What is Handheld? Does size matter? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bob Harrison on Friday, 28 April 2006
/origami_founder_1_small.jpgPoint of Debate.

The definitions of mobile learning and mobile and portable devices are varied. Different people have different perspectives and opinions.

Is it a mobile phone? A PDA? An MP3 player? UMPC? Reader? Games console? Tablet PC? Laptop? Classroom response systems? Kiosks(combined with a thin client solution access card?) USB storage devices? All that debate could be futile, in any case, as it is the learner who is mobile and not necessarily the device which is the significant factor.

The other reason this debate could be futile is the inevitable move towards convergence.

An interesting dimension to the Wireless and Mobile Technology in Education conference in Tokushima ,Japan, recently was a demonstration of wearable computers from the University of Osaka. Although this was more about fashion than functionality it demonstrated the inevitability of convergence and personalised technology.

So where do tablet pcs fit? Are they handheld?

I posed this question to a leading academic in mlearning recently and he replied, Well unless the manufacturers are developing a tablet which can be gripped and used by the feet and toes Tablet PCs are handheld!

A recent evaluation of Tablet PCs in schools and literature review undertaken by the Open University for Becta strongly demonstrates why Tablet PCs, in a wireless environment, are definitely handheld.

Have a read and decide for yourself.

Tablet PCs In Schools: A review of literature and selected projects - Becta

Tablet PCs in Schools: Case Study Report - Becta

About the Author:

Bob Harrison is a learner and teacher and former principal who has spent 25 yrs teaching in schools and colleges in England. He is Education Adviser for Toshiba Information Systems(UK) Ltd and supports the Toshiba Ambassadors Community. He is also a Consultant and Online tutor for the National College of School Leadership and the Department for Education and Skills.

He has written and presented on mobile learning, portable technologies, communities of practice and the relationship between personalisation and portability.

Further information from www.setuk.co.uk


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Comments from the forum:
What is Handheld? Does size matter?
andyb    May 5th, 2006 - 3:21 PM
The first link Now not handhelds but really small full blown pc's plug in a monitor and and keyboard

Two stories on Digg that might impact us at some time..

tinyurl http://tinyurl.com/hx6vk

"The Space Cubed which is claimed to be the world's smallest personal computer. At the size of 2 x 2 x 2.2 inch, it has a 300 MHz processor and 64MB of SDRAM. Shown in the picture, it includes number of ports such as USB, Ethernet, flash memory. monitor port, serial connection and microphone. Pocket PC anyone?

The second a little lest tasteful.

Combined with urine powered batteries..

 Tinyurl http://tinyurl.com/rklcq

 True portability..
Re: What is Handheld? Does size matter?
Mark van 't Hooft    May 10th, 2006 - 4:32 PM
I think size does matter. See my other post in the Origami thread here:


The question, does small mean handheld? is a good one. I've been tossing around the issue of defining what a handheld is with some of my colleagues here. One of the conclusions we've reached is that it doesn't just depend on the device (size, shape, footprint, etc.), but also the user. Small for an adult may mean something different than small for a child, e.g. a six-year old. One definition we will be using for some writing we will do soon is this one (note that we are using the device in question here not a handheld, but a highly mobile device, because it includes more than what we would probably consider to be a handheld:

   high mobility (that is, they are small enough that elementary school students can hold the device in one hand and carry it from place to place);
   a small footprint (so that they do not intrude in face-to-face interactions);
   the computational and display capabilities to view, collect, or otherwise use representations and/or large amounts of data; and
   the ability to support collaboration and/or data sharing.

Devices included in our definition are PDAs, mobile phones, some tablet computers, networked graphing calculators, the recently announced Origami device, the new generation of handheld gaming systems, iPods, motes, data loggers, etc.  The definition leaves out traditional laptop computers; while they have been found to be useful in education (and much has been written about their virtues), they do not fit our definition of highly mobile, and their footprint is such that they tend to intrude in face-to-face interactions.

