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iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7: The Facts and My Experience [Part 1]

Q4 2010 brought a big milestone to the mobile industry: smartphones outsold PCs for the first time ever. And that’s not even taking into account tables and iPods that provide similar functionality. In short, mobile devices - or “post-PC devices”, as Steve Jobs calls them - are hot stuff right now.

However, it’s easy to get lost and confused by all the devices and even by all the mobile operating systems we can choose from. Apple is certainly leading this new revolution with the iPhone and the iPad, but other software and hardware companies are trying their best to catch up and capture our imagination.

Last Summer I started blogging at Mobitel Tehnik, a blog about mobile technologies, on which my posts (in Slovenian) mainly cover news and tips related to mobile app development. As part of my assignment, I’ve been using and following the development of some of the recently most popular smart mobile operating systems on the market.

That is why I’ve decided to sum up some of the thoughts and experiences I’ve had with various platforms on my blog in two parts: in the first part, I focus on introducing facts and my personal experience with 3 of the most talked about smartphone operating systems: Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. And in part 2, I will try to imagine the potential of using iOS, Android and WP7 mobile devices in classrooms.

Ok, so let’s take a look at the facts and my personal experience with each of the three platforms first.

iOS: It’s all about beautiful apps

Basic facts: Apple’s mobile operating system that runs on iPhones, iPod Touches, iPad and Apple TV - all Apple devices. Launched in June 2007, current version 4.2. Got its application store, the App Store (tied with the iTunes Store), in July 2008 and now features over 350,000 apps.

The experience: Unfortunately, iPhone isn’t officially sold in my country (the only blank spot in Europe!), so I’ve been using iOS on my 2nd generation iPod Touch. Truth be told, I don’t really use it as an iPod that much - my primary iPod used mainly for running is the new iPod Nano. The iPod Touch is, however, my mobile device of choice for browsing and apps. I use it to play various casual games like Bejeweled Blitz, Fruit Ninja and Tiny Wings (my current favorites), manage my shopping list with ShopShop, plan my runs with Runner’s World SmartCoach app, rate my favorite Movies, and much more.

And I’m just in love with iOS apps! The App Store provides great choice of both free and paid apps, and it’s really easy to discover beautiful new apps. It’s the kind of store where you buy a $2.99 weather app just because it’s sooo pretty.

The magic behind the App Store lies in detailed guidelines and excellent developer tools that make it easy to have good looking apps even if you use just the default UI elements provided by Apple. Yes, a lot of people complain about the strict App Store approval process, but from the user perspective, it pays off to have a store full of quality and well tested apps.

Android: It’s all about opportunities and promises

Basic facts: Usually thought as the biggest iOS competitor, developed by Google and other members of the Open Handset Alliance. Launched in October 2008, current version 2.3 Gingerbread, although the majority of users currently still runs version 2.2 Froyo. Android runs on all sorts of smartphone and tablets devices in various price ranges. The devices are made by different manufacturers, which also provide their unique user interfaces (such as HTC Sense, Samsung’s TouchWiz etc). The Android application store, Android Market, launched in October 2008 and now features over 250,000 apps.

The experience: Ah, dear Android. The joy and love of the tech crowd. The supposedly “open alternative” to Apple’s evil walled-garden. And, more often than not, quite irritating to use.

I’ve used Android on several HTC devices (Desire, Legend, Wildfire) and the overall look and feel is quite good. The hardware was good, but what annoyed me to no end, was the need to constantly fiddle with settings and other details of the software. And the regular need to reboot, which reminded me of what it was like to own a PC.

All in all, it was usually nothing huge per se, but there was always that tiny little detail that required your attention and sometimes got your head scratching. Like the mystery of why apps that I had never used (e.g. Stocks, Music, News) were always running in the background.

Speaking of apps. Sure, in theory it does sound wonderful that Google lets almost anyone publish apps on the Android Market. But in practice? The Market is flooded with poorly designed apps. And as Android Market works with Google Checkout, which is not supported in my country, I was stuck on using free apps only.

