Table of Contents

Mobile Digital Literacy:

roman era couple 75 CE holding wax tablet and scroll

handheld ACASIskiff ereadergoogle glass example  iphone smart-watch example

Analyzing the Walking 'Thought Makers'

Reading Options: Use the mobile device view or the laptop/desktop view in two columns or two rows which are based on HTML frame page design.

From Roman wax tablets and scrolls some 2,000 years ago [75 CE] (Norman, 2014^; Perkins, 2005^) to a more diverse selection in the present, the images above highlight the intense human interest in mobile tools for communicating and composing. The digital devices for understanding, composing and sharing continue to both rapidly evolve and shrink, creating new opportunities and challenges. The plunging prices of handheld computers such as the smartphones and touch tablets have also provided not just a ray of hope but a promise that "soon" every student in every classroom will have their own useful digital device, a one-to-one setting at last. Much smaller systems are also entering the market, including smart-watches and head-mounted displays. Their already widespread presence among those with sufficient means (Manzo, 2010^) has been referred to in terms such as ubiquitous and pervasive computing (Hooft & Swan, 2007^; Weiser, Gold & Brown, 1999^). In spite of such widespread availability, public schools have largely had to do without universal access to digital technology, the last major social institution to do so. As devices reduce their size, and spread across a wide range of sizes, the knowledge of how to use their increasingly novel software expands our most basic literacy needs, which 21st century schools need to be in a position to address. The thoughts that follow address key themes, specific product details, and significant challenges which educators must contemplate with the dawn of pervasive handheld computers for education.

As the graph below from a Business Insider conference presentation shows (Blodget & Cocotas, 2012^), mobile computer technology use has exploded globally in the last few years, with touch tablet use showing an even faster adoption slope while personal computer sales are flattening. Less expensive and more mobile technology is increasingly dominant.

graph showing exploding growth of smartphone and tablets along with flattening PC sales

At the same time, the 2 billion plus people with sufficient wealth have already bought into and are regular participants with some kind of computing device, mobile or otherwise, and are active in cyberspace. The other 5 billion people who have not joined the computer and Internet revolution are generally the have nots of world culture. They are going to need something much less expensive in order to bring the benefits of digital access to everyone. That means that the race to lower cost technology between market competitors will need to continue in earnest. Moore's Law makes this ever easier. The advantage to governments of a connected citizenry for more effective economic and education activity suggests that the time will come when governments or companies like Google will provide the devices and the Net access for free to those who cannot afford them. Several governments are already thinking along those lines. Finland is already doing so having concluded that the overall benefits to the entire country are so great that there is no need to wait for costs to drop further.

Schools have been generally unable to make personal computers universal because of several issues related to cost. Computers of almost any kind have been too expensive for most classrooms. However, even if desktop computers had been free, there was a considerable expense in modifying the architecture of school buildings and regular classroom space and adding wireless technology to include them. Thanks to the handheld and other mobile computing revolution, with its ereaders, smart phones, netbooks, touch tablets and phablets, barriers to space and cost are beginning to crumble. Mobile devices are the best chance yet for driving down prices so that those schools and those families on the poorer side of the digital divide can fully participate in and gain from the emerging knowledge society's explosion of information (Houghton, 2011^). If it doesn't happen at school, it certainly isn't going to happen at home for many families for a long time.

Using handhelds for the delivery of education is also referred to as mlearning (for mobile learning) (Keegan, 2002^; Kolb, 2008^; Muilenburg, 2010^; Muyinda, 2007^). The generation known as the millennials ("Generation Y", 2011^; Howe & Strauss, 2007^) refers to those who have been within the timeframe for mlearning for the most significant part of their years if not all the years of their lives. This group could then also be thought of as the mobile millennials. The greater accessibility of mobile technology also has provided greater opporunity for academic effectiveness, but failure to have such access has enormous long term economic and social consequences for the have-nots. Though still early in the study of mobile computing in schools, Thomas Greaves, the president of the Greaves Group consulting firm noted that his ongoing analysis of over 1,000 schools shows that "the more technology you have, the better they do...there is a stair step effect in test scores, dropout rates, course completion, disciplinary actions so that the more technology, the more those schools are reporting better outcomes" (Manzo, 2010^, p. 35).

But the importance of this revolution is not just due to the promise of cheaper and better access to information delivered in book and magazine format to adults and children. The digital designers are driven to find the right formula for a transformative reconceptualization of the book and the article. The concept appears to have morphed from a digital mobile reader for displaying text and images to a mobile Internet and all-media device that stimulates composing and communicating in all media just as much at it supports multimedia presentation and understanding. That is, the mobile computer increasingly fuses tools for the comprehensive multimedia presentation of ideas with tools for their creation and communication, including ever more developments for teaching computer science and computer programming. While the 20th century might be famous for putting motor-driven appliances such as waffle makers or coffee makers almost everywhere, the 21st century's claim to fame may be its ability to put everywhere the digital computer appliances that could be called "thought makers". The implications of this for pre-K-12 education are both significant and a long way from being fully discovered and managed.

(Link clicks from this page will appear in the other frame or as pop-ups. Clicking the images at the top of this document bypasses the discussion of key themes that comes next, jumping to the more specific overview of different types of handhelds. Those without any knowledge of the wide range of handheld devices may need some that knowledge as background to the key themes ideas that follow.)

Current Benefits of Mobile Digital Literacy

Before addressing the specifics of current mobile products, it is important to put their use in some current context. The importance of the quest for commonly available cheap powerful networked computer technology is not about putting something cool in everyone's hands to impress their friends. PeaceJam global faces of many typesThe importance of a powerful handheld computer comes in part from its potential to put in everyone's hands the most capable device yet invented to distribute and create knowledge in order to solve ever more complex problems. It is about connecting our youth with the best ideas of their elders, as the PeaceJammers in the photo of this paragraph are experiencing. The device also has a role to play in making everyone aware of and more effective users of this ongoing evolution and revolution in knowledge engineering. Knowledge has the unique capacity to greatly reduce society's vast inequities of power (force, influence and wealth) (Bodley, 2003^; Toffler, 1990^). Personal computers and their networks vastly magnify the capacity to find, create and use more knowledge to solve more problems. Cheaper and more portable computers vastly increase the number of citizens who can effectively participate in such activity within the new era.

Expanding the Frames

A frame is a display space, or more specifically the size and proportions of a display space, whether a picture frame on a desk, a projection screen in a classroom or a sports stadium's gigantic instant replay screen. Mobile devices have greatly added to the options and complex choices for both viewers and authors. An author or composer of visual information must then factor in the size of the frames by which an audience will see the information. There are tradeoffs, as the smaller the size of the device the less viewing area that is available, the larger, the less portable. Four general sizes from palm to notebook sized have gained broad market acceptance. Added to the frame sizes of laptop computers and desktop computers with large and sometimes multiple monitor screens, these frame options raise some educational questions. Is it just about the cost of the device or is there an optimal size for viewing and composing? Does this optimal size vary with the type of information being viewed and/or composed? When is mobility or larger size more important for different learning needs? Consequently, the frame (or frame size and viewing quality) is one of the key elements of the digital palette for 21st century composing (Houghton, 2009a^).

Changing the Nature of Power

In the 21st century, knowledge "turns out to be not only the source of the highest-quality power, but also the most important ingredient of force and wealth" (Toffler, 1990^, p. 18) and "the most democratic source of power" (p.20). In the centuries long struggle over the distribution of wealth, once an idea is distributed, the wealth of an idea cannot be taken back from the poor and the weak and horded by an elite. Knowledge is different from all other forms of power and influence in that it is not necessarily scarce nor is it lost through consumption and use. It can be used to control and manage by keeping it secret, but unlike land ownership, tools, and money, knowledge is not destroyed nor lost to use by the person that shares or gives it away. Unlike other forms of power, knowledge can also be used to make an infinite further amount of itself for free. Less expensive mobile devices greatly increase the efficiency and improve the cost of information distribution and theirby improve access to power.

Evolving the Nature of Information Delivery

The book has remained one of the world's fundamental ways to distribute knowledge. Research by Google's book digitizing engineers have concluded there are 129 million book titles in the world in about 480 languages (Jackson, 2010^). There is also an overlooked capacity of the book and that is its mobility. People have a need and an intense desire to have their knowledge and their communication resources with them. Increasing the data supply through increased communication is one of the reasons that animals of all species gather in different sized flocks. In the additional data of the group there can be greater safety and opportunity. People took this one step further and figured out how to carry key information outside of the brain. People also prefer to have their information access in whatever position they happen to lounge.

The paper-based book with its magazine and newspaper cousins was a big development in portable storeable knowledge that has lasted for centuries. OnDemand Books took this concept to the nth degree with its Espresso Book Machine that can print and bind a 300 page book with full color in four minutes (OnDemand, 2010^). The laptop computer and related mobile devices made up the next major step. Adding computer data to the cell phone system enabling mobile devices for recording sound, video, pictures and keystrokes was the third.