Note that one of the foci of this definition is the idea that a highly mobile device supports and encourages interaction between users, esp. face-to-face interactions (like we would envision in a classroom or informal environment). A laptop, for example, tends to be less effective in this respect, just because of its sheer size (and we've found this even with smaller laptops). Being able to hold the device in one hand and not having to set it down seems to be the key. This does work with something like a tablet, because it tends to get used/held more like a clipboard, cradled on the forearm.

Note that size of the device isn't the only thing that matters when defining "handheld"...
Re: What is Handheld? Does size matter?
FireStarter    June 3rd, 2006 - 2:39 PM
So where do tablet pcs fit? Are they handheld?

I posed this question to a leading academic in mlearning recently and he replied, Well unless the manufacturers are developing a tablet which can be gripped and used by the feet and toes Tablet PCs are handheld!

Maybe we should stick to calling them Pocket PC's then to avoid confusion amongst "leading academics"  Roll Eyes
Re: What is Handheld? Does size matter?
Di Dawson    June 4th, 2006 - 5:12 PM
As a newbie to this site I'd like to add that a handheld surely must be portable ie without needing to be plugged into the mains.

It's a shame as while I'm doing some research for a guide I'm writing for NIACE I found the Nabaztag. perhaps you've seen it? A WiFi gadget which picks up email and organises you  Grin  But it looks as if it must be plugged in.... shame as (talking as a female who likes gadgets) it could be cool to walk around with a talking rabbit all day!  Don't worry the guide is mainly about PDAs, mobile phones and MP3 players inc Ipods but I have included a section about 'the future of handhelds'  What would you include in this section. I've already seen the Cube - do you classify that as a true handheld device of the future?
Re: What is Handheld? Does size matter?
Graham    June 5th, 2006 - 12:30 AM
I've stepped back from this debate somewhat to see what would happen partly because Bob has often accused me of bias against Tablet PC's  Grin

I'm actually not anti-Tablet and certainly devices such as UMPC/Orgami when they become smaller, lighter, cheaper, more robust, instant-on/off with long lasting batteries will, in my opinion, become a very important part of the mobility landscape. Neither is this community about a single type of technology, rather it is about the kind of enhanced learning and teaching that may be achieved when mobile technologies are used.

The reality I see is that there will be a range of mobile devices and the challenge for the school/university ICT infrastructure is to be flexible enough to embrace the variety of devices being used.

But on the issue of size, I really do think it matters in many cases. For example, if an iPod was the size of a VCR would it have been so successful?

Take a look at this picture here (captured on a Treo smartphone, btw):

This is a design and technology class.

If you look closely you'll see that there are computers (in this case Pocket PC's) embedded in the classroom, scattered around on the tables as tools. If these were laptops or even tablets they would have dominated the working environment, preventing the students from working creatively. Here they are being deployed as useful tools rather than electronic clipboards.

Re: What is Handheld? Does size matter?
Mark van 't Hooft    June 5th, 2006 - 3:09 AM
Nice example Graham,
This is exactly how technology is used at its best in educational settings, available when needed, but not overbearing. Do you know by any chance if there are any other technology tools available for these students in that environment (other than the scroll saw in the foreground)?
Re: What is Handheld? Does size matter?
David Perry    June 7th, 2006 - 9:35 AM

Welcome to the forum - I'd got word that you were doing this study ;-).

I hope you'll keep us informed as your report develops, I look forward to seeing it.

In response to your question, it would be worth looking at the recent Becta publication 'Emerging technologies for learning' especially Geof Stead's bit. I like the idea of e-modules (my name for them) which take care of discrete tasks (eg comunicationg with the web, taking phots, emailing etc) all of which interact seamlessly. Then we could take with us the ones we needed depending on what we're doing. And the whole thing combined wouldn't be too big unless you opted to take  a large screen or keyboard with you, for example.