Then, the games… just not comparable to iOS games. And sure, the gaming aspect is supposed to be improved with the next big release - and that is basically what we keep hearing all the time. “The next Android update will kick iPhone’s ass!” Anyone else got tired of waiting for the savior?

Ok, I’ve got to be fair - Android does have a few strong points as well. I loved the integration with Google services, particularly Google Maps. And the WiFi Hotspot app (for tethering), introduced with the Froyo update, was awesome. And oh, I really liked HTC’s weather widget on the home screen!

Wondering why I’ve been using the past tense here? Ah, that’s because I’ve been using Windows Phone 7 as my primary phone OS for a couple of weeks now, and I honestly don’t miss Android all that much.

Windows Phone 7: It’s all about the simple experience

Basic facts: The new kid on the block, even though it’s the successor of the ye olde Windows Mobile platform. Microsoft decided to get a fresh start with Windows Phone 7 and introduced a radically different user interface and no backwards compatibility with previous versions of Windows Mobile. WP7 launched in October 2010 and has yet to receive a major update (expected to be released soon-ish). Like Android, WP7 runs on devices by different manufacturers, but Microsoft sets the hardware requirements for WP7 phones and doesn’t allow major modifications of the user interface, so all WP7 phones have a consistent look and feel (unlike Android phones). Its applications store, the Windows Phone Marketplace, launched with the release of the first phones in October 2010 and now features over 8,000 apps.

The experience: This may come as a surprise to those of you that know how much I love using a Mac - I actually enjoy the Windows Phone 7 experience. Yes, me, enjoying a Windows product! Shocking, I know.

But I think Microsoft did the smart thing by dropping the outdated Windows Mobile legacy platform and focused on a fresh, unique mobile experience. It’s a mobile OS that tries to help users do what they’re supposed to be doing without getting in the way.

Coming from Android, the contrast can be quite stark at first. But after a while, you just sit back and enjoy the ride. No need to worry about turning the GPS on and off manually. If an app, such as Maps, needs it, it will turn it on and then off again when you’re done.

The home screen with live tiles makes it easy to see important information on the go, and the OS uses hubs to bundle key content and media together. For instance, the People hub brings together your contacts and their Facebook updates in an attractive panorama view. Plus, it can also sync music, photos and videos with your computer and there’s even a Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac OS X that can sync content from iTunes.

However, it must be noted that WP7 is still a version 1.0 OS, so there are “a few” bugs and oddities that will have to be sorted out. Similarly, the Marketplace is still only a few months old, so the selection of apps isn’t that great. For instance, there is no Dropbox or Evernote app, and I miss more apps from Google, particularly Google Maps - WP7, not surprisingly, has Bing Maps integrated and the app just doesn’t work as well as Google’s.

And just like the Android Market, the Windows Phone Marketplace doesn’t allow purchases from my country, so I can’t really enjoy any of the cool game titles already available in the application store. You do however get the option to Try out a lot of the paid apps and games, which is a really cool feature.

And the winner is…

One thing is for sure - while similar on paper, iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7 provide quite a different user experience. Which one is best? Well, it really depends on what you’re looking for.

iOS is certainly a more solid platform with an amazing selection of apps, which isn’t surprising considering it was the first to launch. Android is perfect for geeks that enjoy fiddling with their devices. And WP7 is cute, but needs to grow up a bit more and get more developers interested in making good apps.

For me, iOS is certainly the first choice. It’s simple, yet mature enough to provide all the extra goodies (such as tethering). WP7 is also an OS that I could see my grandpa using, as he probably wouldn’t miss any of the yet missing apps. And Android is a solid choice for everyone that is bothered by Apple’s “closed” system and is looking for variety in hardware, but not something I’d recommend for the average user.

What does it all mean?

So, we have at least three platforms that will be running smartphones and tablets of our future. And we keep hearing the future will be mobile, which also means we can expect the big mobile operating systems to find their way into our classrooms and be used as teaching tools. I therefore invite you to join me in part 2 to explore which of the 3 platforms might have the biggest potential for learning.

>> iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7: the classroom potential [Part 2]

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2011/03/ios-android-and-windows-phone-7-facts.html

iMoot 2011 to Explore New Directions

MoodleMoots, conferences dedicated to users, administrators and developers of Moodle, our beloved open-source learning management system, have always been my favorite events for exchanging learning and teaching experiences. This year, I’m particularly excited about attending iMoot2011, the second annual web based International Moodle Moot.

iMoot2011 will be running from 30th April to 3rd May 2011, 24 hours a day to accommodate different time zones. If you want to get involved as a presenter, you can submit presentation proposals and academic papers by February 19th, or register as an attendee (got my early bird registration yesterday!).

The theme for iMoot2011 is New Directions, a fitting title considering Moodle 2.0 has finally been released at the end of last year. However, it’s good to know that Moodle’s new directions won’t be the main focus on the conference; instead, the goal of the conference will be to explore the potential of using new technologies and pedagogical ideas in an evolving online learning space, where Moodle is just a piece of the puzzle.

You can find more info about the conference on the official iMoot2011 website. I’m certainly looking forward to participating in the conference, getting new ideas and meeting new and old Moolde buddies. Will you be joining us?

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2011/02/imoot-2011-to-explore-new-directions.html

Sharable Bits: Compliments, Doing Nothing, Standing Desk

Blog post: Genuine compliments matter

Why it’s worth sharing: Vicki A. Davis reminds us about how important it is to give genuine compliments to our students and colleagues every day. I certainly try to follow this advice in my day to day work. Remembering to thank people for their effort and acknowledging their success is a simple gesture that can make a big impact. After all, we all want to be good at what we’re doing and to know that what we do is meaningful, don’t we?

Challenge: Do Nothing for Two Minutes

Why it’s worth sharing: It’s a simple website with a simple idea: relax and do nothing for only two minutes. Easy, no? Well, it turns out it can be quite a challenge if you’re used to constantly check your e-mails, Facebook, Twitter and what not. It’s certainly a nice idea that encourages to stop and relax, even if it is just for our couple of minutes. Perhaps we’d all felt a little bit better if we passed this simple challenge every day. (via @mashable)

Idea: Standing desk

Standing desk

Why it’s worth sharing: Gina Trapani’s blog post Why and How I Switched to a Standing Desk provides a nice overview of the transition from a traditional “sitdown desk” to a standing desk and working on your feet. As someone, who tends to sit behind the computer desk in awkward positions all day long, I find this idea quite intriguing. I admit - I haven’t decided to make the switch yet, but at least the post reminded me that I should get up and stretch more often during the day.

Sharable Bits is a series of weekly posts that will highlight some of the most interesting bits and bytes that I stumble upon. No bad news, just ideas that inspire, touch or entertain in a unique way.

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2011/01/sharable-bits-compliments-doing-nothing.html

Mobile Single-tasking Leads the Way to a More Human Friendly Desktop

The web seems like somethings everyone should know how to use by now. But what about the less experienced aka the majority of users? Do they really know how to use their browsers? And understand what’s going on on their computer screens?

I think computers are still mysterious, magic boxes for a lot of people outside the tech savvy crowd, and we need to keep looking for solutions that can change that perception. Perhaps by learning from simple, easy to use, user centered mobile devices, like the iPad.

The web is a strange place for the average user

As a reader (or occasional visitor) of this blog, you probably have a good basic understanding of how the web works. You’re probably familiar with the concept of a web browser and how your browser interacts with web servers to display different web locations. You know how to copy, type and check the URL of a website to make sure you’ve opened the right web page, and you’re probably reading this page in one of the many tabs open in your browser, perhaps even an RSS reader.

But all of the above isn’t such an easy task for everyone. If you think the web is easy to use, I challenge you to observe the way so-called “average users” interact with it. Users, who have never received any real training, and are not really interested in understanding how the whole system works. They just want to check their e-mail, share photos on Facebook or find a store’s phone number on the web.

