Category Archives: kindle

Emerged Technologies


Four years is a long time in technology, but how much has happened since 2011?

Back in November 2011 I was asked by the AoC to present at a conference with Donald Taylor on emerging technologies and how FE Colleges should be preparing for them.

My slides and Donald’s are in this slidedeck.

My notes from that presentation are here, but how much has changed since then and had education really embraced and started to embed these emerging technologies.

Continue reading Emerged Technologies

Looking back to so what of the future…


Five years ago in March 2010, I wrote an article on the “future”.

At that time I wrote

Over the last year or so I have been doing a few keynotes and presentations entitled the future of learning. I do start with a caveat that I don’t know the future for sure and that no one can really predict the future…

I then reflected on the past before looking forward.

Well for me the “next big thing” is e-Books and e-Book Readers. These will hit the consumer market big time over the next three years. We will see many more people reading books, magazines and newspapers via devices such as the Apple iPad, Microsoft Courier and other devices not yet on the market.

Well in May 2010, we saw the release of the iPad in the UK and with that came the iBooks application.

Though the Kindle was originally released in 2007, the third generation of Kindles released in 2010 were competitively priced and we saw more people buying these devices and reading ebooks.

By 2012 we saw a huge increase in the sales of ebooks, some of that was due to the success of “50 Shades of Grey”, but in 2013 and 2014 we saw a decline in the rate of growth of ebook sales, so still growing, but more slowly than in 2011 and 2012.

There is also a “backlash” against ebooks with many commentators and some booksellers talking about “a growing number of people who are going back to books.”

Within education, we saw projects such as the Jisc Collections e-books for FE which from 2011-2014 saw 2996 e-books made available to FE Colleges for free.

So we have seen over the last five years a huge increase in the usage of ebooks and ebook readers, though to be honest whatever did happen to the Microsoft Courier?

As for the next five years…. well that might need to be another article.

The Kindle is not a problem!

This week I attended and presented at UWE’s E-Books: Experiences and Future Directions Conference. It was an interesting conference that had a focus on health and delegates from Universities, Colleges, Hospitals, Aggregators and Publishers attended.

One theme that did come out of the conference was the “Kindle Problem”. The issue stated by both aggregators, publishers and libraries was that users had Kindles, however all eBook platforms and downloadable formats were not compatible with the Kindle and therefore this was a problem “with the Kindle”.


Blaming the user is indicative of an industry that fails to understand its users and is an industry that dictates how users should do things, over trying to meet the needs of the user.

The reason that people see the Kindle is a problem, is that the Kindle has been successful. Consumers have gone out and bought the Kindle and therefore want to use it.

The reason the Kindle has been a success compared to other eBook readers is that Amazon have created a product that basically works.

I have a Kindle and I also use the Kindle App on my iPad. All my purchases are stored in the cloud and I can download my books to  the device of my choosing. I can download it to both iPad and Kindle. Once I have signed into the Kindle app, I don’t need to sign in again.

Now the Kindle isn’t perfect. There are issues with it that annoy my. I don’t like how it doesn’t support ePub, I think it’s PDF support is lacking.

Importantly though I use the Kindle to read books!

I did prior to the Kindle have a Sony e-Reader and though I did use it to read a few classics, the real issue I had was with getting books onto the device, the DRM meant that I had to use a specific computer to download the books onto before transferring them onto the e-Reader. I remember talking to a colleague at work  who had real problems doing that, so in the end didn’t use it, they now have a Kindle and use it all the time!

I find therefore interesting that providers of ebook platforms are very rigid and inflexible and then accuse Amazon of the same thing! I appreciate also that Amazon are in some ways just as inflexible as the aggregators and publishers!

If our users are buying and using the Kindle, then shouldn’t we, if we are offering e-book loans, ensure that whatever service we subscribe to supports or at least works towards supporting, the Kindle?

To ignore the Kindle or to assume that it is a problem is missing the fact that it is well used and liked by the user. To push another device onto the user so you don’t need to change implies you don’t have a user focus. There needs to be a push to Amazon to support an ebook lending model and for aggregators and publishers to change their systems to support the Kindle.

It can happen, but at this stage I can’t see it happening, can you?

“Reinventing” Textbooks, I don’t think so!

So has Apple reinvented the textbook?

I don’t think so.

Today in New York, Apple gave a presentation which announced three new products and services for education, iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app.

With iBooks 2 it is now possible to read e-books that also contain media and interactive content

I have to say to Apple and all those sites out there that are saying iBooks 2 has reinvented textbooks, I don’t think so. I felt a little underwhelmed by the textbooks that were announced by Apple. They are for all intents and purposes digitised textbooks with some fancy video, slideshows and other effects. There are already apps within the iOS App Store that provide a similar experience, the Dorling Kindersley releases for example. I have already reviewed some of these in my review series, and I think some of those, such as Eureka, are much more innovative and exciting.

