Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Evolution of BYOD

The Evolution of BYOD (2013-09-26)

There was a time when bringing your own computer to campus meant that a student was bringing it for their dorm room - and connectivity wasn't a question.  Today, most students have at least two, a phone and a laptop, and some add to this a tablet, an ebook reader, a WiFi connected music player, etc.   Most of those grab a WiFi signal as soon as it comes into range.  Will this trend continue?  Will there soon come a day when our students will look like carnival rides, emitting multi-hued radio if we could see it?

Much of the increase in student owned devices on campus is not driven by any perception that having the device will enhance their learning potential.  It is rather, simply, that students bring their lives with them.  They bring their Kindle, iPod and phone along because that is what they bring everywhere.  A laptop is probably a different matter though.  Laptops are still fragile and bulky, requiring their own case or allocated area in a backpack.  Prone to damage, laptops are likely to come along to school only if the student sees a specific value in having one.  Laptops are not a part of a student's everyday life, but some do still bring them.

So, is this a maximum?  Can we expect the maximum number of WiFi dependant devices per student to grow much beyond five (phone, music player, reader, tablet, laptop)?  Of course, this list contains overlap in that the phone is the only item in the list that contains a function that the others don't have.  In theory, a smartphone could, and for some does, fulfill all of the functions.

What of Glass?  What of proposed "smart watches"?  What of "Ubiquitous Computing" as proposed by Xerox PARC?  That last, while not a BYOD concept, still links into the same philosophy which is driving the increase in internet access demand, i.e.  Always Be Connected. Will our IT department have to add an ever increasing number of Access Points to handle an exploding number of devices demanding a WiFi signal?

I don't think so.  I think we are at or near a peak.  All of these devices seek out their own, private connection because they are designed to be stand-alone.  As smart phones reach 1 to 1 levels, these specialized devices will disappear in favor of a single device, a nexus (Google chose its branded Android device name well), which will connect to the world through whatever method is available and will act as an access point for all of the others.  The smart phone is already half way there.  It does a really good job of connecting to the world, but it doesn't do a good job of providing some of these other functions.  It is poor at those other functions primarily because its input/output (I/O) interface is limited and limiting.

I/O has long been a limiting factor in device miniaturization.  A perfect example of this is Apple's iPod Shuffle.  This device shows just how far you can miniaturize something if you can get rid of the I/O.  The Shuffle 4 is just 29×31.6×8.7 mm (1.1×1.2×0.3 in), it weighs 12.5 g (0.4 oz), even using 2010 technology.  However, its utility is considerably degraded in comparison with even it smallest 'sibling', the Nano because it lacks all but the most basic controls.  That said, it still does what it is designed to do quite well.  It simply plays music.

I believe that the trend toward a greater number of devices seeking their own connection to the internet will reverse.  The smartphone will evolve into a connection device which will pair with local, really local, devices which are optimized for their own functions.  So, your Glass, your music player and your watch will all connect to and through your phone.  For its part,  your phone will be pluggable into a keyboard-display-battery (KDB) and act as a full portable PC if you wish, thus eliminating the I/O problem and extending battery life on the element most in need.

This is not far fetched.  All of the pieces are actually in existence right now.  Well, the pluggable KDB did exist five or more years ago with a PIM device by, I think, AT&T, but its utility was not yet sufficient because the other pieces didn't exist yet, so it evaporated. However, we have them all now, they simply await standardization. 

 Elmhurst College Center for Scholarship and Teaching (CST)

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