The merger of all these technologies is extending literacy into the creation and sharing of a range of media that are being used in new ways. The Pew Internet & American Life Project's mobile access 2010 survey showed rapid growth in the national averages towards the use of the mobile phone for other non-voice data related interaction: taking pictures (76%, up 10% from a year ago); text messaging (72%, up 7 %); access the Internet by phone (34%, up 7%); record video (34%, up 12%); and use instant messages (30%, up 10%). They also began collecting data on ereaders and iPad like devices (7%, no prior data). The popularity of's Kindle has resulted in Amazon selling more digital books than in paper. In a rapidly evolving scene, the survey discovered that 6 in 10 Americans in 2010 were accessing the Internet wirelessly using laptops or phones. Two other widely owned devices can also access the Internet, Game Consoles (42%) and mp3 players (46%). "Young adult cell phone owners are significantly more likely to do all of the other mobile data applications we asked about in our survey relative to older cell owners—often by fairly dramatic margins" (Pew Internet Survey, 2010^).

The Espresso Book Machine that creates bound paper books was be found in just 36 locations around the world in August of 2010 which had expanded to 50 machines by January, 2012 ("EBM", 2012^). By comparison, Amazon has sold millions of Kindle ereaders in a few years that can deliver on-demand digital books to where ever its owner is located in seconds or minutes depending on bandwidth. Apple's iPad touch tablet can download and display a full-color book in a similar time frame. By August of 2010 the iPad had outsold the Kindle within a few months, then new Kindle models came out in the fall of 2011 and the race was on. The trend is clear and well established. The end game for the size and nature of the handheld devices that everyone wants to carry is still a mystery, but it will be digital. The changes are coming quickly. It is doubtful that paper will ever become extinct given the utility of paper, but a mainstream expiration date for the paper-based book can be predicted.

In the 21st century, both forms of a book (textbook and the notebook) are being reinvented. Thinking and writing on the idea of a better book goes back at least to the 1960's with Alan Kay's publication of "A personal computer for all ages" (1972^). Kay and others also saw the opportunity to create a device that could be a more powerful educational tool. Influenced by Piaget and Skinner to a degree, Kay perceived that "...a child is a "verb" rather than a "noun", an actor rather than an object...". and that what he called a dynabook should support not just the presentation of ideas but the interactive interplay between information and its construction. picture of Apple's Knowledge Navigator conceptIn 1986, Apple produced videos of a concept product called Knowledge Navigator shown in the clickable video of this paragraph (YouTube display). This remains not only one of the more interesting visualizations of the dynabook concept, but "to this day, no more compelling vision of human/computer interaction has been demonstrated" Udell, 2003^). In 1987 a gadget used in the series Star Trek: The Next Generation named their device the PADD (Personal Access Display Device), which had also been used but not named in the original 1966 series (Perlow, 2010^). In 1992 Tandy marketed a product called the Zoomer, the first handheld PDA (personal digital assistant) that could run range of applications beyond serving as a calculator. This device later evolved into an entire product line from the Palm Computer company.

This still incomplete and decades long quest for a handheld digital device aims to not only challenge the portability and affordability of paper books and features of a phone but also simultaneously stimulate more interactive and creative experiences. The effort to date has yielded three major forms of mobile devices: palms, netbooks and touch tablets.

These three major forms of handhelds are shown in the images of handhelds at the top of the page. The smallest handheld devices in this discussion will be referred to as palm computers which includes PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) and smartphones. The ones that just fit in two hands with hinged keyboards will be called netbooks while the flat slates that can be used without mechanical keyboards will be called touch tablets. Adding cell phone and other wireless formats to netbooks and tablet computers has created an additional set of labels, smartbooks and smart tablets.

These devices will certainly run applications from the computer's mass storage system, which might be a tiny hard drive or Flash memory chips. Further, where laptop computers are now generally as powerful as their desktop siblings, the first generations of these even smaller handheld devices will generally have less capacity in memory, speed and storage within the unit itself. They will count on the Internet's online applications and storage spaces to make up for some of the internal shortcomings. However, the history of computer development and the press of Moore's Law makes it likely that these mobile devices will one day have the power of the desktop computers.

In the meantime, the interest and use of handheld devices is exploding. "In 2009 alone, 22 million e-book readers were shipped, which earned $431 million in revenue" (Malhotra, 2010^). Advances in handheld computers and their operating systems are nearing the tipping point for K-12 school budgets that will release a tidal wave of computers into Internet connected classrooms around the world. A survey by the California Learning Resource Network (CLN) found a widespread perception among administrators that going digital would save significant money and more importantly provide truly up-to-date material (Malhotra, 2010^).

Many "going handheld digital" experiments are underway at various scales (Parker, 2010^) at a level of activity that is difficult to track and evaluate comprehensively. The state of California, and selected schools in Indiana are experimenting with handheld pilot projects. However, multiple university spring 2010 semester pilot projects have been completed and their reports are finding their way into public view. Several, such as Princeton University's were reporting some negative results from what were perceived as missing features. University students "...missed the ability to highlight text directly, take notes, and flip back and forth through pages of their textbook easily" (ecampusnews, 2010^). Later model ereaders and the iPad are promising or providing these features.

Shrinking the Digital Divide

class of Ghana students holding up their KIndle ereadersThe potential global impact of ereaders is even more striking. More than one-third of the world’s adult population, primarily in the developing world, does not have access to knowledge in print, to print's avenues for acquiring new skills, and to technologies that improve their quality of life (Dhanarajan, 2009^, p. 46). Ereaders drive costs down, with digital books costing up to 1/3 less than their print editions. This is in part because the cost of paper, printing and binding has been removed and because the distribution cost can be free due to the global explosion of cell phone technology. Cell phone technology does not merely make book distribution much cheaper. In a significant portion of the world, ereaders and cell phone towers make it possible.

Those citizens living with first world amenities can barely glimpse the depth of the knowledge challenge of geography and markets that have bad roads, poor transportation systems or of homes or homeless shelters with zero or extremely tiny places to keep paper books safely. Further, one ereader is not just a book or a bookshelf substitute but can contain a library of hundreds or thousands of books and other documents. The image of the above paragraph is from a "world reader project" school in rural Ghana (Malhotra, 2010^) where windmill power technology powers the cell tower and battery charging system which powers the free book distribution system direct to their handheld device. The long term global impact of this development alone has staggering potential, and yet the world is just at the beginning of digital handheld design innovation.

maslow's hierarchy of needsA criticism of humanitarian digital literacy efforts is that there are more important priorities than putting digital information devices in the hands of the poor and dispossessed, such as safety, shelter and food and water. Perhaps this is because in the industrialized nations of the world reading is often associated with fiction, fun and ample time to read that would seem largely irrelevant to those dealing with survival issues. There is another perspective. On the left is Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid. In fact, successfully rising up through the levels of personal growth and well being requires growing knowledge at every level. Gaining access to communication systems and relevant information is critical at each point, especially information and communication options that expand the channels of information available. Developing countries and those in poverty in any country are too often limited to word of mouth information from family members whose information sources are also limited. For those that cannot read, digital handheld devices that can reach the Net not only provide further incentive, but tutorials for learning to read. Of equal importance, devices connected to the Net also provides audio and video sources and forms of interaction that are of critical value to non-readers and beginning readers.

Our schools' primary handheld technology of the last few centuries, otherwise known as notebooks, paperbacks, textbooks and magazines are facing radical times. The emerging highly portable digital designs will add to the already significant reading challenges in teaching the paper to digital transition (Houghton, 2009b^).

Accelerating Design Changes

Handhelds require all kinds of changes to the operating system. The much smaller sizes of handhelds mean that standard mouse and keyboard access are not as convenient as touch screens, thumb pads or voice commands which has encouraged computer engineers to rethink the operating systems that will be used to command these smaller devices, especially those that come without keyboard or mouse. Consequently, the design of the device itself, including its shape, surface and internal sensors have become part of the operating system. So far, tapping and two-finger pinch and zoom have become widely accepted techniques but the choices for such controls are still expanding, not coming to closure. For example, Synaptics’ Fuse experimental phone provided additional sensors for expanded multitouch awareness including proximity (how close to the device) and haptics (degree of pressure) which allow waving, squeezing, gripping, flexing and tilting to communicate with the device (Ganapati, 2009^).

Continuing exponential improvements in computer technology have created a new kind of arm�s race (pun intended) between computer designers that will increasingly make handheld systems very competitive with their bigger siblings such as laptops in on-board capacity. The phones such as the Motorola Droid and the Palm Pre ran their central processing units (CPUs) at 500 to 600 MHz. The next generation systems such as the Apple iPhone 4 and Motorola Droid 2 doubled in speed to 1 GHz. Those planned for 2011 and 2012 will have multiple cores (CPUs) which can yield five fold improvements and higher. Designers of all types of handheld devices will be planning for 2.5 GHz speeds with multiple cores in 2012. The speed of handheld central processing units and the available digital memory are exponentially improving with each new generation of product (Morris, 2010^). However, part-by-part comparisons between desktop, laptop and handheld devices are already somewhat irrelevant. Connecting such mobile devices to the Internet will increasingly be used to by-pass the internal comparative weaknesses of handhelds.

