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Apple's iPhone Laptop Patent Application – Inside Higher Ed (blog)

On 3/23 Apple filed patent application (number 20170083048) for an “electronic accessory device wherein the operational component is solely controlled by the electronic host device.”

Looking at the picture from the patent application, we see that what Apple is proposing is to give the iPhone a keyboard (and probably more battery life).  

It is easy to imagine iOS evolving to a place where it can run any application as well as MacOS.  At that point, the only thing that stands before a world of a merged OS is the keyboard.

Why should digital learning people care about an iPhone accessory that Apple may never bring to market?

One answer is mobile learning. And the other answer is cost.

We should acknowledge that this Apple patent application does not seem all that original. Remember the Motorola Atrix 4G Lapdock from 2011? I got all excited about this accessory in 2011, writing that:

“The Atrix is a step closer to the dream of a full computer in a mobile device. An external keyboard and screen accomplishes what Moore’s Law cannot.”

I was wrong in 2011 about the smart phone dock. Maybe I’ll be wrong as well in 2017. 

Still – go with me for a second.

What if Apple could make the iPhone keyboard/screen dock really really cheap? So cheap that we wouldn’t think twice about buying a few, leaving them at work and at home.  

And what if the full computer experience was really really good on an evolved iOS?  

The development of this enabling hardware and evolved software may finally be what we need to push learning to mobile.

The dream of having a full mobile digital learning experience has been inhibited by the fact that the mobile form factor is great for consumption, and not so great for production. Writing requires typing, as writing is all about re-writing.  

A keyboard is the best technology to translate thinking into communication.  

We can dictate our thoughts, but we can’t do so publicly – and dictation remains a poor method for revising.

A converged mobile / laptop OS is surely coming. It seems strange to me that we still live in a world of OSX/iOS and Chrome OS / Android.  

The fact that Microsoft has failed so far to converge the desktop / mobile OS around Windows should not dissuade from believing in a merged OS future. (Or should it?) Does anybody that you know use a Windows phone?

Part of the reason why I like this Apple patent application is that I want to see the cost of digital learning tools to come down. If tomorrow’s students need only buy a phone for all their digital learning needs – assuming that the dumb keyboard/screen accessory is as cheap as a case – then we have addressed at least one educational cost obstacle.

Maybe a switch towards an all phone world – albeit one in which phones also get keyboards and bigger screens – will spark new thinking in the world of mobile learning.

Whatever we think of this Apple patent application, we should admit to ourselves and each other that the mobile learning revolution is not quite going as planned. Laptops, keyboards, browsers, and full computer OS’s still dominate. Mobile learning apps are interesting, but beyond personalized learning applications such as Duolingo, these apps have failed to supplant the incumbent browser based digital learning platforms.

Do you think that we will witness the demise of the phone / laptop divide?

Do you believe that the future of mobile and desktop/laptop operating systems is one of separation or convergence?

How in the world are we going to catalyze the next generation of mobile learning hardware and software?


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