Way back in April I wrote that the answer to Bill Thompson’s “Who will write tomorrow’s code?” may be found amongst the Eee PC generation of users. However, after having my programming interest piqued once again by last week’s Python workshop, I discovered I had regularly been carrying another device around that could have Python easily installed: my N95.
Whereas the Eee PC takes programming out of the bedroom into the community, programming on the mobile phone takes portability and sharing to a whole new level. Even more importantly, mobile phone programming would instantly grab the attention of the younger generation. Mobile phones are filled with their music, their videos, and their friends. Enabling users to create applications that use the data they already have (and more that they can download) can’t help but be popular.
Python is easy to install directly onto the mobile phone (nb. you need to install the PythonScriptShell as well as PythonForS60), and by installing simple text software (such as Light Notepad) you can program directly on the mobile (albeit rather clunkily) rather than having to send it across from a PC.
Whilst Python for the S60 has now been available for a couple of years, you get the distinct impression that it is only really popular amongst those people who would be programming anyway. Surely its time that it went mainstream and introduced more people to programming. The solution to the perceived programmer shortage would seem to be in people’s pockets.
Every now and then you read a blog post which is surprisingly in tune with your own thoughts and ramblings. Today that blog post was at the BBC, about the future of the mobile internet in the UK. Unsurprisingly, for a post on the technological future, it was more questions than answers:
-What device will win? Mobile phone, e-readers, £100 Linux laptops, or full blown notebooks?
-And most importantly, what sort of role the BBC can play?
I doubt whether any single device will ‘win’, instead it will be a case of horses for courses. Different people have different needs, and people will make the selection that meets their needs. For me this is the mobile phone, and the £100 Linux laptop (although the Eee PC was £200); if I can get the laptop out I do, but as I am walking down the street it’s not particularly practical. For others it may be a mobile phone and an e-reader, or they may only want to access the mobile internet on a full blown notebook.
Whilst the market seems to be quite good at getting the devices into people’s hands these days, I think the BBC could provide a service in telling people how to use them more productively. These day the average person has a mobile phone and a computer whose potential is barely touched. What proportion of users are aware of the additional programs and services they can download to their phones, or the information that they could get from the web with a bit of basic programming? The BBC could play an important role in raising the technological-literacy of the masses rather than the few; surely it is the only organisation with the capacity to do it.
All About Symbian notes a number of YouTube tutorials for beginners with the Nokia’s S60 platform.. Whilst these are without a doubt useful to the Nokia novice, a lot more needs to be done. Smartphones can be a useful addition to both people’s professional and personal lives, but only if they know how to use them.
Unfortunately, every time a new generation of mobile phones emerges they seem to be quickly followed by user surveys telling us that few people use more than 10 or 20 percent of the facilities available. These surveys are taken as an indicator of a lack of need rather than a lack of knowledge. Whilst all phones have some superfluous facilities, the current generation of phones really are offering useful applications if people know how to use them.
The obvious problem with mobile literacy is the numerous models available, and the individual restrictions placed by the different mobile operators. Nonetheless I find it hard to believe that on the web, where we hear so much about the potential of the long tail, that there aren’t decent portals offering all the skills and advice that people of every level would require for a specific model. Whilst there are decent blogs available, these often appeal to the users who are already making good use of their phones (although the blogs are extremely valuable nonetheless).
Maybe if we could start increasing level of mobile literacy, as well as more general computer literacy, organisations wouldn’t under value computer skills so much. If we continue to think of mobile literacy as the ability to make a call and send a text, and computer literacy the ability to send an email and surf the web and maybe use Microsoft office, then businesses and users will continue to fail to use the products to their full potential. Surely mobile illiteracy is costing the economy billions of pounds every year?