Because handheld computers have initially run slower, using smaller operating systems with reduced features, less file storage and memory than their bigger siblings, connecting them to Internet through the slower wireless cell phone and wi-fi systems has caused them to be initially perceived of as under-performing and narrowly focused Web-book computers. As network access speeds of handheld devices also continue to increase, the perceived missing features will be more correctly seen as merely ways to drop price and weight and improve battery life while gaining much more through their on-person presence and constant Internet access. That is, handhelds can use wired or wireless access (wi-fi and cell phone technology) to the Internet to gain access to increasingly significant online Web-based applications that work with the significant amount of information stored online, instead of storing these resources in the handheld computer itself. The smaller capacity of the handheld's memory mass storage systems (hard drive, or Flash chips) is almost irrelevant when the things that are composed and viewed can be stored on the computers of the Net, not necessarily to the internal memory banks of the handheld.

More expensive and bigger computers certainly provide a bigger screen display, but with so many becoming comfortable with the small display size of cell phones for Net and media display, this comparison has less of an edge than in the past. Further, the long term trend of doubling of the number of transistors that can be put on a chip every two years (Moore's Law) will continue to increase the speed and capacity of the handhelds well into the future.

These rapid changes continually improve the range and quality of media available for use on handhelds. For the laptop and desktop computers that do not fit in our pockets, current Mac, Win and Linux operating systems have long provided built-in ports for and sharing access on a local network to CDs, DVDs, screens, printers, scanners, Web, remote login, remote management, remote events, Xgrid, Internet and Bluetooth. Handheld devices have followed this trail and have already become a window on the gigantic computer, the Internet with its cloud of linked of computers, wireless and wired networks, information and online applications. Content management systems (e.g., Blackboard) exist that can manage the creation, delivery and tracking of information to every manner of handheld device from basic cell phones, to smart phones and touch tablets such as ereaders and the iPad. The primary limitations are the media limitation of the receiving handheld device. Text content has always been deliverable to all devices in a variety of text formats (e.g., SMS text messages, articles, books). Depending on the browing capacity of a given handheld device, it might be capable of audio, video, animation, two or more persons conference calls, and include interaction formats such as testing.

Media delivery models are well established for both commercial sales and educational systems and are expanding to personal use.'s online bookstore in partnership with its Kindle ereader and's Itunes music store in partnership with iPods and iPads manage the search, sale, delivery and tracking of books and music and are being extended to all other kinds of information.

Software for home servers can send much or all the information and file types kept on home computers to ereaders and other mobile devices. Imagine being able to use an inexpensive ereader like the Kindle and display and read every e-book and text-file document on your office or home personal computer from anywhere that has cell or wifi access. An open source e-book management software program called Calibre provides a solution for ereaders. onPoint's product called CellCast Solution can deliver to cell phones. If the information can be turned into a PDF, text file, or an EPUB file, the user can bypass the online store-centered interfaces of the likes of Apple, Sony or Amazon and make personal data available for later reference or review to the individual user or group (not to everyone on the Internet). This also means that businesses and schools could run such personal information servers and distribute information, assignments, and textbooks to adults, parents and students that use these same low cost devices where ever they have cell or wi-fi access, including a walk, the bus, or car.

The advantages of handhelds is not just about greater access to information through lower cost. The flexible nature of their display of digital text is also enabling beginning readers to read faster with better comprehension. The concept of "crowding" is at the base of this development where readers are distracted by the words surrounding the words being read. This is an even more significant problem for dyslexics (DeLamater, 2010a^). Publishers have long made "big books" or "large print" editions in big sizes and in regular sized books for self-conscious reluctant readers and vision challenged adults. A publisher of large print texts published a summary of the research on "large print remediation" that has indicated significant student improvement with large print words (Gore, 2010^). With handheld ereader devices, smart phones and iPads, readers gain font size control over everything they read, not just what the schools can afford to buy in paper and do so in a way highly protective of personal privacy. " Middle schoolers who have reported on their Kindle-enabled reading said: “The font that everyone prefers to use with the Kindle 2 is the largest font size" (DeLamater, 2010b^). If just the capacity to change font size can have such a significant impact, what other seemingly minor but standard features will also play larger roles in reading improvement?

Though the Net can be used to greatly lesson the impact of less internal computer capacity, the Internet and the regular doubling capacity of computer chips (Moore's Law) together cannot make up for the problems of using a device that is simply much smaller physically than laptops and other prior types of personal computers. Something else is still needed. Smaller screen display means that one can see and read significantly less information at a time. Another big issue here is the size of the keyboard. While a much smaller keyboard can work fine for the hands of children, it makes standard touch typing uncomfortable or impossible for adults. As use shifts to ever smaller devices, something different in the design is needed for people-to-computer communication. The current choices each present interesting challenges, e.g.: phone keypads (very slow); voice communication to the computer with earbuds for listening (works for a narrow range of applications but still has numerous limitations); finger touch screen buttons (works well for some applications, not others); and external regular sized portable keyboards and mice (cumbersome to carry around and connect and not available for most handhelds).

Reinforcing New Literacies

At the beginning of 2010 the discussion centered on handhelds as devices to primarily deliver information and order products. Given the wide range of businesses with products to sell, including books, magazines, games, video and audio broadcasts as well as other physical objects that these media can extol and explain, this is a natural first step, but only a first step. The second step is for more citizens to be sufficiently digitally literate to also compose and transmit, that is create and publish in each of these media with the mobile device, that they become thought creators, not just thought receivers. That process has ample historical precedent and is also well underway.

As the graph below shows (Blodget & Cocotas^), by 2011, mobile technology was enabling an enormous number of people with smartphones and tablets to "read" and thereby understand the content of: books, movies, TV shows, magazines, news, social networking, downloaded music, sports and streaming radio. The high speed adoption of mobile technology indicates the percentage of use of these media is only going to increase.

bar graph show the % of media being used by a broad swath of types of media

Even more intriging is the way in which mobile technology has impacted the use of other traditional media. As the graph below shows, as mobile use has increased, the reading and use of other media has declined (Blodget & Cocotas^).

graph showing that as mobile use has increased the use of other traditional media such as TV has declined.


digital palette of 21st century literacyReceiving information is empowering, but the end goal is clearly full Web compliance, to use the handheld device to both understand and compose in all the media of the Web to address real problems in the world around us. That is, if a device can display something on the Web, the same device should be able to create that media through its own internal software or in conjunction with a Web application. But what does full Web compliance look like? We ever more people become composers and publishers in addition to being readers and receivers?

Full Web compliance is really no mystery. The elements of Web composition are represented by the items of the digital palette in the right of this paragraph, elements of composition that are found in numerous places across the Web. The details of this palette are best left to more detailed discussion in Breakaway Literacies (Houghton, 2009a^). The set of these media literacies can be mixed and matched in an infinite number of ways creating a very comprehensive form of composition.

Many thought that the smaller screens would make it too difficult to compose adequately. The graph above shows otherwise. The number one use of mobile technology by a considerable margin over other uses is to contribute to social networking, that is, to read and to create and share one's own stories. In fact the iPhone 5 announced in 2012 came with a good quality microphone and has a superb multitrack audio/music editor (GarageBand). It has a great lens and video recording capacity that works with a strong video editor (iMovie). Like many smartphones, it has very able still image recording capacity and can download a variety of strong image editors such as Pixlr Express. As one example of the extreme nature of the media composition and sharing now underway by the early adoptors of these systems, the Facebook site alone is uploading 300 million images a day (Constine, 2012^).

Others might complain of the inadequate keyboards for text entry during serious long sessions of typing, but most typing on mobile devices, though of short length, is extensive in quantity. Standard cell phones together with mobile devices were sending over 7 trillion messages a day (Newman, 2012^). According to a new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, teenagers sent and received an average of 60 text messages a day in 2012, a steady increase from previous years. As the chart below shows, some are much more prolific writers than that, some 18% sending over 200 text messages a day (Lenhart, 2012^).

Pew Internet survey showing how rate of text messaging sent by teenagers

The evidence shows that in the immediate term, the absence of good keyboards is hardly holding down text production. In the long term, the issue may be passé. Voice recognition systems that turn speech into typing are now highly functional on smartphones on both Apple's iOS and Google's Droid software. Don't type; talk and the computer types. It is likely that both short form and long form text composition will remain around long into the future.

Improving Data Storage: The Local Drives vs. the Cloud

As reducing drive size is one way that manufacturers reduce the cost and size of handheld computers, they often do not hold all the data and applications that one would like. Their operating systems need other solutions that will store software applications and the files they create and that we distribute for others to read and experience.

There are three choices for saving our work and for finding and running applications: built-in, external and the cloud. Users can store files on their local drive which may be built in to the computer, or to an external device such as a USB drive. Users have also learned a multi-step process in which a file is saved to local drives and then sent to themselves as an email attachment, thus backing up the files to the "cloud". The term cloud is metaphor for the larger network to which computers are attached. The term cloud is used because the user never really knows what hard drive in what data warehouse located in which state or country has the file and never really needs to care.

Another approach would be to create a handheld operating system and Web browser that enabled a file to be saved to the Net in one step without any local storage required at all. Google has developed the Chrome OS that will not be completed and released until sometime in 2010. It is designed for computers that apparently will not have to have built-in application storage. A Web browser will be used to open online and local appliations that can be used to save the files to some online location. It is presumed that the Google Notebook will have a USB port and internal Flash chips for some degree of local file memory.

