Sunday, January 10, 2010

Picking the "Right" Smartphone for mLearning

In our role of assisting customers and partners with planning and deploying successful mobile project projects, one of the key requirements every team wrestles with is where they need to "set the bar" when determining the target mobile devices they'll need to reach and support.  If the mobile audience is well defined, say the sales team and everyone has one of two different BlackBerry wireless handhelds configured the same and using the same carrier, your set of challenges is defined and well contained.  But if you're planning to support a broader audience where every mobile user picks their own devices for their own personal reasons, your set of challenges grows wide and varied.

The reason is simple: mobile devices -- especially smartphones -- were not created equal (or under the same rules or conditions). 

Everyone talks about how smartphones are really "pocket computers" -- and to some extent they are -- but the reality is some of the older mobile devices are not as capable as the vendors lead you to believe.  If we employ a computer laptop analogy, some mobile devices still in active service are more akin to an early Osborne 1 luggable portable PC (circa 1981) than they are to a sleek and powerful modern Dell Precision laptop or Apple Macbook Pro.

Generally, older data-enable mobile phones have smaller screens, less storage capacity, slower processors and operate on slower 2G networks. They also probably lack Wi-Fi and have web browsers that make Internet Explorer ver 5.0 seem advanced. 

Another set of challenges inherent with enterprise mlearning stems from the fact that teams want to prepare, distribute and track the kinds of compelling, informative and visually interesting content their users want/demand but they also need to ensure the content is still easy to create, distribute and secure when deployed out to the audience.  Older, less capable devices generally don't provide the ideal access and playback experience enterprise workers expect.  For example, a short 3-minute video sales presentation or marketing update that must to be encrypted and secured when stored on a standard BlackBerry Pearl smartphone can take as long as 45 seconds to unencrypt and launch on that older smartphone versus less than 3 seconds on a newer BlackBerry Bold, Tour or Storm2 device.

A broader challenge is derived from the fact most project teams are new to mobile learning and while experienced and uncomfortable creating, publishing and deploying content in the "e"-learning space, they have limited or no experience performing these same tasks in the "m"-learning space where their many lessons learned don't always transpose well into mobile content planning, authoring and distribution.  Moreover, mlearning content that seems to work well on one class of mobile device, say an Apple iPhone 3GS, may not work well or even at all on other popular smartphones like the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8300 -- the most popular device deployed throughout the corporate market to mobile workers.

With the many 100s of smartphone devices out there that seem like they'd work for mlearning delivery, where does someone start in making their selections when drawing their "line in the sand"?   From our experience, we'd offer the following list of "Highly Recommended versus Minimum Recommended" smartphones for mobile learning content access, delivery and security.   

Highly Recommended Devices” include:

Devices:                      Reasons:
Android G1, G2*, Nexus One*   High-res screen, Wi-Fi, media support + encryption
Apple iPhone
*, iPod Touch        High-res screen, Wi-Fi, media support + encryption
BlackBerry Bold 9000
*, 9700*   High-res screen, Wi-Fi, media support + strong encryption
BlackBerry Storm/Storm2
*        Large screens/best BB display, Storm2 preferred with Wi-Fi
BlackBerry Curve 8900
*            High-res screen, Wi-Fi, media support + strong encryption
BlackBerry Tour 96xx                 High-res screen, media support but NO Wi-Fi!
BlackBerry Curve 8520              Acceptable display/performance but bottom of the BB devices
Nokia Symbian/S60 Rel 5          High-end Nx, Ex Series devices, good browse + media
Windows Mobile v6.1 or 6.5       High-res screen, Wi-Fi, media support w/ touch UI interface

Minimum Recommended Devices” include:

Device:                        Reasons:
BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220        Faster processor but small display and no Wi-Fi
BlackBerry Pearl 81xx               Slow processor, tiny screen, no Wi-Fi, slow media playback
BlackBerry Curve 8310-8330    Same as above
BlackBerry World 88xx              Same as above

Palm Pre, Palm Pixi                  Fast, running WebOS, great browsers, Wi-Fi but no Apps
Nokia Symbian S60 Rel 3         Lower end devices but margin media and browser support.
Windows Mobile v5.0 or 6.0      High-res screens but lack of functionality + no touch screens

* = preferred devices for pilots or POCs

If you're interested, I also recommend you check out our Mobile Device Comparison Matrix that helps provide a detailed side-by-side analysis of the more popular mobile devices and what's possible when trying to use them for your mobile learning projects.

As always, your own personal insights and feedback are appreciated.

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