A New (Mobile) World Is Coming

The second day of CIL opened with a keynote on “Planning for a Handheld Mobile Future” by Megan Fox, Web & Electronic Resources Librarian at Simmons College. It’s clear that an entirely new way of accessing information and providing library services is about to burst upon us. The mobile future has become an absolute necessity. There are 1.4 billion cell phone users in the world today, 109 million of whom are in the US. Almost all of today’s phones are capable of Web surfing, taking pictures, instant messaging, etc., and there are many other types of mobile devices in use as well: PDAs, iPods, GPS devices, tablet PCs, ultra-PCs, gaming devices, and smart phones.

Increasingly, smart phones are appearing in libraries; some of the new ones incorporate calendars, address books, Web browsing, full keyboards (some of them slide out from the phone, keeping the overall size of the device small), and a mobile version of Windows. Electronic book readers are making a comeback with new super-reflective screens and easy to read typefaces. Microsoft is about to introduce a new ultra-mobile PC with a 7 inch display, USB ports, Wi-Fi capability, and a touch pad interface with larger buttons to accommodate fingers (no more need for a stylus).

Although the leading uses of Web sites for mobile devices are weather, e-mail, searching, maps, and news, some traditional library content (dictionaries, encyclopedias, reference titles, etc.) is now being made available for mobile devices. Database providers such as Ovid, LexisNexis, Westlaw, PubMed, and Factiva have developed interfaces for mobile devices, particularly in the medical and legal areas. Typically, a mobile device user wants answers, not searching or lists of links. Devices are coming that will sense a user’s location and present them with customized weather information. The well known question-answering service Answers.com has a mobile device interface with a special section for librarians.

Short Message Service (SMS, also known as text messaging) is used by 62% of mobile device owners, and SMS information services are already available. Yahoo! Go sends text messages giving gas price information or traffic reports to phones, and AskMeNow provides answers to questions. SMS is extremely popular in Europe and Asia, and it’s clear that the US market is ripe for development.

Many library services are being developed for mobile devices; examples are reference services sent to SMS users, notifications when held materials have arrived at the library, news feeds, live audio content, audiobooks, or podcast feeds to database resources. Mobile video is also poised to explode. Examples of interfaces being developed for mobile devices include shopping services (i.e. Froogle), sporting event results, and the ability to purchase movie tickets using a mobile phone. Perhaps in the future, we will be able to take a picture of a book cover using a mobile phone, send it to a library catalog and have a reserve automatically placed.

It is clear that mobile devices are making a significant mark on all areas of the information society, and Fox’s presentation was a good overview of them. For a look at her slides (which have pictures of a wide variety of devices), click here.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

4 Responses to “A New (Mobile) World Is Coming”

  1. Ecacofonix October 9, 2006 at 1:58 pm #

    Interesting post and useful info, thanks…

    I track mobile research & usage trends for a page I’m putting up on the future of mobile economy, and this is one area of keen interest to me – the content that will be used by mobile users…as you have rightly pointed out, the first uses have been for utilities such as weather but soon more value added content will be reaching the mobile…and how soon this happens will depend on how quickly the content providers are able to work with tech companies to make this happen!

    Just some thoughts, nice article, thanks again!

    NS @ Mobinomy – For the Mobile Economy

  2. Megan March 24, 2006 at 3:59 pm #

    Bill, I totally agree it’s here! You’re unfairly judging me just on the title the conference organizers chose months ago : (

    I’ve actually been writing and presenting on how libraries have been utilizing mobile information since about 2000. I shared tons of “now” real life library examples in this presentation, as well as what still could be considered “future” – such as mobile visual search (using an image taken on a camera phone to initiate a search, for example).

    It’s a shame you were not able to attend this year, as given what I know from being familiar with your “Wireless Libraries” list and blog, I bet you would have really enjoyed the content of my talk.

  3. Info Today March 23, 2006 at 10:29 pm #

    Yes it is, but the title of her talk was “Planning for a Mobile World” so I played off that for my post.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Don Hawkins

  4. Bill Drew March 23, 2006 at 7:49 pm #

    It is not just coming, it is already here!