I have seem that many times in the past few months (while trying to teach them how to use a pretty complex online tool), and I must say it has changes my perspective. The web just seems like a different place for the average user than it is to me or probably you. It’s a place where the Google search box is your starting point because you don’t know the URL of your school’s website, it’s a place where you only use one window at a time (tabs? what tabs?), it’s a place full of confusion and notifications you don’t really understand. Update? Pop-ups? RSS? Java script? Is that even English?

Humorous Pictures

It’s just so different from the world we, the tech crowd, live in. It’s not a world where the lack of multitasking before iOS 4 was a problem, it’s a world where no multitasking is a great feature.

Why do you make me switch windows and apps?

It’s certainly something that we should all keep in mind when designing user interfaces and user experiences on the web. You think your registration process, which requires e-mail confirmation, is simple? Think again. The average user doesn’t want to switch windows and apps, and doesn’t want to read your friendly instructions about activation and other nonsense. They just want to get things done.

Photo: Microsoft.com
And that is where we can learn a lot from the new generation of smartphone operating systems (thinking mainly about iOS and Windows Phone 7, I’ll leave my Android rant for another post). They make it easier for people to understand what they’ll get and where to get it. With big, easy to tap icons, and a simple, physical Home button that always gets you back to the starting line. No complicated lists of programs, no need to decide where to save your files… In many ways, the mobile OS is smarter than your desktop OS, even though the “smartness” is a result of the limits such small devices have.

Let the OS do the work and just enjoy the ride

Many of the features that make current smartphones so pleasant to use, were first introduced by Apple. Of course, a lot of skeptics laughed at the lack of multitasking, physical keyboard and what not, but 4 years after the original iPhone came out, everyone is trying to make a better iPhone. Not a better smartphone per se, but a better iPhone. And even though the geeks love Android for being a more open platform, iPhone keeps setting the standard for the high-end smartphone market.

And I think Apple is actually on the right track again with the concept of Mac OS X Lion, the next major upgrade to their desktop OS due to be released this summer. Lion will take a bold step at bringing features from the mobile world - the magic of iPad, as they call it - to the desktop. A unified place to download, buy and update your applications, a launchpad with big, colorful icons, and full-screen apps that take away all the distractions of your desktop.

Photo: Apple.com
I can see all this being a big hit with the average users (time to switch grandpa to Mac OS X!). An app for Facebook, an app for your e-mail, an app for your workspace (which lives in the cloud, but you don’t really know or care about it), and an app for Google, so you can find everything else. And you don’t have to worry about whether apps are closed or open and about saving your work. You want to do something else? Fine, hit the “Home button” and come back to the first app when you’re done, picking it up just where you left it.

Mobile devices are changing our expectations

While the emphasis in the discussions about the mobile revolution often seems to be on portability and the business opportunities of mobile apps, let’s not forget about how all these mobile devices are changing the way people interact with computers and their expectations.

We are already seeing examples of how the iPad and similar devices are influencing web design, and I definitely think that’s a positive trend that will make more and more web destinations feel more natural and uncluttered. Now is the right time to take a look at the web sites we build and maintain, and figure out how to make it more mobile and consequently human friendly.

And the end result will not be something just the less tech savvy users will enjoy; I think we can all benefit from less clutter and distractions. After all, it makes much more sense to have interfaces that adapt to the way people think, than to have people adapt to interfaces they have to use.

Additional readings:

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2011/01/mobile-single-tasking-leads-way-to-more.html

14 Great Tools for Teaching, Learning and Collaboration

When delivering introductory courses for teachers that want to start using Moodle, the most popular LMS used in Slovenian schools, I also like to share a list of my favorite tools that can be used with Moodle or independently. I think it’s important for teachers to realize that a LMS can be a good starting point if you want to provide your students with an online hub for your course, but that there are many other tools out there that are better suited for certain needs.

And I just realized I haven’t shared this list on my blog yet, so here it is: 14 great tools that can help teachers create interactive content, collaborate, and facilitate learning. All of these tools are free and available either online or on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac).