Don’t get me wrong, the use of video, animations, slideshows, 3D diagrams, interactivity can be so much better than the diagrams and photographs in a paper book. We mustn’t though forget that interactive doesn’t always mean engaging. Sometimes something very uninteractive and be very engaging, likewise in the past many interactive textbooks (we called them CD-ROMS back then) did not engage learners. It takes a lot of skill and thought to create engaging interactive content, and clever animations and video is only part of the picture.

What is missing is the Apple magic in the user interface. iBooks and devices such as the Kindle work for “normal” books such as novels and non-fiction where the reader moves from one page to another in a linear fashion. From a user’s perspective, the experience is comparable.

However this is not how academic textbooks are used by learners. Learners rarely (if ever) read an academic textbook from page to page. No they are more likely to flick through the pages to the relevant chapter or section, flick back to other parts of the book as they make notes, sometimes on the book (annotations) but also on paper (or using a word processor). Now you can do that in iBooks 2, but not nearly as easily and smoothly as you can with a paper book.

In May 2010, I wrote about how the Seattle Times outlined how student at the University of Washington did not like using the Kindle compared to using printed books.

There were some interesting results and comments from the pilot. 80% would not recommend the Kindle as a classroom study aid for example. However 90% liked it for reading for pleasure.

Though I hazard a guess that maybe a slightly lower percentage would not recommend the iPad as a classroom study aid, I said back then:

This is a lesson that educational publishers need to recognise when publishing content to platforms like the Kindle and the iPad. Though novels are linear and as a result eBook formats can “work” like a printed book, educational books are used differently and as a result eBook versions need to work differently. Students need to be able to move around quickly, annotate and bookmark.

Creating a digital copy of an academic textbook for a lot of learners is not going to work, as it doesn’t allow them to use the digital textbook in the way that they would use a paper copy. There needs to be a paradigm shift in understanding how learners use content, so that the advantages that a device such as the iPad can bring to learning are fully exploited and learners are not left thinking that the digital version is a poor relation of the paper textbook.

Those advantages that Apple outlined in their presentation that the iPad is portable, durable, interactive, searchable and current are just part of the story, digitising content misses out on the other advantages that the iPad brings to the desk. The touch interface offers so much more than just highlighting and flicking backwards and forwards in a linear fashion. Magazines such as Eureka and Wired have started to understand that, I am surprised that Apple haven’t.

There is also a complete lack of communication and sharing within iBooks 2. Learners are unable to share their annotations, copy their notes to their peers, discuss the content. All that is missing from iBooks 2, it is about consuming content, individually and then probably writing about it using Pages or creating a spreadsheet in Numbers.

The new textbooks in iBooks 2 make the mistake of creating a digital equivalent of the paper book with a few added bells and whistles and does not take advantage of the iPad interface and connectivity that could add so much. Textbooks need a new way of thinking, however this time Apple are not thinking differently enough.

What do you think?

Top Ten Technologies of 2011

This is the fourth time I have posted my top ten technologies of the year. Looking back over 2008, 2009 and 2010 it’s interesting to see what new technologies I am now using, which old ones have been left on the shelf and the technologies I still use.

What was interesting this year was how little change there was from last year, as though my personal technologies have settled down. There is no iPhone 4S for example in this year’s list. I keep thinking about upgrading my 3GS to the 4S, but keep putting it off.

There were a few technologies that nearly made it to the list. I really like my Apple TV and it’s a great tool for streaming content to my TV. However I really don’t use it as much as I thought it would. Without content providers such as BBC iPlayer or 4OD it’s not as useful as it could be. No cameras in my list this year, I do use my Canon DSLR a fair bit, though my Sony stills camera has spent very little time out and about. I still miss my Koday Zi8 which went missing in 2010, but the fact that I haven’t replaced it says a lot.

Will be interesting to see what is in my 2012 list.

10. Tricaster

The Tricaster makes a re-entry into my top ten, it was number six in 2009.

So you need to shoot video? You need to stream video? You need to record video? You need more then one camera? You want graphics, you want presentation slides, you want to screenshare? Though there are a plethora of tools out there for shooting and recording video, screen captures, presentations; most then require you to edit the footage before sharing. One of the things I wanted to do was to do all that, but do it live!

The Tricaster makes a comeback this year as it was the tool I used for ALT Live Beta, an experiment at ALT-C 2011 in which we broadcast live backstage video from the conference. It was a lot of fun and was well received by those who couldn’t attend the conference (and by a fair few delegates who were).

9. Blue Snowball Microphone

I have been recording this year again, not just e-Learning Stuff podcasts, but also symposia and other discussions. The Blue Snowball Microphone is certainly a key tool for this. I also use it at home for Skype and making recordings.

The main downside is that the size of the microphone makes it less than ideal for taking to events and carrying in a bag. However the quality of recordings means that I am more keen to use this then any other microphone.

It is lower down the list this year, in the main as I used it less. It is however still an essential tool for me.

8. Edirol R-09HR

The Edirol has appeared in my top ten for the last four years. it’s enduring quality has to be down to the fact it is that it still a brilliant job. It records fantastic audio in WAV or MP3 format to an SD card and uses AA batteries. Still a great technology and does what it says on the tin really well.

