By Liston, Samuel
Computers in Libraries , Vol. 29, No. 5
Since the turn of the century, one of the hottest topics in the IT world has been the coming mobile revolution. While there's been some arguing over the details, the fundamental tenet of the mobile revolution is that lots and lots of people will start accessing web content from handheld portable devices instead of using a traditional laptop or desktop. For evangelists of the mobile revolution, this shift is the logical conclusion of market penetration and growth rates. Forrester Research estimates that there are about a billion computers in the world. In contrast, the International Telecommunication Union estimates that there are about 4 billion live cell phones in circulation today. That's two-thirds of the world's population. As more of these devices come online, making sure that our own resources--such as our OPACs--are compatible with these devices becomes imperative.
Admittedly, the revolution hasn't come quite as quickly to North America as the evangelists may have hoped. We have been hearing about it for 10 years, after all. But in the last couple of years, it appears that a number of large companies have started hedging bets that the revolution is indeed near. Apple threw its ten-gallon hat into the ring with the iPhone. Microsoft has been buying big mainstream ads for its Windows Mobile-based smartphones and touting the new mobility features of its Exchange 2007 email server. Google has also poured a great deal of money into making its applications available on a variety of mobile platforms, as well as introducing its own phone operating system. And longtime player BlackBerry has been seducing a new, less-corporate class of users with its newer Pearl and Curve models.
Marketing hype aside, where do we stand on the whole mobile revolution thing? As you might expect, a lot of it has to do with age and class. While estimates of smart-phone penetration in the general population tend to hover between 5% and 10%, depending on whom you ask and how the word "smartphone" is defined, a recent EDUCAUSE study pegged smartphone ownership at 66% for college freshmen.
As those kids graduate from school, smartphone penetration will skyrocket. Elsewhere on this issue, others will be talking about ways to leverage these mobile devices to provide more compelling services to the public. But the No. 1 thing we do at my public library is to hook people up with physical objects such as books and DVDs. To do that, there's often an OPAC transaction involved. How well can people do that on-the-go? In this article, we'll see how typical OPAC offerings from SirsiDynix; Innovative Interfaces, Inc.; and AquaBrowser appear on BlackBerries, iPhones, and Windows Mobile-compatible devices. We'll brazenly pass judgment on both the OPACs and the phones involved, we'll chat about some other systems, and then we'll look at how you can test your own library's site.
The Big Players
Canada's Research in Motion, Ltd. (RIM) is one of the long-running leaders in the smartphone field with its popular BlackBerry line of devices. As you undoubtedly know, Apple has enjoyed a great deal of success with the introduction of its iPhone products. Indeed, the popularity of the iPhone has been responsible for a great deal of the growth in the smartphone market sector over the last year.
True to its typical style, Microsoft is not interested in developing phones directly. Instead, it concentrates on developing the software that runs the phones--Windows Mobile. While Taiwanese-based HTC Corp. is the dominant manufacturer of Windows Mobile-based phones, other popular developers include Sharp, Samsung, LG, Palm, and, most recently, Sony Ericsson.
Google is just getting into the game. It's taking the Microsoft approach of writing the software that powers smartphones, dubbing its software Android. At the time of this writing, the only Android-based phone available was the HTC Dream/G1, though large electronics conglomerates including Samsung, Motorola, and Sony Ericsson were developing Android-based products that are scheduled for release this year. …