Mobile Devices in 2011

By Hanson, Cody | Library Technology Reports, February-March 2011 | Go to article overview

Mobile Devices in 2011

Hanson, Cody, Library Technology Reports


The exploding popularity of mobile devices has led to a market where new devices are being released, new programs are being developed, and new features are gaining and losing popularity very rapidly. This chapter of Libraries and Mobile Services helps to make sense of the current market in mobile devices while explaining some of the basic principles of how these devices work and are differentiated.


Many of us in the library world have been monitoring developments in mobile technology for some time. We've recognized that these devices offered new and compelling means for access to information and have long sought to take advantage of them with, let's be honest, limited success. You could be forgiven for feeling that mobile technology for libraries is old news. You might be concerned that despite the dramatic shifts in device ownership and usage outlined in the previous chapter, our responses are limited to tools like SMS messaging.

Thankfully, the shifts in adoption and usage have been mirrored by dramatic evolution in mobile devices themselves. I agreed to write this issue of Library Technology Reports in September 2009. I'm completing it in late 2010 for publication in early 2011. The eighteen months that have passed between when I undertook this project and its publication are a lifetime in the mobile world (in the case of a few mobile companies, quite literally a lifetime).

In September 2009, Android released the software development kit (SDK) for its 1.6 update. Since then there have been no fewer than five more new SDKs released, and many Android phones are now running OS 2.2. The Palm Pre, running the proprietary webOS operating system, had been on the market just a few months, and the GSM variant of the phone, which allowed it to run on AT&T's network, had just been released. Palm has since released two new versions of its phone, the Pre Plus and the Pixi. In 2010 the company was bought by Hewlett Packard, and in October, HP announced the Pre 2 and webOS 2.0. In the summer of 2009 Apple released the iPhone 3GS and celebrated the first birthday of the iPhone App Store, announcing that over 65,000 applications were available in the store and over 1.5 billion had been downloaded. (1) Two months later those numbers were 85,000 and two billion, respectively. (2) The most recent information available shows that by September 2010, the App Store had over 250,000 applications which had been downloaded over 6.5 billion times. (3)

If it seems that a lot has changed since I undertook this project, think of how different the mobile device landscape is from when Ellyssa Kroski wrote her LTR. (4) The devices available gratis with new mobile contracts have a hardware and software feature set the like of which was unthinkable in 2007. We used to talk about "smartphones" and "feature phones." Smartphones were those few devices that had PDA, e-mail, and rudimentary Web connectivity. Feature phones (sometimes referred to as "dumb phones") were those that were single-function devices, good primarily for making calls and texting. At best, feature phones sometimes had a very rudimentary WAP web browser, many of which were restricted to accessing a portal created by the wireless carrier, devoted to add-on services like paid ringtone downloads.

The era of the feature phone is at an end, and the dramatic difference between the devices Kroski addressed in her LTR and today's mobile devices can hardly be overstated. Today virtually every phone offered by the major U.S. wireless providers has a wide range of hardware and software capabilities, including unrestricted access to the open Web.


The opportunities for libraries have likewise expanded. Improved screen technology allows better reading experiences. Third-party application markets are hotbeds of new information access models. High-resolution cameras turn any mobile device into a barcode scanner. …

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