If anyone knew what the future killer handheld device would be they'd be busy getting rich but at least we're now learning what nonsense looks like, eg we could be carrying a digital camera in our laptop (eg Sony), PDA, phone and MP3 player. Some people already are. But the evidence is that eg phone camera photos don't usually get carried forward for posterity because most users don't know how to do more than email them to a friend's phone.

The Wolverhampton project suggests that children/learners having a still/video camera is really important to chaging learning approaches and pedagogy, but almost all manufacturers have dropped them from their PDAs. This indicates a need for people like you to report to makers what the education market needs.

Good luck

David Perry
Re: What is Handheld? Does size matter?
Di Dawson    June 20th, 2006 - 2:58 PM
Hi Dave

Gosh - where do the days go - you posted this on 7th!

I will keep you posted about the book  (draft version has been submitted now!) - am now working on the web site which has the advantage of allowing for a greater amount of content so still am gathering case studies, ideas etc.  I've recently ploughed thru Emerging Technologies - great stuff! and picked Andy Black's brain last week for specific quotes to include.

I was in Wolves Uni yesterday at a Podagogy event - John Traxler had recommended it and it was really great to see how Ipods were being used in T&L in HE. 
Re cameras in PDAs - I would agree that demand needs to steer the tech market if at all possible. I would hope the Loox continues to include the camera even if only due to the demand by schools sector.  Mind you my 2megapixel camera on my phone is brilliant - far better than any image I've seen off a PDA - even the Loox.

I'm still looking for real techie stuff for the future but I would agree with you that it's best to consider what you want to do, then decide on the device to use.Dave Whyley recently gave me similar advice and it's absolutely relevant.  BTW My handbag always has video Ipod, smartphone, pda and mp3 player/recorder!

I'll keep posted to this and the other discussions for certain! Wink
Re: What is Handheld? Does size matter?
Gill    July 17th, 2006 - 5:26 PM
BTW My handbag always has video Ipod, smartphone, pda and mp3 player/recorder!

I'll keep posted to this and the other discussions for certain! Wink

Handbags - a subject close to my heart. Mine contains an ipod mini, digital camera, Nokia N80 smartphone, O2 XDA mini, Acer N30 and a data pen. On certain days, it also contains a GPS HP IPAQ 6510 (soon to be a an IPAQ 6915). Good thing I go for large handbags  Cheesy

My reason for carrying around such an abundance of gadgetry is that I'm trying out things to use in my PhD research into informal learning with mobile devices. Something that has struck me since using the O2 XDA mini http://shop.o2.co.uk/shop/o2uk/jsp/handsets/viewHandsetDetails.jsp?prodID=consumer:O2:XDAMini:GROUP with its neat little slide-out keypad and really easy GPRS access, compared to the Nokia N80 which runs the symbian operating system, is the fact that although of similar size, these two devices are actually quite differnt. The Nokia is basically a PHONE with a neat little internet browser and some gizmos such as lifeblog that purport to enable you to blog your photos, entries etc from your phone. The O2 XDA mini is basically a PDA with a sim card in it that gives you access to the internet.

If I need to do things like check emails, browse websites, upload photographs or contribute to weblogs - then the O2 XDA is the way to go. The Nokia N80 seems quite counter-intuitive to someone experienced with both windows and mac-os.

If I want to make a simple phone call then its the Nokia N80 any time because it has the slide-out phone keypad.

It has been suggested that mobile phones and PDAs will eventually merge into a single do everything device. I'm not so sure. What do you think?
Re: What is Handheld? Does size matter?
gerry.gray    July 18th, 2006 - 6:46 PM
It's also been suggested that putting too many functions into one device means it is a jack of all trades, master of none, and that battery life suffers as a result.  But I would love to have a phone, camera, pda, email and internet gadget in one.  I love the O2 XDA but you are right, it is not easy to choose it as a phone.  My hubby's phone has a much better camera too, but my phone is small and light, with good batery life.  And as for my teaching, I couldn't teach without my Tablet PC, but it has to be small enough for me to pick up and wander around with... but I wish it had a built in camera...

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