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Posts Tagged ‘mobile

I tried watching the Apple event ‘live’ stream on Sep 9 (it was 1am on Sep 10 here in Singapore), but it did not go smoothly.

I could only watch the video using the Safari browser. The video would freeze ever so often. When it played, I could hear three voices at once as there were least two simultaneous audio translations of what was being said on stage. The brief text and photo updates at Gizmodo and TechCrunch were less media rich but clearer.

The last time the video stream froze, I tried reloading the page. I received a cryptic message informing me that I had done something illegal. I did not realize that watching an Apple event broadcast by Apple on my iMac using Apple’s Safari browser was illegal. Perhaps it was illegal to expect the quality and reliability of YouTube.

Some folks who experienced the same problems watching the event online took to Twitter and their blogs to vent [example]. I am not using this blog to vent. This is not because I am an Apple fanboy (I own Android devices and a PC in addition to my iOS devices and Macs).

I just sighed and thought how much the experience was like using most learning management systems (LMS).

The ‘live’ stream only worked on Safari. Most LMS rely on proprietary systems that often do not play well with others. This helps LMS companies control their processes and products, and create lock-in among their clients. They might tell you are are compliant to SCORM or some other standard, but the fact is that it is very difficult to move from one system or platform to another.

If you used some other browser like Chrome, you received text updates and no video of the Apple event. The updates were much slower than the ‘live’ pages or tweets from tech blogs. LMS tend to be inflexible that way. Most providers have little choice but to open themselves up to social media and Google Drive in order to stay relevant, but their core is based on giving IT folks and conservative policy makers a false sense of control.

It is very reassuring to the people who are not actually designing and/or teaching courses to hear how “feature-rich” or “secure” the LMS is. Those who need to design and/or teach are forced to learn the LMS ropes instead of relying on good instinct, educational research, and reflective practice. Learners just go with the flow because their grades ultimately depend on compliance and they might not know any better.

But more and more educators and learners do know better. They are fed on diets on cloud computing, social media interaction, YouTube videos, and Google Doc editing. The sands are shifting, but LMS providers will have you believe that their castles will stand.

They will not. Most LMS providers will refuse to admit they are wrong (has Apple apologized for their streaming gaffes?). Just like Apple is unlikely to admit that the other more open, more social streams were also more reliable and just as accurate.

LMS are unlikely to admit that providing feature-rich options (like Apple’s simulcast translations) are actually distracting, noisy, and harmful. They dissuade risk-taking, good pedagogy, and deep learning.

Let us not kid ourselves into thinking that LMS are about learning, much less managing it. Take e-portfolios for example. They could be about alternative and progressive forms of assessment, platforms for reflection and career-long learning, and students taking ownership of their own processes and products of learning. An LMS provider can tell you that because someone else has done the research or critical pedagogy or distilled that wisdom at a keynote. There are some LMS providers who will incorporate e-portfolio tools because it means more accounts, storage space, training, and maintenance.

Apple and LMS providers are entitled to make money off of you. They do not force you to buy-in and buy outright. Instead, they skillfully convince you what value they bring.

The difference is that when you buy an Apple consumer product, it is typically for your own or your loved ones’ use. When you buy an LMS, you are affecting hundreds or thousands of people. Can you claim to know what they all struggle with, need, or wish to be? If you cannot, you should go where they already are. They are using solutions that are social, open, and mobile.

There are numerous rules for designing web pages for consumption and interaction on mobile devices. Just as important as the DOs are the DO NOTs.

Do not simply transfer a desktop page to a mobile device. Rationale: There is less screen real estate and readability drops on smaller mobile screens.

Do not embed superfluous media. Rationale: Animations, video, and even audio are resource hogs, consume extra data, and might have unexpected results.

Take what happens when STcom embeds links in its tweets.

If you click a link on desktop browser (say via TweetDeck), Android Twitter, or iOS Twitter, the desktop version of the news article attempts to load.


On a laptop or desktop computer, you expect to get a full desktop page whether or not you are a subscriber. You can get less ad-filled reading by installing an adblocker in a browser like Chrome. My current favourite is uBlock as it has the effectiveness of the open source AdBlock Plus but with a smaller memory footprint.

Besides the old school banner ads (top) and column ads (right side), video ads or video “value adds” load on the upper right, but do not play automatically. Thankfully!

On Android Twitter, the URL causes mobile Chrome to launch, the desktop version of the page to load, and the videos do not auto play.

But I rarely use an Android. I am on iOS and consume local news via an iPhone or an iPad mini. 

On both iOS devices, Twitter will load the desktop version of the page in the Twitter app itself. On the iPhone, the desktop pages make reading very difficult, but at least the videos do not play automatically. However, on the iPad mini, the embedded videos play automatically nine out of ten times I view a page.

If I did not mind STcom using up my data allocation, I certainly mind that the videos play without my asking.

The videos come in at least two forms. Some are actual videos that can be paused. Others are ads that seem to have pause buttons, but when I tap on them, they open up full page ads that prevent me from reading the article.

Both types of videos somehow override the audio setting. I have my iPad mini on hardware controlled mute most of the time. But these videos auto play and blast their unwelcome noise late as night or when I am out in public. 

I do not always have earphones or headphones plugged into my device. When I do, the videos are loud and jarring. When I do not, they annoy me and surprise those around me. I have to resort to manually turning down the volume even though the system is already on mute.

All this makes for a terrible user experience. Given that devices like the iPad mini are popular, it is surprising that STcom did not conduct better usability studies. If STcom cared about its readers and potential customers, it should. 