Given the current limited nature of handheld Net devices, such designs will work effectively for text with still image display, like email, Web browsing, word processing, spreadsheet and databases which represents an important part of users every day activities. This will also work for limited data transfer operations such as controlling and working with sensors and robotics. For the rest of the digital palette including image editing, audio, video, 2d and 3d animation, the handheld devices and the Web will continue the pressure for faster and cheaper solutions. Until Internet speed is significantly faster, such as gigabit speeds to the device, this will cause many users to prefer their desktop hardware and applications for greater productivity, software which can require more features and the fastest possible system response time. Remember that the fastest Internet access in the world in Japan and South Korea is 20 times faster than U.S. speeds but still only 60 megabits, a long way from 1,000 megabits (1 gigabit) per second of the future.

There are a number of concerns that are driving the "cloud" approach to the operating system. The computers will start faster, in a couple of seconds, and run faster because less code must be managed. Because applications do not run for a local drive, and virus are local applications, viruses will be very hard to come by. An application starts up from the network, and can be kept in local memory, so work can be done offline, without Net connection, but that automatically synchronizes files on Net reconnection. No system is bullet proof, but Google has created an approach that is Web based and security conscious from the ground up. Simplified design and constantly free automated updates of the operating system appear to be fundamental to the design. This approach will continue to reduce the cost of handheld and netbook computers.

Part of the motivation for a new operating system design is the perspective that the Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 operating system all have excelled at maintaining backward compatibility with even older versions of applications designed for a time when the Net did not exist. This has left inherent security problems in the age of the Net that later operating systems must have work-arounds for, which bloats, slows and complicates the operating system. Further, as the constantly mutating Windows viruses continue to demonstrate, this approach never quites eliminates the underlying problem.

Microsoft has been working on Windows 8 and its own "cloud" designs. Google has been developing two cloud-centric operating systems Chrome OS and the Android OS. Two reviews on how Chrome will work by (Strohmeyer, 2009^) and how effective its security may be (Rubenking, 2009^) are good starting points, but staying current with this discussion will require periodically searching for new Chrome OS reviews and Android OS reviews. Apple, Inc. announced their iCloud service in June of 2011.


Merging Mobile and Desktop Devices

The shrinking size of digital devices has continued to drive ongoing innovation. Problems lead to concepts that lead to new solutions. The size of mobile units is a case in point. The strength of mobile technology, small portable size, is also its weakness. Tiny screens, audio speakers and computer memory along with slow keyboard input and slow processing speeds all limit their functionality. Wireless technology within mobile devices such as Bluetooth does all allow them to talk to printers and other devices but the speed is not sufficient to overcome this list of problems. The end result is that many end up owning both, a highly portable device to get mobility and other devices such as a laptop or desktop computer to get more powerful features. At the same time, the mobile devices lower the cost to have some level of computer access and innovation keeps adding features and capacity. This in turn provides ever greater access for those on the poorer side of the digital divide.

One of these innovations is voice recognition, and with improvement may someday replace the need for a slow input of keyboard in many situations. It is also possible to design the smartphone to be inserted into some other device which would still use all the data, applications and features within the smartphone and add the features of a desktop or laptop system. The concept has gone from idea to actual product (Hiner, 2011^). In January of 2011, Motorola announced the Atrix 4G smartphone that is the first implementation of aspects of this design idea (images, YouTube). Instead of inserting the smartphone into a slot, there is an external docking station that connects and share data between all devices that users already have. The marketplace will rapidly sort out which inventions add real value, while the the steadily improving power of ever smaller computer chips will stimulate the design of a wide range of novel choices.

As programmers and consumers have more time to reflect on needs and interests, the use of such mobile devices for invention and creation will grow significantly and more software products will follow. In the meantime, in competition with laptop computers, three different handheld design shapes and weights deserve exploration and explanation: palm, netbook and tablet.



The Competitors for Mobile Digital Literacy

Three distinct sizes of types of handheld computers now compete for marketplace acceptance: palm, netbook and touch tablets. Though this section reviews devices of all three sizes, the market volitility in this sector of computing devices means that in any given month, the ideas expressed here will be behind some development in the market place. Consequently links to comparison sites that update more frequently will be provided as well.

Palm Computers

iphone in handThe phrase palm computer is used here generically for calculator and cell phone sized units that fit in the palm of a hand. There was a specific brand called Palm Computers but it is no longer in business. Palm size computers come in many forms with many labels, including PDA or personal digital assistant, smartphones, and wi-fi phones. From 2005 onward the PDAs evolved rapidly into the smartphone concept merging cell phone and PDA ideas. The latest version of the iPod Touch is a general purpose computer and can handle Internet phone calling using Wi-Fi, e.g., VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) without a cell phone contract by does not have the chips to connect directly to a cell phone network. Smart phones such as Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy series are palm sized devices that do contain cell phone chips.

How does one work with a computer when there is no keyboard, mouse or reliable voice activation? All operating systems by definition require some method of entering commands to direct the computer's activity. To be able to hold a computer in one hand and communicate quickly using the other hand appeared to require either a stylus driven handwriting recognition program, finger touch commands, voice recognition of commands or some combination of each. The first handhelds, PDAs, were referred to as pen computers, because of the need for a stylus to enter data. The next series of models dropped handwriting recognition in favor of thumb keyboards or thumbpads and screen keyboards. These tiny keyboards were later challenged by finger touch based systems.

Some of the early work on handwriting recognition was done by Xerox Corporation but they never developed a viable commercial computer product. Later, companies such as Apple (i.e., Newton pictures, history-1993), Palm (e.g, Palm Pilot picture-1996) and Symbian (released in 1998) developed their own handwriting recognition operating systems. In 1996 Microsoft released the title Windows CE that has evolved into Windows Mobile for what it calls Pocket PCs. Linux also altered their existing operating systems to incorporate handwriting recognition and thereby work on handheld computers. By 2004, state of the art PDAs included wireless communication for data and telephone including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, slots for memory and compact flash cards, color screens with 320x240 pixel resolution and a wide range of applications similar to those found on desktop computers.

In 2007, Apple, Inc. announced the iPhone product with finger and finger movement recognition and then its almost twin, the iPod Touch that only uses Wi-Fi to connect with the Internet instead also using cell phone technology. Though reaching just 13% market share in 2009 (Dalrymple, 2009^) the iPhone device accounted for over 50% of smartphone Web traffic in the United States (Schonfeld, 2009). That is, the smartphones are being used as far more than devices for voice calls. A critical component of the iPhone success is its online application store with over 200,000 computer applications by 2009, apps that had been downloaded over two billion times by some 50 million iPhone owners. By January of 2012 the number had grown to over 500,000 (Ong, 2012^). “People will look back on the iPhone as a turning point in the industry,” says Craig Moffett, a telecom analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein. “The iPhone will be remembered as the first true handheld computer” (Wortham, 2009^), and a product that produced a number of competitors.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, the global market leaders for smart phones were clear: Apple sold 37 million, 93 million for the entire year; Samsung sold 36.5 million and 97.4 million for the entire year; Nokia, 19 million and 77.3 million sold for the year; RIM and Motorola sold about 1 million each for the year. AT&T's trend lines for smartphones showed 33% of its users had them in 2009, 43% in 2010 and 57% in 2011, indicating ample room and growing momentum for future sales (Zeman, 2012^), a trend that looks similar with other phone carriers. Soon a majority of Americans will have a sophisticated Net connected computer in their pocket.

Sony roll-up  display screenDigital information display is not anywhere near being at the end of downsizing the size of the device. The current smallness of palm-size devices is controlled by rigidity of the glass surfaces being used for screens. If however, the digital surface becomes as as flexible as paper, as in the photo on the left, the computer screen could be rolled up inside a pen like device and pulled open like a window shade to display a much larger surface area. As of May 26, 2010 Sony demonstrated a prototype organic light emitting diode, or OLED, display the size of smart phone displays. The YouTube video shows it being rolled around a diameter the size of a number two pencil (Nusca, 2010^).

Click these links or if using the Safari browser simply right-click/search the words to see pictures of a wide variety of different types of handheld or PDA computers in the adjacent frame: Google handheld ; PDA; thumbpad; Blackberry; iPod Touch, iPhone. Beyond seeing their pictures, various Web page emulators have been created for such devices so that their operation and features can be tested via a Web page simulation, e.g.: iPhone and iPod Touch emulator; & Blackberry emulator.

Since the release of the first PDA in 1996, development of PDA technology and operating systems has been swift and rich with modern features.The most data intensive of these wireless uses has been streaming video, a development that is already showing excellent results, such as Akamai's video showcase site. The good news though is that prices have been steadily dropping and features growing. Counting the used PDA market, prices range from $30 to several hundred dollars for a device that slips easily into a pocket or purse. The dropping prices of classroom sets of thirty WiFi (wireless) PDAs, ereaders or smart devices (e.g., iPod Touch & smart phones) has also attracted consulting services specializing in teaching schools the advantages of handheld devices (K12 Handhelds, 2010^).