Desktop software

 Hot Potatoes - a simple, free tool for creating quizzes and other interactive activities that can be easily included into Moodle.

 eXeLearning - a free, open source software for creating and publishing web content. Teachers can easily export content into SCORM and add it to Moodle. Great for our teachers because it’s also available in Slovenian (and other languages).

Xmind - an open source brainstorming and mind mapping tool.

Google tools

Google Docs - easy to use collaborative tool for documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

 Google Sites - a simple tool for creating web pages.

Blogger - free, simple to use blogging platform. If my grandpa can use it, so can your non-tech savy teachers and students. Love the fact that you can have private blogs, available only to specified readers.

Picasa and Picasa web albums - Google’s free image organizer and editor that also supports free web albums. I admit - I don’t really use Picasa (I have iPhoto on my Macs), but my grandpa loves it, so I like to recommend it to non-Mac folks.


ScreenToaster - free online screen recorder. Can easily be used for simple screencasts.

Audacity - open source audio editing software. Again, as an iLife user, I don’t really use it myself, but I know a lot of teacher who use it in classrooms.

Anywhere, anything

Evernote - my absolutely favorite tool for notes and what not. I use it to write drafts fro blog posts or messages for my students, to save notes while grading, as a collection of links and ideas and so much more. I love the fact that it’s both a desktop and online app, so you can really access all your notes from anywhere (even on my mobile phone).

Google Reader - web RSS reader. My favorite way of keeping track of blogs on all sorts of different subjects.

Dropbox - I’ve got to agree with their tagline: “the easiest way to store, sync, and, share files online”. I even know teachers that use Dropbox to collect student’s assignments, and it’s also great as a personal backup tool and as a way to collaborate on files with others.


SlideShare - my favorite tool for sharing presentations that can easily embedded almost anywhere on the web.

Scribd - simple tool for publishing docs and embedding them almost anywhere on the web.

And that’s it, that’s the list of tools I like to show to teachers starting to explore digital learning and learning. Yes, yes, I know there are many other tools that would deserve to be on the list, so I also provide a link to Jane Hart’s amazing Top 100 Tools for Learning 2010 List (but a list of 14 items is usually easier to digest for beginners).

So, here’s my questions for you: which 14 tools would your put on your list, while keeping in mind they should be easy enough for beginners and freely available on all platforms? Let me know in the comments!

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2010/12/14-great-tools-for-teaching-learning.html

Sharable Bits: Heroes in Our Lives, Clickers, Search Zeitgeist

Photos: Superhero Therapy for Grandma

More photos and info at My Modern Metropolis

Why it’s worth sharing: French photographer Sacha Goldberger managed to help his grandma overcome depression by dressing her up as a superhero and making some amazing photos along the way. I love the photos - the fact that they helped the photographer’s grandma smile again, and as a reminder that it only takes a little imagination to make those we love feel special. After all, we all need a little attention now and then, and the knowledge that we matter to someone, don’t we?

Tool: Clickers, a simple technology for classrooms

Donald Clark provides seven simple uses and advantages of using clickers in his post Clickers: mobile technology that will work in classes

Why it’s worth sharing: Mobile clickers provide a great example of how much we can do with simple tools that are applied in the right way. You don’t have to invest a lot of money to buy expensive tools with limited use. Instead, focus on more versatile tools, like clicker mobile apps that will work on students’ existing equipment.

Video: Google Zeitgeist 2010: Year in Review

Why it’s worth sharing: With the year ending, everyone is making lists and recaps of the main events of the year coming to an end. Google’s video Zeitgeist is my favorite recap so far. It reminds us of the challenges we face, the tragedies, but also of the achievements, things that made us smile. I guess I’d just like to thank Google for all the successful searches in the past year and for helping me find my way around the web. How the hell did we find anything before we had Google? :)

Sharable Bits is a series of weekly posts that will highlight some of the most interesting bits and bytes that I stumble upon. No bad news, just ideas that inspire, touch or entertain in a unique way.

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2010/12/sharable-bits-heroes-in-our-lives.html