The same thing could be said for designing mobile learning. The perspective to take should be that of the learner, i.e., learner-centric design. Not just in terms of interface usability, but also in terms of instructional strategy, content level, social learning opportunities, and more.

If you care, you do what it takes and it shows.

If you take this trouble, your learners will thank you for it. If m-learning or e-learning is your business, your learners will come back for more. If you ignore them, they will not only go elsewhere, they will also tell others to stay away.

Video source

Never mind that this is an Apple ad for the iPhone 5S. The examples could apply to any modern and current smartphone.

These (and more) are the possibilities and affordances that smartphones bring us. And yet some of us still try to limit it by banning it from classrooms or reluctantly using it like a small desktop computer.

I brought two cameras with me on my Scandinavian vacation, but I only had to use one, my iPhone.

I did not plan on this. My laptop suffered some water damage and I thought it had healed itself somehow. The display stopped working altogether on the first day so I did not have a place to transfer photos via SD card and edit them.

But I dare say that the photos I took with the phone were not half bad. I will still be adding to the galleries, but here is what I have online.

That said, I missed the laptop with its larger screen and more powerful editing tools. I also missed having simple features like captions in photos in the Google+ app. I actually had to use Teamviewer to access my home computer to add captions to the photos. Why not just wait till I got back? Simply because I would never get round to doing it.

I also had to approve transactions and sign work docs online. Our leave system is not mobile friendly and I normally have to log in twice to approve my staff members’ leave applications. Once in, I had to scroll about and zoom in/out unnecessarily so my staff could get the breaks they deserved.

I also used Teamviewer to access my work computer for intranet-only applications and to control my home computer to prepare documents for signing. I had previously used the Hello Sign app, but it accepted only PDFs and not docs. If you are mobile-only, there are not many apps that handle the file importing, converting, signing, and sending. So I did what had to be done.

But on to more positive mobile experiences.

Several hours before checking out of the hotel in Sweden, I received SMS and email notification that I could do so online. I did this and my key cards remained active for one hour after the automated checkout and I could leave the keys in the room or deposit them in a box. Convenient!

Most places in Denmark offer free wifi. There was access in cafes, hotels, buses, trains, museums, libraries, etc. I listed the places in order of ease of access (easiest to most difficult).

The cafes, hotels, and transport agencies seem to realize how many people need mobile-optimized access. Most hotels seem to realize people have more than one device. I found museums and libraries to be hit or miss because of the sheer number of people trying to access the shared resource.

I noticed more QR codes. There was one near the base of the Han Christian Andersen statue (to hear an audio story) and several at the Danish National Museum.

Before flying home, I received email from KLM to check-in. The problem at this stage of travel is not having convenient access to a printer. KLM solved that problem. The email led to a slick, pre-authenticated mobile website
which sent QR code boarding passes to my phone via email.

I eventually did not use the QR codes because there were many self-check in kiosks at Copenhagen airport. Unlike the airline-specific kiosks in airports like Changi, these were generic in that you could check in to any airline. There were several forms of authentication and I printed our boarding passes there.

I used a QR code boarding pass a few years ago in the USA and noted how the readers were not quite optimized for glass screens then. This time I noticed most people passing through the gates without delay, but there were one or two who had to pause and rescan.

Wanting to go mobile is one thing. Going mobile by circumstance and having a system ready for it is another. We just have to keep pushing for it and even demanding it. When people see how much better life can be with it, things will change.

I would expect a headline like Are Touchscreens Melting Your Kid’s Brain? to originate from the local press. But I found this on Wired.

The quote that disturbed me the most was:

the ever-present touchscreens make me incredibly uneasy—probably because they make parenting so easy. There is always one at hand to make restaurants and long drives and air travel much more pleasant. The tablet is the new pacifier.

I think the author and I have different views on what it means to parent.

Leaving a child to play with or watch a video with a mobile device is not parenting. It is not even passive parenting. At best it is nannying.

Parenting is helping the child manage the use of mobile technologies. It is setting and maintaining rules. It is about knowing when to say yes and no as well as articulating why.

The harm is not in the mobile or touchscreen device. It is in parents or adults who do not manage its use.

Video source

This week I share why I like the Asus Pocket Router.

The device is deceptively small and looks like a thumb drive. This USB dongle is an ethernet adaptor, wifi adaptor, and an Internet signal sharing device all rolled into one.

Asus has not sponsored the device or prompted this blog entry. It has proven its utility when I have to travel or give talks at institutes other than my own, so I thought I should share the joy.

My reaction to this TechCrunch article, Twitter Rolls Out New Web Design That Aligns With Mobile Interfaces, was “Meh!”

This was news I would care about if I used the Twitter web interface to tweet.

I do not. I use mobile apps. I use the TweetDeck Chrome app.

I have no real need to visit except to try to set up two-factor authentication or tweak some setting that only exists there. The mobile apps are more convenient and TweetDeck provides a superior experience, e.g., multiple and customized tweet streams.

This is probably one of the few examples where the mobile or other non-direct web experience is better than the original web experience.

I hope that we will see more examples like this, particularly in education. I imagine being able to offer a MOOC-like course that is entirely mobile-enabled, not just mobile-friendly. I would like to see entire administrative systems go paper-free with mobile applications that are not dumbed down versions of web tools.

Then I would not go “Meh!”

I would not even go “Ooh!” because the technology would be so simple and transparent instead of being so in-your-face.

Click to see all the nominees!

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Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

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