Netbook Computers

handheld ACASIThe netbook computer (Wikipedia, 2012; search "netbook definition") was a term coined by Intel, Inc. for an ultra-small laptop computer with Intel's specialized low power CPU chips. Such a system was created in reaction to Negroponte's work at MIT around 2005 to create the lowest price computer possible for those around the world with little income using non-standard software, chips and other components. That is, they chose not to use Windows software and Intel CPU chips. Negroponte set a goal of $100, working on designs that had leaped ahead of Intel's design thinking, a goal that has still not yet been achieved with the common laptop or clamshell design with an attached keyboard. Note the picture that shows the size differences between a standard 15 inch laptop and a 9 inch screen netbook. Most netbooks seems to be standardizing around a 10.1 inch diagonal screen size with a price in the $200 range, but over the years since the category came into being, improving technology costs have gradually increased the common screen size from 7 to 10-12 inches. Though the sizes and shapes are similar, netbook designs should not be confused with the ultrabook concept which is a much higher priced and more powerful model of computer.

Initially the popularity of this design was so great that it was reported that "shipments will double while mainstream laptop shipments will remain flat" (Shah, 2009^) with netbook sales nearing 30 million units for the year 2009. In fact, Burn's graph showed that the bubble of interest burst in 2010, perhaps driven both by the perceived lower quality of the units and the introduction of the iPad touch tablet (Burns, 2010^) and the addition of optional keyboards for touch tablets. Makers of larger laptops also responded by dropping the price of new models. Though current netbook prices range from $230 to $800 per unit (PriceGrabber search for netbooks) with new models and pictures of numerous new designs being announced almost monthly, 12 inch screen laptops have appeared in 2011 that have pushed better featured netbook prices into the $300 to $400 range (Google price search Google price search).

xo-1 design from the OLPC projectThe visionary effort of Nicholas Negroponte to create a netbook computer that all children and students in the world can afford is sometimes called the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) XO-1 (Wikipedia) computer, "shipping a total of 2.3 million laptops to some 45 countries" (Rawsthorn, 2011^) over six years, with a cost of just over $200 per unit. The second generation design was envisioned as two side by side screens but work on this innovative design was halted to develop a less expensive single screen tablet style computer first. This project has its own OLPC Web site, which is a good source of current development news and pictures of their engineering. Look carefully at the slideshow on their opening screen for pictures of students using them around the world. The XO laptop was not just a brilliant and innovative hardware re-design, it was a careful rethinking of the operating system and applications to encourage learning. It is not designed to be a business or office laptop. It is an educational laptop, as noted in Lawton's careful analysis of the XO (Lawton, 2009^).

Design and price competition is just as valuable to public schools anywhere as to third world countries. Negroponte's vision of smaller cheaper computers threatened the greater profit margins on larger traditional laptop and desktop computers made by Microsoft (software) and Intel (computer chip hardware). The end result of years of inexpensive netbook development has also been lower priced but more powerful laptop computers, making these mobile devices attractive enough to educators to stimulate wide ranging netbook and laptop 1 to 1 initiatives, of which there are many examples. The state of Maine took advantage of this situation to pass statewide legislation to put Mac laptops in the hands of all middle grades students and then extended that to the high schools. Uruguay and Peru purchased around 1.5 million of the OLPC's computers, and "have organized their school curriculums around them" (Rawsthorn, 2011^). "Rwanda (Africa) has already deployed 110,000 OLPC laptops as part of an effort to create an industrial/service-based economy by 2020. Ten years into the program, its Ministry of Education claims nearly universal school enrollment and a dropout rate falling from 47 percent to 25 percent" (Shear, 2011^). In 2009, the state of New South Wales in Australia placed over 250,000 MS Windows 7 netbooks with high school freshman to be used for four years (McConnachie, 2009^). The European Schoolnet published a report about netbooks in schools identifying 33 initiatives in 18 countries (Balanskat & Garoia, 2010^).

Touch tablets however proved they could take the price even lower.


Touch Tablets

skiff ereaderWill they eventually be called touch tablets, slates, iPads, e-readers, magic mirrors or phablets? set of photos of ereaders The term phablet is new and may not gain popular acceptance but it refers to a merger of telephone capacity with the larger touch table sizes. For now, the phrase "touch tablets" will be used to describe this class of computers. Providing the touch option for computer control in place of a keyboard in a single panel display in a space much larger than a telephone screen created the touch tablet. Using a 1 second delay, the animated slideshow of this paragraph shows some of the wide variety of 'next generation' forms of touch tablet computers that have already been protyped or tested in the market in months after Apple made their January 2010 announcement of the iPad for a few hundred dollars. A two-second delay viewing is also available.

These designs have evolved rapidly. By Fall of 2011 most of the touch tablets in the above animation were gone. For example, the company Copia announced a viable under $100 ereader on July 29, 2010 (Carnoy, 2010^) with the literature circle or reading club concept 'baked in', disguised as a "social media" feature and by January of 2011 canceled it, and instead marketed their software as an application for other handhelds. Many were too ambitious in design for the technical resources of the moment, meaning they may return again at some future date. Those surviving had significantly changed designs producing new competitors running in the $200 to $1200 range. Two general sizes have gained favor. One common touch tablet size is the 7 inch diagonal with prices around $200, such as Amazon's Kindle Fire, Barnes and Knoble's Nook, Google's Nexus 7 and Apple's rumored mini-iPad. A second larger size with a 10 inch diagonaland a $500 range such as Apple's market dominating iPad and Microsoft Surface touch tablet to be available in the winter of 2012.

At the same time, a new price point of under $100 began to emerge in 2012, a cost point at which critics urge great caution. By December 2011, MIPS announced the Novo7 (search for Novo7), a cheap 7 inch touch tablet for under $100 in China that will be available in other languages late in 2012 elsewhere in the world. Though lacking features of higher quality touch tablets, it is competitive across some features (Oram, 2011^) and yet lacking in enough other categories to have earned the label of "craplet" from the reviewer Hildenbrand (2011^). Cheng's verdict on another tablet model, the Maylong M-150, was to "run screaming in the other direction" (Cheng, 2012^). Other tablets in this range have yet to be reviewed. In January 2012, Velocity Micro announced two tablets, the 7-inch Cruz Tablet T507 for less than $150 and the 9.7-inch Cruz Tablet T510, for less than $250 (Boulton, 2012^). In October of 2011, An India backed effort titled Aakash was introduced and sold on the Net for $50, and to Indian students for a government subsidized $35 dollars ("Aakash", 2011^). It's first version lacked several standard features on competing designs but it fulfills its intended purpose of providing a computing device to large numbers of Indian students who cannot afford a higher price. Another design that is getting close is the more readily available but oddly named Pandigital Multimedia Nova tablet that was announced at $159 but has reached the $100 range in Walmart stores. The eight cheapest computers in the world in June of 2012 had a price average of $67.25 ("The 8 Cheapest", 2012^).

The long history of the touch tablet goes back to concepts emerging in the 1960's. Touch tablet computers were first heavily advertised beginning in 2005. These designs were heavy full-sized laptops with screens on hinges that could rotate with the viewing screen laying flat on top of the keyboard. Those did not become widely used because of weight, maintenance and cost and are not detailed here. In a way, the multi-touch iPhone really established the market-popularity foundation for the next generation of touch sensitive devices which were ultra-light and ultra-small touch tablets. These phone sized products were followed by largely single purpose devices, ereaders, such as Amazon's Kindle, for reading text and black and white images on paperback sized to magazine sized ereader products. These were button controlled not screen touchable. This was followed by Apple's iPad in January, 2010.

In December of 2010, twelve months after the introduction of the iPad, actual competing products available in the marketplace began to appear. screen shot from YouTube video clip from piece titled Tablet EvolutionMotorola has taken a both humerous and more pointed video, available from YouTube (see below), that is also an interesting historical tour of the concept of "tablet", a composition titled "Tablet Evolution". Click the play button in the image to watch.



The initial question that was tested in the marketplace is whether there was room for a product that fits in between the size and uses of smart phones and laptops and yet has many applications and uses in common with either. Laptops and desktop computers have already proved themselves sufficient as readers of many online books, and ereader applications continue to emerge on existing desktop computers that will challenge ereader tablets for this already widely used technology (Fowler, 2009^). The same is true for smart phones.

Another possibility is that readers will eventually adopt a single preferred application for reading magazines and books and will just choose the size that best fits their needs at a given point in time, in the same way that we pick up a book size that fits the location in which we might be reading. One such software ereader application is Blio (review) product (Ganapati & Sorrel, 2009^) that works on a wide range of existing desktop, handheld and smart phone devices that will also have special features for the visually impaired but is also likely to run on desktop and laptop computers. Scroll to see the comparison table of Blio features compared to other ereaders currently available. New devices will in turn require new reading instruction on how to navigate and read amidst burgeoning variety of reading devices and software commands and features.

The Specialized Ereader Touch Tablets

Some touch tablet are highly specialized to just certain kinds of media. The ereaders that focused on serving as text reader substitutes are a subset of this tablet category. They run an ereader application specialized for reading books and articles along with a few other specialized computer applications and do not have an operating system that would allow more types of media and other applications to be added. In order for the ereader class to remain marketable, they will have to be profitable at a much lower price that contrasts strongly with the eventual lower price of full featured touch tablets.

