Depending on when you first got online, images like this that adorned the bottom of web pages 15 years ago may or may not be familiar to you:
To me, it’s a symptom of what happens in unregulated emerging markets with an inexperienced audience. Companies attempt to provide shareholder value by aggressively adding users and making the cost of switching to a competitor high. They do this through incompatibility with alternative products. It’s an example of attempted ‘vendor lock-in’ and, at the end of the day, is all about enclosing things for profit.
It’s nothing new. The Agricultural Revolution in England 250 years ago provides another example. Here, common land was literally ‘enclosed’ for private profit. The people on the land protested, but rapacious capitalists forced legislation through by way of ties with the government. In unfettered Capitalism, public goods are sacrificed to the sword of private profit. The trouble is that we’re see this in the digital world again and again. It’s sad to see the lack of collective awareness.
In software development, a ‘feature’ is something that is meant to be there and is (usually) good for users. The opposite of that – something that’s bad for users – is a ‘bug’. For some reason we tend to treat a ‘bug’ of a the wider ecosystem as a ‘feature’. For example, this (despite how shiny your chosen silo might be) is not the mark of a mature and healthy marketplace:
Forcibly erecting a wall to make apps inoperable provides temporary profit, but is not in the best interests of users. Even on a basic, financial level, re-purchasing apps because you switch device is frustrating. But, more importantly, it means that users have to make forced decisions before they even start using the apps for work or pleasure. As vendors look towards tighter integration between hardware and software for competitive advantage, software decisions are increasingly also hardware decisions. Am I going to purchase an iPhone so I can access this set of apps, or an Android device, to access a different set?
Often, decisions around software are made on behalf of users. For example by schools attended by students, businesses worked at by employees, or even by family members who ‘know more about technology’. The problem here is that the person making the decision has little option but to hitch their wagon to the roadmap of a company pursuing shareholder value. That company is then only likely to consider interoperability as a last resort.
Thankfully, the world is not simply full of companies trying to make money. There’s also non-profits and people innovating on behalf of users. I’m a paid contributor to the Mozilla project, but I also used the Firefox web browser when it was still called ‘Phoenix’. Open standards and interoperability matter. If you haven’t yet explored Firefox OS then I would encourage you to do so. There’s also, amongst others, Jolla’s Sailfish-powered smartphones, or Canonical’s upcoming mobile Ubuntu devices. What’s different about these mobile operating systems is that they’re putting users first; not just in the sense of creating a delightful user experience, but also in terms of giving users freedom and choice.
Let’s learn from our mistakes. As users, let’s not be seduced by ‘free’ as in ‘free beer’ but actively fight for ‘free’ as in ‘liberty’. Given the amount of time we spend on mobile devices, I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that part of the future of human flourishing depends upon it.
Note: I’m travelling at the moment and wanted to get this posted before I get home. Please excuse the use of someone else’s photos of the phone!
A few weeks ago I was told that, as a Mozilla employee, I could get a free Firefox OS phone. There were two caveats: it’s a developer preview, so it’s rough around the edges; and I’d have to ‘dogfood’ it – using it as my ‘daily driver’ and providing feedback to developers. I considered it for a while, flirted with the idea of an Android device, and then took the plunge last week. Since last Wednesday I’ve been using the Geeksphone Keon as my main phone.
Because of the aims of the Firefox OS ecosystem, the developer preview reference device (the Keon) is a pretty low-spec phone for 2013. The idea being, of course, that if an app runs smoothly on the reference device then it will run well on other devices. Although there’s some occasional lag, it’s a pretty slick experience – which makes me wonder what those quad-core beasts are doing with that extra processing power?
It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that the Keon does everything an iPhone or Android device does. Of course it doesn’t. I miss posting to Path, running with Nike+ and adding notes to Evernote. But to dismiss it based on current conceptions of what a mobile device should be would, I think, miss the point. It’s the first phone I’ve ever had that allows me to tick a ‘Do Not Track’ option, for example. 😉
This post is to ensure that you know someone who you can ask questions about Firefox OS. I’ll keep you updated as to my progress!
Ever wondered why Mozilla’s Firefox web browser exists? It’s because about 10 years ago Microsoft had sewn-up about 90% of the market and was creating vendor lock-in through anti-competitive practices. You can read about this in the History of the Mozilla Project. Happily, Mozilla were successful and now there’s at least two high-quality alternatives to Microsoft Internet Explorer – which itself has become more aligned with web standards. It’s a win for everyone who uses the web.
The next battleground is mobile. Although Google’s Android mobile Operating System (OS) is billed as ‘open’, for example, it’s not really developed in the usual Open Source way: the source code tends to be released long after each iteration of the OS. Apple, meanwhile, maintains a notoriously closed ecosystem with a stringent procedure for inclusion in their App Store. They also control how you can get things on and off iOS devices in order to make money from the iTunes store.
Amazon, meanwhile, is a fairly new to the mobile device game. They’ve taken Android and significantly modified it – including defaulting to their own app store. They’ve slashed the price of the Kindle Fire 2 (with, cleverly, ‘special offers and sponsored screensavers’) for Black Friday* making it a loss-leader. They’re betting on making the money back through Kindle book purchases, Amazon Prime subscriptions, and Lovefilm streaming.
