When Apple introduced the App Store it did a couple of things: it brought about a super-smooth path for purchasing content to an iOS device; and it brought about an effective monopoly. If you wanted to sell an app to iOS users, you had to do so through the Apple App Store. Since then the kind-of-shady-is-it-legal-or-isn't-it Cydia store has also come about for people brave enough to jailbreak their devices, but realistically speaking, Apple's own store is still the one and only way of purchasing iOS apps.
The drawback of this is that Apple is able to position themselves as the gatekeeper of what can and can't be sold or purchased, and can set the terms and conditions; the bonus for iOS users is that they don't have to trawl the net for an app they're looking for, but only have to visit one shop and if it's not there, it doesn't exist. Simple.
Over the last couple of weeks we've had two relevant announcements.
First Opera (the browser company) announced that they were launching an app store carrying apps for a variety of mobile operating systems (though of course not for iOS); and then, yesterday, Amazon announced that they were launching an Android-only-for-now mobile app store as well.
The benefits to the consumer are that as app stores proliferate, terms and conditions may become more favourable to both developers and customers, yielding financial or other benefits. The big drawback is that if I as a consumer am looking for an app for a particular purpose I potentially have to go through several app stores in order to see what's available where and at what price. Sure this is what life has been like in the real world forever; but in that sense it feels like it's a step backwards, rather than building on the cleverness that was the original app store and coming up with a next, even cleverer iteration.
It'll be interesting to see how the various app stores take off and what, if any, impact they'll have on the design and concept behind the original Apple App Store.
Techcrunch has just reported that McGraw-Hill and Pearson are now investing in Inkling, a company which is making a number of US HE textbooks available via their iOS app. I find this remarkable because Inkling is iOS-only, and even iPad-specific. This indicates that both Pearson and McGraw-Hill are expecting the iPad to sell in significant numbers in the HE sector. Either that, or they know/assume that Inkling will also become available for other OSs, something that Inkling has never to my knowledge suggested. Interesting.
It's the end of the first day of the CES, the Consumer Electronics Show - THE show for anything electronics-related. It attracts around 300,000 people annually, the population of Cambridge as it happens. The show started last night with Steve Balmer, Microsoft CEO, given an opening keynote speech. Today I've attended a number of seminars around the use of IT in Higher Education as well as having a wander around some of the hundreds of stands. Here's a summary of things so far, some of it from an Ed-Tech angle.
Steve Balmer's opening Keynote
In his keynote Steve showcased a number of hardware and software initiatives, in particular the Xbox360 and the new Kinect addition. The combination of Xbox 360 and Kinect allows for the games console to effectively see the user, and a number of games are already out on the market. In many ways it's a next-generation idea to the Wii: the user is the controller, i.e. no hardware controllers are needed to manipulate the game. There are fitness games on the market already whereby the console shows you what you need to do, you copy it, and the Kinect sees you and gives you feedback. Dancing games also featured. It also allows the user to interact with non-games applications such as choosing audio and video files by waving at the console/Kinect combo.
Probably the most-hyped area of electronics in the run-up to the show has been tablets, and so it's no wonder that there are tablets of all sizes on display. These range from the prominent Samsung Galaxy tab to a whole host of no-name Asian manufacturers displaying tablets all way from mobile-phone to A4 sized. Most of them run Android while others run their own operating system. A handful bill themselves as ideal ebook readers, but basically it opens up choice to the customer. In the same way that you can buy TV sets in any size from handheld to so-big-you-need-a-new-living-room, the same will be the case for tablets within the next year or two. For publishers this means that they need to ensure that the content they produce is flexible and adaptive enough to suit a range of display mechanisms. Does this mean that pdf is out and HTML5 is in? Discuss.
Similar to tablets I've seen two two-screen devices, the Kno and the Acer Iconia. Both are billed as having been developed for the educational market as they allow for either viewing a book in a traditional manner (two pages displayed side-by-side), or else viewing the text on one screen and making notes on the other one either with a stylus or a virtual keyboard. I'm going to see if I can try both of them out; so far, my iPad virtual keyboard has convinced me that I still need a physical one. Let's see if either of these two devices do a better job of allowing me to input text via their virtual keyboards.
These are everywhere, again in all sizes. Most rely on the use of special glasses, and now deliver really excellent visual quality. Some render a 3D image without the use of special glasses but these, in my book, still leave a lot to be desired. You either have a good picture but have to sit in exactly one position, or else allow you to move around more, but then lack in quality. That will probably be improved on over the next 2 - 3 years though.
A while ago we came across Siftables - cubes that sense each other and then react to each other in different ways depending on what they've been programmed to do. At the time these were very much in the prototype stage but are now beginning to be commercialised by Sifteo. These could have a whole range of educational uses: each cube could contain a letter, and when put together to form words could give the user feedback (e.g. pronunciation modelling, correct/incorrect spelling). Each cube could contain a number or an operator, and users could practise arithmetic with them. This is one to watch and I'm hoping to get a trial set of cubes and work with Sifteo to produce some educational games.
This is probably the coolest thing I've seen here. It's basically a room with screens all around. The demo videos that run around you really make you feel like you're in a church, in an open field or wherever - very neat. I could see this being used in a whole variety of ways - taking a learner into space, inside a human body, inside molecules or atoms etc. Rendering such environments would be a bit of a job but the end result would be neat.
That's all for now, maybe more tomorrow!
Thoughts and links to articles about a variety of ICT and education-related topics. Where an article or resource is referred to in the header of a blog post please click the header to read the article.