7. i7 iMac

People often ask me why I buy Macs, well the i7 iMac is a testament to why I do. I bought my i7 iMac in 2009 and was really impressed, it was my number two in my top ten in 2009 and was also in the top ten in 2010. It’s in the top ten again. Why, well for a computer that is over two years old it is still a really powerful computer that does everything I throw at it. It’s great for video editing, audio editing, video recording, encoding, all that web stuff, office tools and so much more. I use it virtually every day for a whole range of tasks. It’s one powerful machine and I don’t expect to replace it for at least a year, probably two, and it wouldn’t surprise me if I was still using it in 2015!

6. Kindle

I got my Kindle in 2010 and I was impressed with how easy it was to use, to get books and importantly read. Supported by the excellent Kindle app on the iPad, I am using Kindle much more for reading these days.

5. iPhone 4

The iPhone 4 is an amazing smartphone and was what the iPhone should have been from day one. The camera is excellent, and great for taking stills and video. The retina display still astounds me in terms of the visual quality, especially when I drop back to the 3GS (which drops out of the top ten this year). The key advantage of the iPhone for me is the sheer number of apps and the quality and quantity have changed how I use a phone. iOS 5 has improved the user experience, for example notifications (very Android like) are so much better.

I do think the iPhone 4 is one of the best phones I have ever used and I am really pleased with it. However the reason why it has dropped a few places is that it fails now and again as a phone for making phone calls. I have also had some signal issues failing to get a decent 3G signal.

4. Google Nexus One

The Google Nexus One is getting a bit long in the tooth for an Android phone these days, it’s stuck at Gingerbread, there is no Ice Cream Sandwich for the Nexus One (which is a pity). However Gingerbread means that I can use my phone as a portable wireless hotspot so the MiFi stays in the bag and I returned my 3G USB dongle over a year ago now. Another reason why the Nexus One is higher in the top ten was the integration with Google+ and I do like Google+. The main reasons that the Nexus One is higher in the top ten that the iPhone 4 is the fact that it is a better phone for making phone calls. Also I seem to get a better 3G signal on the Nexus One than I do on the iPhone, though that may be down to T-Mobile on the Nexus One over O2 on the iPhone. On quite a few occasions I have used the portable wireless hotspot on the Nexus One to provide internet connectivity to the iPhone (and that can’t be right). I will say I prefer the app experience on the iPhone, but that’s not to say the apps on the Nexus One are awful, no they are really good, but my preference is for iOS.

3. BT Infinity FTTC

My fibre connection was in my top ten last year and over the last twelve months I have been very pleased with the stability and speed of the connection. Rarely, well once or twice, I have had an issue with bandwidth (dropping to a still reasonable 7Mb/s) but generally I have had a stable 37MB/s down and 8MB/s up.

2. MacBook Air

I upgraded my 13” MacBook Pro this year to the 11” Air. Alas not the new model. However I have been very impressed with the MacBook Air. It took me a while to get use to Lion, especially the gestures and though I still prefer Snow Leopard, I am now use to Lion on the Air and it isn’t stopping me from doing stuff (which is key really). I really like the weight (or lack thereof) of the Air and despite the lack of raw power the SSD ensures that the speed of the MacBook is fast enough. It has made an impact on how much I use my iPad and if I had to choose one I think I would choose the Air, but would really miss the iPad.

1. iPad

So for the second year running, the iPad is my top ten technology for the year. Now I know I just said I would choose the Air over the iPad, the difference is that I only got the Air in July and I have been using the iPad all year, and this is a top ten for the year; so it will be interesting to see what will be number one in 2012. Also they are complementary technologies rather than competing technologies, they both have their uses, advantages and disadvantages.

I was surprised in 2010 the impact of the iPad on the way that I did stuff. It continued in 2011 to have a real impact. I use it on a daily basis for communication, collaboration, content creation and content consumption. I did managed to get an iPad 2 in the summer, but in terms of how I use the iPad it had a minimal impact, I rarely use the camera, but do like the mirroring. As a result the iPad 2 is not in my top ten, whereas the original iPad is.

Back in 2010 I said

At work I use the iPad for dealing with e-mail and my calendar and quickly checking things on the VLE. For some meetings I do need to take a laptop as some tools we use rely on Flash or Java and that is one of the main weaknesses of the iPad is that these kinds of tools can not be used on it.

I still use the iPad for e-mail and calendar, however I now use a Citrix app to access our Windows XP corporate desktop to access those Java or IE based tools that we have. Therefore the main limitation is less of a limitation for me now. The fact I can easily access these iPad unfriendly tools using the iPad still makes me smile.

… its media capability easily surpasses any other mobile devices I have used. It’s not all perfect, I would like to stream (easily) video and audio from my iMac to my iPad…

AirPlay has made a big difference for me for media streaming across my home network. I like that I can stream iTunes Rentals from my iMac to my iPad without having to go through the laborious process of transferring the movie file from the iMac to the iPad, I can just stream the DRM’d content across the wireless network.

So last year the iPad was my top technology, Apple have made things better and on the basis of how much I used it, the iPad is once again my top technology of the year.