Right-sizing Mobile Learning

It’s official. Apple has made it okay to carry a phone with a screen larger than 4 inches. The advent of the iPhone 6 and, more specifically, the iPhone 6 Plus, has put the much sought-after Apple stamp of approval on the phablet era. A phablet refers to those devices that could be considered either a small tablet or a large phone. Manufacturers have been tinkering with the concept for a while, especially Samsung with its line of Note devices that debuted in 2011. Back then, it had a 5.3-inch screen and now it is a whopping 5.7 inches. The iPhone 6 Plus is 5.5 inches.

This evolution is important because it highlights the eternal mobile struggle: portability versus screen size. When we talk about putting learning literally into the hands of learners, there is an important distinction between phones and tablets. Anyone who owns a smartphone typically has it with them at all times without even thinking about it. A tablet, on the other hand, requires a conscious decision to take it with you.

Tablets have been considered mobile devices in the past because we have been comparing them to laptops. But the two worlds are overlapping. Most tablets can accommodate an unobtrusive keyboard, while more and more PC laptops are coming with detachable keyboards and touch screens. Both Apple OS X and Microsoft 8 behave like app-driven tablet systems. This confluence points to tablets replacing the laptop space and tends to make me separate phones from tablets when discussing mobile.

However, designers love tablets because of their generous screen space, which allows for more complex graphics and user interface options. As people begin to increasingly gravitate to devices with screen sizes from 5.5 inches to 6.5 inches, that’s where the heart of mobile design will live. The good news is that 5.5 inches is an ocean of screen space when compared to 4 inches. It allows for easier button placement without fear that they will be too small and videos are far easier to watch.

The message here is that while the laptop/tablet convergence might indicate the need to focus design in that space, true mobility is still predicated on a mobile device you can drop into your pocket or bag, and designing for mobile should start there, not with the tablet.

David Wentworth, Senior Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

David Wentworth

David Wentworth has been a senior research analyst in the human capital field since 2005 and joined the Brandon Hall Group in 2013. He has authored reports and articles on various human capital subjects with an emphasis on workforce technology. He has contributed to several reports published by ASTD, including authoring Mobile Learning: Learning in the Palm of Your Hand, The Rise of Social Media: Enhancing Collaboration and Productivity Across Generations, and Instructional Systems Design Today and in the Future. His work has also appeared in Compensation & Benefits Review and T+D Magazine.

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