Some of the eReaders were announced at the January 2010 Consumer Electronic Show but never moved beyond shown prototypes. Some arrived and left the market place within months and others are still being announced. A couple have made a major impact in the market with tens of millions sold. The major challenge seems to be keeping up with the new designs and their options through Web sites such as

Some of the key competitors include:

General Purpose Touch Tablets

The above specialized ereader products will be challenged in the future to compete with general purpose touch tablets that can hold an operating system which can run thousands of different computer applications, not just one for reading book and magazine content. More importantly the touch tablet with a general operating system enables the creation of new book experiences using a wide range of media options.

Innovation with touch tablets will take many forms. A digital cookbook might be created with the recipe on one side of the page and the video demonstration on the other. The tablet computer's built-in mic could be used to consult with others that are cooking in their kitchens at the same time. The entire tablet might slide into a clear plastic pocket on the door of a kitchen cupboard at eye level for easy display.

Valued extra features will also add to a digital book's price allowing greater profit margin for publishers and authors. Further, it is also likely that every Web browser in the marketplace will add features that match or exceed the specialized features of the ereader software that comes built-in to ereaders, which will further lower the cost of such units.

The marketing for eReader content, from books to magazines to newspapers will come from a variety of sources. The well known bookstores such as and Barnes and Noble will sell content of all kinds to their company branded products, the Kindle and the Nook, but they will also want to sell the same books to those using the bigger touch tablets with color. Book outlets will specialize in selling ereader content to all kinds of ereaders, for example Kobo.

The Kno tablet, later withdrawn from the market, was an example of a two panel digital tablet. pict kno tablet computer, 2 panels This could be built as two computers hinged together, or one computer with two interconnected displays. The video demonstration of this paragraph explores the Kno's use as a color, multi-media integrated textbook and composition tool. There is no Webcam built-in to the unit in this design.

The pressure to eventually meet the full range of the 21st century literacy needs of the digital palette (Houghton, 2009a^) will be enormous. More powerful versions of the tablet concept handle a full range of computer features, but of the many that were initially announced many have been dropped or not yet made it (Wood, 2010^) into retail stores.

In December of 2011, TabletPCcomparison showed a table of 26 touch tablets being sold, with slightly over half them around the 10 inch and larger size and the rest around the 7 inch range, but nothing smaller than that size. A rather fragmented market of many different types from many different companies has emerged around different versions of the Android operating system. Other operating systems includ HP's WebOS and one from Blackberry. The Windows operating system was running on a handful of devices but none running from the future tablet optimized Windows 8, which will further this market fragmentation. The dominant market winner was still the iPad.

The iPad 9.7 inch tablet from Apple (using a varation of the iPhone operating system), is available from $499 to $829. The iPad, iPhone and the iPod Touch will run hundreds of thousands of applications. These devices remain the leading device for which programmers will develop new mobile applications. The videoclip below is a brief segment from the event on January 27, 2010 at which Apple announced and demonstrated the iPad product.

Steve Jobs holding an iPad touch tabletWith the 2010 announcement it was already clear that the iPad (see photo on right) was a leading product in both the ereader category and the touch tablet category. For some period of time the older ereader devices will be superior for outdoor of text and images. However, production of new color intensive outdoor readable screens are increasing in production quantities suggesting that in the years ahead in the more general purpose touch tablet devices. The one major remaining characteristic that ereader competitors can use to significantly distinguish their already released products is price. Both Kindle and Barnes and Knoble lowered their prices of the leading Kindle and Nook models. If these devices can increasingly be sold in the below $100 range as with the initial Kindle model then schools may acquire a large number that will be effective for a couple of useful years, until such time that the iPad and the touch tablet devices competing with it also tumble into the lower price range.


xo-3 used for reading mapsThe most educationally focused of the tablet computers, however, is still a promise, but in terms of hardware and software it may prove a significant bargain if an actual product ever appears and its educational goals are achieved. Instead of the slimline model originally planned and shown on the left, the OLPC team has come out with something slightly bigger and thicker (Davies, 2012^) for 2012. The 3rd generation OLPC computer, the XO-3 is a tablet design for $100 using the Pixel Qi screens, that has handcrank and solar panel options for recharging off the grid, a common situation for many developing world settings. Backed by the artificial intelligence unit at MIT, Matt Keller, OLPC's "global advocate" and former legislative director of Common Cause and senior program officer for the U.N.'s World Food Program, seeks to explore "whether children in non-literate communities with no access to schools can teach themselves to read by using the XO-3." (Shear, 2011^).

The touch tablet market category is just at its beginning stages, holding the promise of further innovation and experimentation. Numerous other touch tablet demonstrations can increasingly be found at YouTube. The E-book Reader Matrix, Tablet Blorge and AllTouchTablet are other comparison tracking sites, which contains different tables depending on the size of the device. The E-book reader matrix is a wiki site which may be able to use 'crowd-sourcing' to stay current with the rapidly emerging data and facts. Further, searching ereader comparison chart OR table OR list periodically will yield other ereader comparisons. In reading reviews it is also important to examine the date of the review carefully as many products and their prices have changed significantly or the devices are no longer sold since the reviews were written, which can be a just a few weeks or or months.

Having a device means little though unless there is something to do with it. As new smartphone designs come into the market, all of these companies are making available App Stores for instant downloading of tens of thousands of applications. In addition to browsing the Web, companies provide Web sites to download for free or fee, including books, video, music and more. One, Kno, has made over 150,000 digital textbooks available by January, 2012. Authoring tools are also evolving to make the creation of digital textbooks which include a wide range of media and interaction as easy as possible. ZDNet noted that the first of these was a free tool announced by Apple, a free application called iBooks Author, January 19, 2012. Given the intense discussion over the level of Apple's royalties for sale of books created with this tool for the iPad, future competitors will certainly follow.

Comparing E-Readers and Touch Tablets

ipad-nook comparison by Digital TrendsMokey (2010^) has done one of the many reviews comparing ereaders with touch tablets. The comparison in this video is of the less expensive and book focused Nook ereader with the more expensive but much more powerful and general purpose iPad. Click anywhere in the image on the left to watch. Searching YouTube will reveal many and more current comparisons.


As the new 7 inch tablets improve their offerings, they will compare well with the weight and size of the six inch e-readers and the display quality of the larger 10 inch tablets. However, it is doubtful that one size of device will meet all our tablet needs any more than one size of book has met all information display needs. In time, it is likely that we'll own more than one size of tablet, just as we own books in a wide variety of sizes. From the point of actual impressive sales figures, though, the iPad remains the design to beat in the 10 inch size, with a number of options that competitors could choose in finding a winning formula (McCracken,, 2011^). In the 7 inch diagonal size, a number of competitors have emerged with more on the way. Though Elgan (2012^), a long time observer and writer about the technology scene, takes the position that the greater mobility and lower cost of the 7 inch size will eventually win out over other sizes, it will be well into 2013 before it is clear who are the major competitors in the smaller touch tablet siae and whether their device's key features are sufficient for most mobile reader needs.



Significant Challenges: The Broader Implications of Mobile Digital Literacy

Prior discussion above addressed a number of key themes, features and specific information about the competitors of mobile information devices. There are also a series of topics that have much broader long term implications. These issues include: risks to physical safety; the limits of multitasking; the impact of immobility on physical, psychological and cognitive health; the nature of change; and future developments.

Distraction: The Handheld Device, Drivers and Death

car crash-flippedYes, this section title will raise the question of whether the heading is over-the-top, too sensational, too attention-getting to be accurate. But the reports keep coming, and they keep increasing the degree to which handheld device use while driving is more dangerous than the more readily understood danger of driving while intoxicated. The reports about handheld computing suggest that merely talking on the phone while driving is the least of our worries. The underlying problem of distracted driving, the limits of multitasking, also has interesting implications for classroom teaching.

The ongoing research data has led to significant changes in policy thinking and law. In 2009 it was reported that the U.S.'s National Highway Transportation Administration suppressed the release of research since 2003 (New York Times, 2009^) suggesting that drivers talking on a cell phone are four times as likely to crash (Diaz, 2009^) as normal drivers. They reportedly withheld the research out of fear that Congress would be pressured to cut their budget if the unpopular information got out. The distraction of talking on the phone while driving is now being seen as the equivalent of driving while sleepy and the equivalent of the lowest level of alcohol consumption that has legal penalties for driving while intoxicated, .08 percent of alcohol in the bloodstream (Dept of Alcohol & Drug Education & Prevention, 2009^). Though some countries and states have banned drivers from holding the phone (Cellular-News, June, 2009^), they have still allowed hands-free use while driving. Most unfortunately, the same NHTA research reported that hands-free cell phone use is just as distracting, just as dangerous.

