, that is now on Microsoft’s Zune and will soon be on all kinds of mobile devices. Last week, I started listening to last.fm radio on the Zune via the the 102.7 hd2 channel here in NYC. There is a lot of one way spectrum out there that is now digital and can be used to push high bandwidth content onto mobile devices. I expect we’ll see mobile device manufacturers and carriers work to leverage that spectrum to free up their networks for more interactive uses.
As important as these three developments are, I suspect we’ll see like weeks like this past week a lot in the coming years. The mobile web sector is developing quickly and innovation is happening all over the place. It is very exciting to see.
At last weeks FOTE09 event I heard about Oxford University’s experiences of using iTunes U during Peter Robinson’s presentation ‘A Pocket University: Open Content and Mobile Technology’. “But what is iTunes U?” I hear (some of) you cry … as I did the first time I heard the word/term/phrase. Very simply, in Apple’s own words, ‘iTunes U is a digital campus that never sleeps and can be reached from anywhere’ and ‘it gives any university or college a single home for all the audio and video course materials that faculty create or curate’ plus ‘it also makes it simple for students to find and download just what they’re looking for.’
iPod/iPhone/iTunes/Apple fans might be cheering at this point but I can also hear the sceptics crying ‘what about those who don’t have/like/use iPods/iPhones/iTunes?’ and ‘why would you hand all of your content to a third party?’ … which I must admit I also thought too when I first heard about iTunes U a few months ago. However, as with many of the presentations at FOTE09, Peter Robinson’s explanation of why and how iTunes U works for the Oxford University students and staff has made me think again … hence this blog.
What I heard about iTunes U was:
- Universities have lots of good stuff to support teaching and learning but they aren’t all great at (a) telling people it’s good (b) making it easy for those who know about the good stuff to find it … iTunes U can help.
- The content can be stored on your own servers … you don’t have to hand it all over to Apple
- You can also have a web portal … which allows access to all of the resources without having to go through iTunes
- It’s free
- The audio can be MP3 and the video can be MPEG4 … not proprietary Apple formats
- With structured and guided support staff can create content to share relatively easily and quickly … and students can too
- Cross departmental sharing and working on a project like this can break down some of the barriers that may exist
- The legal side of who owns what and can share what with whom can be tricky but it can be overcome
- Marketing is a key to getting the students and staff on board … and Apple even have promotional advice for you on this
From Oxford University’s point of view (according to Peter Robinson) it has all been worth it. Here are few stats to support its success:
- 1 000 000 downloads and a number 1 hit in less than a year
- 2 500 downloads per week for popular feeds
- 956 items in 186 podcast feeds
- 90% of the downloads via iTunes, 10% via the parallel web portal
… more stats and information are available via the FOTE09 presentation or from the iTunes U at Oxford web portal, http://www.ox.ac.uk/itunes_u.
In my subsequent quest to find out more about the use of iTunes U, I came across this briefing paper from The University of Edinburgh about their new and developing presence on iTunes U … if you want to know a bit more, then this is worth looking at (imo).
So now I am going to spend a bit of time looking at the content on the Oxford University iTunes U and the iTunes U’s of the other Universities … The Open University, Coventry, Warwick, Brimingham City, UCL, Trinity College Dublin to name but a few of those from the British Isles. I could look at the content on my laptop but for a true test of how mobile my learning could be I shall download a selection to an iPod and see what I learn
This entry was posted on Thursday, October 8th, 2009 at 4:54 pm and is filed under Learning Technology, elearning, mobile learning. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
This gives me a bona fide excuse to play with my iPod touch in working hours!!