So even though we may have multiple vendors it’s essentially similar problem to the Internet Explorer issue ten years ago. You may get shiny new ways to consume things that the vendor is selling you, but it’s not a great situation, overall.
You want a tablet? For Christmas 2012 that means you’re going to need to choose your vendor lock-in.
Thankfully, all this is set to change in 2013. Why? Two reasons. First, Mozilla are working on Firefox OS built entirely of standards-based web technologies. Secondly, Ubuntu Linux is being developed for mobile devices like the Nexus 7 and (even more excitingly) you’ll soon be able to run an entire desktop OS from your docked smartphone.
My conclusion? Buy a tablet if you have to, but be aware that real choice is around the corner…
I had a really interesting conversation on Twitter with Fraser Speirs and Dave Major this morning about ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) and cross-platform tools for learning. You can see that conversation ‘storyified’ here.
1. Learning is something that happens in the brain of learners. You might be able to give them consistency of device and platform but you can’t guarantee that they will have the same experience. Therefore, using that as a reason to go with one particular device is problematic.
2. Educators need to focus on activities rather than tools. One of the examples that Apple advocates often give of the superiority of iPads is GarageBand. It’s an awesome application, but it’s not a learning activity. I’d be really interested in discovering which learning activities can only be carried out on one type of device. I suspect you won’t find any.
3. What we do in classrooms is linked to, but should not be driven by, market forces. We can only buy and use what’s available, but we don’t have to be taken in by the rhetoric of companies. After all, they’re in it to make money. How the world turns out is much more in the hands of educators than anyone else.
I wouldn’t have used the image included in the article as I think it displays the opposite logic to the position I’m arguing; it posits a negative whilst I’m espousing a positive. I suggested the photograph above but am at the mercy of editors!
If you’re reading this via email, RSS or a non Flash-enabled device the embedded media probably won’t work. My presentation is on Slideshare and the mobile review is accessible at http://mobilereview.jiscpress.org. Alternatively click here to view this post on the blog. 🙂
Since starting at JISC infoNet in April 2010 I’ve worked on a OER infoKit and a learning and teaching upgrade to the Digital Repositories infoKit, both with the talented Lou McGill. Back in July I wrote a successful proposal to embark on a mobile and wireless technologies review for the JISC e-Learning programme. It grew to be a much larger piece of work than I envisaged, probably because I enjoyed researching and writing it so much! I’ve interviewed, met and read about wonderful people doing fantastic things in mobile learning.
I’ve now finished that review and it stands at about the same length as my MA dissertation. Wow. You can access various versions of the mobile and wireless technologies review via http://mobilereview.jiscpress.org or directly below (click to enlarge):
In addition, here’s a presentation I’m making to a JISC Review Board meeting today about my findings (you might want to view it on Slideshare with the notes on!)
I’d love to hear your feedback on the review, either here or at the JISCPress site. 😀
Previously, when it hasn’t been half-term, this week before the clocks go back to GMT has been the worst for me. It’s just so dark and depressing. I can guarantee that this time next year, in 2011, we’ll either be on holiday somewhere sunny or have moved abroad! :-p
I spent Tuesday until midnight last night travelling to and from, and attending, mLearn 2010. One of the largest mobile-related conferences in the world, mLearn was not only held in a great location, but attracted some top names.
Of course, there was the usual conference idiosyncrasies, but overall both the quality of research and social aspect were solid. People really do need to learn how to present more engagingly, though and not rely on tiny sample sizes. I met some really interesting people and it was nice and Malta was sunny most of the time.
Putting the new version of my thesis structure online
I met with my thesis supervisor via Skype on Monday to discuss my progress over the last few months. I’m happy with how things are going and, perhaps more importantly, so is he! My thesis is much better structured now. Whilst I’ll not be submitting on 1st January 2011 (my earliest submission date) next Easter is looking good. More here.
Considering my future
Next year is crunch year. If I want to return to working in schools at senior management level it would have to be for 2011/12. Whilst that could be sensible given my 2-year contract with JISC infoNet, I’m not entirely sure whether that’s in my own or my family’s best interests. And, besides, I’m enjoying myself with in FE/HE. 🙂
I’ve been looking for blogs relating to mobile technologies in education and have found there’s a dearth of them. I contacted Nick Dennis who agreed to start a new tumblr-powered blog with me at http://mobilizingeducation.tumblr.com. I’m sure he’ll get around to writing a post sooner or later… :-p
Getting up early
I’ve been up before 5am twice this week (I’m usually up at 6am) to work on my thesis. I’m much better at thinking clearly in the mornings and need not to be disturbed by a certain 3 year-old! The planned regime until I finish my thesis (which wasn’t quite achieved this week) is:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday – work 4.30-6.30am on thesis, do weights in evening
Tuesday, Thursday – go for 3 mile run in morning, work on thesis during lunch break
Saturday – go for 3 mile run in morning, work on thesis all afternoon
Feeling like I should be on holiday
Working in the education sector during August is like being in a ghost town. There were only two of us in the office yesterday afternoon at JISC infoNet and almost everyone you email is their Out of Office autoreply on…