Now that phones have also become computers, there is ample reason to believe that they can be even more dangerously distracting. Research on texting shows that the latest major driving distraction is to enter alphabet letter text using the push buttons on a phone. Studies by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (2009^) of truck drivers have shown texting to be 23 times more likely to lead to a crash or near-crash, than basic driving. Sleep deprivation, alcohol and other drug related use combined with texting makes the situation much worse. Based on VTTI's research, the state of Virginia became the 14th state to ban texting while driving. The list of state bans, which includes North Carolina, has since grown along with bans or restrictions on many other uses of phones by drivers (Governor's Highway Safety Assocation, 2009^). A Presidential Executive Order banned driving and texting for all Federal employees, including military personnel and postal workers, took effect on October 2, 2009. As of Tuesday, January 3, 2012, a federal law prohibiting commercial vehicle drivers from any use of hand-held mobile phones while driving went into effect. In December of 2011 the National Transportation Safety Board of the U.S. recommended a nationwide ban on cell phone use while driving (Taft, 2011^).

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reported that 25% of our beginning drivers, American teens, are texting while driving and 50% have witnessed older drivers texting while driving (Pew Internet, 2009^). Other studies have put figures for texting beginning driver's near 50% (AAA, 2007^). It's so much more difficult to change teenage driving habits when their role models are so bad.

The increasingly available use of handheld computers would indicate that the law needs to be re-written to include their use by drivers as well. There are hundreds of thousands of applications that can now run on smartphones, tablets and netbooks. These include applications that handle movies, texting (typing text to chat), games and various forms of problem solving. Talking on the phone will be just the tip of the iceberg of an increasing range of distractions that will tempt drivers to be distracted for some fatal second while behind the wheel. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reviewed 350 scientific papers on the subject and not only concluded that that drivers are distracted from the primary task of piloting their vehicle by one thing or another up to half the time, but up to 25% of car accidents result from those distractions (Zeman, 2011^). Warning. The video was developed in Great Britain as a TV PSA (Public Service Announcement) to warn of the dangers of texting while driving, a composition prompted by the lists of cell phone accident and texting accident bloody realities that continue to grow. The YouTube video in this paragraph is intentionally bloody, disturbingly graphic and emotionally wrenching so be ready to stop the video if it becomes too much. Add Driving While Distracted (DWD) and Texting While Driving (TWD) to Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of alcohol and drugs as major driving safety issues.

Passing laws that ban interactive driver use of handhelds is clearly necessary, but there is also a need for more discussion of alternatives, work-arounds that are helpful and life-saving in multiple ways. One obvious solution is to pull off the road when a need arises to use a handheld. Technical solutions are available too. T-Mobile has a service called DriveSmart that will send incoming calls to voicemail while providing a voice message of "I'm driving now, let me call you later" when the phone is in a moving vehicle. Any and all of these options are proving highly beneficial. "The California Office of Traffic Safety commissioned an analysis from the University of California, Berkeley administered Safe Transportation Research and Education Center. They indicate that overall traffic deaths, as per the national average, declined by 22 percent. But fatalities where a driver was using a cell phone at the time of the crash dropped a full 47 percent" (Helton, 2012^). California passed their legislation banning use of any handheld device in 2008. However, the number of traffic citations for handheld use in the state has continued to grow, with nearly a half-million insurance premium increasing citations issued in 2011 (Helton).

Even better options are available. Driving with passengers not only enables passengers to handle specialized chores such as phone messages and other driver input, but partners in the car also enables the team to save gas, which helps save the planet from global warming. The need for safe handheld use while traveling may also increase the pressure for more mass transit in which there is a professional driver and the passengers can compute at will thereby making effective use of the time to commute for work and play. There is one principle reason that commercial jet pilots have separate people in the cockpit of the plane called the co-pilot and/or navigator, and that reason is safety.


Multitasking and Quality

There is also a much broader educational issue that these safety problems with handheld use highlights. Using a phone while driving is a form of multitasking, doing more than one task at the same time. For educators, the fact that multitasking is not effective for something as basic as talking, scanning the road scene for dangers and steering a vehicle has many implications for teaching and learning.

Reducing distraction is key to the brain receiving, comprehending, analyzing and making intelligent decisions about what to do with specific information. There is broad consensus among researchers that multitasking degrades performance on multiple tasks while engaged in it. What is striking is that research has shown that a habit of distracted thinking through multitasking impacts thinking when not multitasking. In multiple tests of college students with those who have a preference and habit of routinely working many simultaneous streams of information (including email, phone conversations, text chat, video, and following Web links) came out much worse than those with low multitask ratings when dealing with single focus urgent tasks (Ophira, Nass & Wagner, 2009^). When they really had to concentrate, they could not do it as well.

Research using brain imaging systems has provided a rationale for these results. Though the anterior pre-frontal cortex can consider several simultaneous goals, the dual lobes of the medial and anterior frontal cortex divide up the goal orientation between the lobes limiting effective mental functioning at best to the maximum pursuit of two simultaneous goals (Charron & Koechlin, 2010^).

That knowledge alone is important to teach. The research is indicating that those who practice high rates of multitasking have trouble focusing on a single important task when they must really bear down and do their very best, which requires focus on one thing. Students must learn to take responsibility for prioritizing what gets attention and to learn ways and means to focus. It is an important topic to consider as educators plan for a future of digital teaching environments and their classroom management in which digital devices are happy to contribute to multitasking environments far beyond a mind's capacity to keep up. Once the value of prioritizing and limiting focus is learned in a classroom, it may not only make them smarter learners, but save lives when they begin to drive in the ever so digital 21st century.

The Added Impact of Digital Immobility on Health

There is a certain irony about mobile digital devices. Too often its software is too dangerous to use while mobile, yet other applications provide new activities for immobile behavior. Just as the reading of text on paper morphed into viewing television, mobile digital technology has perversely added to their nature with a new degree of captivating immobility. As digital technology becomes ever more compelling with its color, animation, video, social, interactive and gaming qualities, learners and thinkers are ever more inclined to stop being mobile and use them. Increasingly, the record keeping, progress tracking value of information gathering and communication encourages and often requires mobile digital technology. Because of the mobile device's portability, over 91% of the mobile workforce carries smartphones with them (iPass, 2011^), increasing the chance that they will be used. This may increase the number of hours in which work is done, yet lower the overall quality of the work and harm personal health. "A startling 33% of mobile employees claim to be sleeping less due to work, and 25% say they sleep fewer than six hours per night. Also, 60% of mobile employees report not exercising at all due to their connectivity to work" (Zeman, 2011^). At the same time, a wide rangle of applications support exercising and healthy eating choices. Will mobile devices decreasing level of exercise that extends from childhood to adulthood and adds a new layer of problems to human health. However, the implicit nature of mobile devices also has provided some potential solutions to the problem.


Digital technology is just the latest participant in one more of a long unfolding of unintended consequences. For millions of years our human physiology developed with significant physical activity being a daily part of existence. Since the dawn of agriculture some 10,000 years ago, a slowly developing then rapidly increasing exponential curve of immobility and poor food choices has left over 70% of the American population overweight and obese (U.S. Center for Disease Control, 2008^), a percent still on the increase. North Carolina studies show that the older the student, the lower the level of exercise. Both state and national leaders have recognized that this is "an unprecedented obesity epidemic, affecting children and adults alike. This obesity epidemic is taking a toll on the quality of our citizens' lives, as well as the economic strength of our state" (Ballard et al, 2005^). Leaders sought and developed policies recommending significant increases in exercise for all students and adults. For example, the North Carolina State Board of Education's 2005 policies requires 30 minutes of exercise a day for every public education student, exercise at the level of at least a brisk walk. The national physical education organizations, The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), and American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) and the best scientific evidence recommend doubling that as a minimum, noting the positive benefit to both physical and psychological health.

Since this national recognition of the importance of exercise to health, a new and even more educationally valuable aspect of exercise has emerged, improved thinking. The hard science evidence from the field of neuroscience is voluminous and compelling. (Ratey & Hagerman, 2008^). A wide range of neuroscience research has explored and revealed the significant impact that daily sufficient exercise has on brain health and memory throughout life, not just in the years of childhood. One of its benefits is to massively stimulate neurogenesis, the birth of new brain cells (Olson, Eadie, Ernst, & Christie, 2006^). In short, to not exercise sufficiently will retard cognition (knowing and understanding) while adequate daily exercise (with proper sleep and diet) significantly improves not only physical and psychological health (Acevedo, 2006^), but improves cognition at every stage of life (Hill, 2011^; Lengel & Kuczala, 2010^; Seki, 2011^; Voss, 2011^). Though the recommendations of an hour a day of sufficient exercise appear to require a large change in habits for most Americans, this would represent just changing the way we use 6% of our normal waking hours.

Mobile technology however has enabled the problem to be approached from a new perspective. What kind and quality of thinking can be done while exercising, while being more mobile? What kind of exercise works effectively and safely with what kind of thinking? Wii and Microsoft playstations have integrated movement and exercise into a number of digital video games. Mobile conversation can be done while jogging and some basic text communication can be done when walking, as long as both are done in a safe setting, whether using a greenway or an exercise machine. Office settings can provide exercise desks that have treadmills under their computer workstation desktops. The North Carolina Board of Education commissioned the development of a wide range of instructional activity exercises titled Energizers that can be carried out next to desks in classrooms that simultaneously reinforce the ideas that are being taught. Both Elementary Grades Energizers and Middle Grades Energizers instructional activities were developed. Of equal importance, these same ideas for physical activity can be used by adults in their work spaces to aid in remembering aspects of any topic being learned and explored. In combination with the simple and no-cost exercise of brisk walking, there are many options for dealing positively with this issue.

The inescapable requirement in response to the overweight epidemic though is that many people must become open to basic changes in their personal habits. For educators, there is the added professional requirement to change teaching traditions and contribute to changing personal habits.

Change and Sudden Significant Change

How do we prepare for and make the most of the increasing pace of invention in the 21st century? Knowledge, knowledge about the nature of change itself as well as the details of a particular change would have to be part of that answer. Our need to think more deeply about change has stimulated a special vocabulary to help focus on it. The importance of the theme of change in education can be seen in the ERIC database of educational literature, where searches lead to thousands of published articles about its keyword descriptors of innovation, change agents and phrases such as diffusion of innovation theory. Innovation is simply change that is new to us and its diffusion theory teaches how new ideas spread and how to improve the diffusion. Educators are key members of the change agent community which leads the change process. Entrepreneurs seek "disruptive" innovation that gives them "first-mover" advantage in the marketplace. Apple's iPad is a case in point.

Though the next step is often obvious, as with the imminent arrival of handhelds in classrooms, less obvious related steps evolve and impact us in constructive and destructive ways that cannot be predicted or foreseen. The history of innovation has also shown a tendency for people to exaggerate short term impact and underestimate long term influence. Computer technology has been one of those innovative forces. However, the relatively short term impact of desktop and laptop computers in classrooms over three decades has not yet been significant on the K12 students' desktop work space. Handhelds are the next disruptive wave of digital change forming within this digital wave. After 30 years of personal computer development, handheld computers represent the arrival of devices both affordable and effective enough to have real long term influence for the classroom setting.

It is widely accepted that we should prepare for sudden significant changes if they involve significant personal safety, using the vocabulary of emergency and disaster. What vocabulary should we use for social change which is almost as sudden as a physical emergency yet simultaneously an opportunity? Depending on their geographic location, educators routinely hold fire, tornado, earthquake, tsnumami and terrorist drills; communities create entities and pool volunteers and specialists as Emergency Preparedness Boards and Disaster Management Teams to prepare for an even wider response to such sudden changes. These specialists hold mock disasters to train people for managing such situations. This implies a next step opportunity for educators.

Educators would find it of value to create some equivalent of emergency preparedness boards and mock 'change' drills for the ubiquitous computing and social change through which our lives flow, a potential power of ten change for education. A simple and commonly used model for special situations is to create what are called pilot projects, in this case small teams of educators and students that test and improve on the implications of having significant specialized resources and designs. Such transformation calls for greater knowledge about the role of imagination and knowledge in advancing from sinking to surviving to thriving during a period of rapid change. It also calls for greater preparedness in learning the digital tools of thought that are expanding from desktop to handheld computers. This preparedness will need to recognize that prior models for administrative leadership of classroom change are problematic and that "few aspects of school improvement are easy to implement and manage" (Weston & Bain, 2009, p.156^). Effectively handling negative and positive change takes practice.

As a culture, we are used to thinking about and preparing for sudden negative change, comfortable with the meanings of the terms emergency, catastrophe, cataclysm, tragedy, calamity and disaster. We have the capacity to imagine, that is to create inferences for different kinds of "sudden negatives" and prepare. We have experience in sorting through which disasters are more likely in our personal situations. News and drama shows constantly remind us of such events, human nature's varied responses to them and the kinds of human response necessary to survive.

We are not so comfortable thinking about and preparing for significant or sudden positive change. We are much less comfortable and experienced with the terms windfall, miracle, "win the lottery" and magical, even though we do read of those psychologically unprepared for sudden fortune who thereby lose it in thoughtless spending. Good news is seldom a front page story. We have little experience in sorting through which "miracles" are more likely in our personal situations. We are needing to recognize that the expansion of human capacity and innovation in recent decades is so exponential that we have reached the point at which we should be better prepared for sudden opportunity. Further, the very preparation for such "magic" has the curious property of encouraging and developing it. Citizens might be squeamish about the idea of spending time and funds on a Windfall Preparedness Board or a Magical Moment Management Team but the time has come to invent some kind of educational language and process to work through planning for opportunity. The business community has long given significant attention to the economic improvements that build on the concept of entrepreneurship and disruptive inventions. In the exponential pace of the 21st century, opportunity is likely to knock more than once, and like disaster, preparedness for opportunity will play a critical role in how and whether education thrives.

Disruptive inventions are constantly at work in human society. When certain changes reach significant scale, the impact of the disruptive force quickly ripples in nonlinear ways across humanity. This sets up an important decision for educators and voting citzens. When is the right time for local and state governments to put one in the hands of every public school student similar to the way they provide textbooks?

Wealth is another word for value. Wealth (value) is created when someone's creation (book, car, research, service) is created and shared with someone who needs it. Computers in general, and mobile computers in specific, hold great potential for providing new ways for problems to be solved and value shared in exchange for other values. Some have had and built the safe settings in which to do better value adding. The challenge now is to extend the values that we have discovered in the Net to enable others to do the same.

graph showing percent of world's population on and off the Net

As the above graph shows (Blodget & Cocotas^), one third of the world's population has begun to find the value in the Net and add value to it. It is already the world's most significant invention for increasing productivity. Mobile technologies hold the most promise for finding cost effective ways to bringing the other two-thirds of the world's population into the same value adding activity.

The Future

That almost everyone on the planet at nearly every economic level will have regular access to Internet computing in the years ahead seems a safe inference. In 2009, some 1.7 billion people had already become regular users. Interconnecting citizens globally provides many opportunities for magnitude ten levels of change. Third world countries are watching prices drop and anxious to leapfrog the industrial age and utilize the many free resources of the Net. The online bookstore at saw its first day in which it sold more books for its digital Kindle than it sold in paper format on December 25, 2009 (Stone & Friedman, 2009^). This is just one more bit of evidence of the rapid transition to digital tools. This rapid transition raises numerous questions about what should be happening now in the field of education to prepare for such developments.

Handheld computers are just one step in the evolution of shrinking digital technology. Next generation development is already underway by the Wearable Computing Lab, which studies ways to eliminate the handheld device and distribute a network of computer functions within our clothing, body and accessories such as glasses and jewelry.

Wait or Not to Wait Purchasing?

Classrooms and homes are very different places than behind a driver's wheel. Desks, chairs and long walks are appropriate places for digital activity. The interest in one-to-one educational computing, each child with their own wireless computer, is growing. Why wait? For many educators though, the evidence would indicate that it is still almost but not quite the time to buy in with large scale purchasing for school students. Early calcuations indicate that the costs of digital content are about half the cost of buying paper books, magazines and newspapers (Barlow, 2010^), and publishers could provide further discounts to schools. The price savings from school textbook costs could easily pay for the cost of the hardware, the digital thought makers.

Finding the cross over point for broad adoption by school systems is especially challenging. When will the existing funding sources now spent on the rising costs of of widely available paper products cross the dropping costs and availability from publishers of digital products? Can free digital textbook models such as CK12 or digital tutorials such as Khan Academy be expanded from their middle and high school interests to provide a similar service to elementary schools? Who has figured out the current cost of a school system's paper products and whether there are any real savings from eliminating a large percentage of copy machines and printers? What are the costs of sufficient wireless capacity so that hundreds of handheld wireless systems in the very small geographic space of a school complex don't cause the transfer of data to bottleneck, making them useless? Will commercial vendors, such as telephone companies, partner with educational systems to bring costs down for wireless access? What funding must be kept in reserve for maintenance? Can school filtering of the data from outside devices from such companies as LightSpeed keep up with the data flow or make filtering an impossible task?

Will K-12 public schools or state governments follow the BYOD (bring your own device) policy of many post-secondary schools and allow Kindle-like ereader and other devices to be brought into schools from those whose economic status is on the positive side of the digital divide and provide them free to those without? Can such devices hold all textbooks, videos, audio and other required readings on one small device that will eliminate the hefty backpacks children now lug around?

As universal access is achieved, will a curriculum be in place taught by informed educators that leads to powerful and effective use of the new capacities?


In short, many questions remain. Every new level of achievement reached will raise new challenges and new struggles. Keeping our eyes on the prize of universal access to the digital information of the digital age is the goal that must not be lost. However the hardware improves on costs and other features, the underlying significant value is in the operating system, in the design of specific tools that enable users to interact with the device and to meet the knowledge goals and needs of our culture, of education, government and business. The many significant changes being announced suggest it is almost time to make some key decisions about major handheld computer purchases for classroom use. But the "emergency preparedness team" for 'thought makers' should be deeply involved as soon as possible in purchasing various handheld devices for their team members to better understand and develop the planning for when the day arrives. During a time of watchful waiting and early experimentation, educators need analyzed comparison data from a wide variety of pilot projects.

The real immediate challenge though requires no waiting to address. This simply requires empowerment through learning all one can about what the digital age makes available today across all the types of available computer systems. From this knowledge one can prepare for the educational opportunities and curriculum competencies of classroom practice when every child has a handheld of their own.



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