ÜberTech

Dialing into Generation M(obile)

Summary:What 2011’s back-to-school shopping season tells us about what workers' technology needs are - not in the future - but today.

For Kenny Jahng, an online media consultant in Livingston, New Jersey, there has been no shortage of ‘aha’ moments affirming the educational value of his kids’ iPad 2.

Seeing his 10-year-old daughter chat with an after-school tutor live via the tablet. Watching the 22-minute homage to American Idol that she created with three friends using an iPhone and iMovie. Or observing his 6-year-old son figure out Bluetooth networking and search Google all by himself.

“Instead of giving my son a screwdriver so he can take things apart, the iPad is the same sort of tool,” Jahng told me on the phone recently. “It’s the best $499 I’ve spent.”

The iPad is inspiring the sort of learning and creativity in Jahng's kids that Heathkits, crystal radios and, let's be frank, PCs, did for generations past.

Indeed, Jahng is so enthralled by his kids' self-learning that he’s thinking of getting another tablet. He’s not alone, of course. U.S. parents were expected to spend $20 billion on computers, smartphones like the Droid X, and tablets for their college and K-12 children this back-to-school season, according to the National Retail Foundation. Preliminary NRF figures show those expectations were met, with sales at electronic and appliance stores this year were up 2.5% from last year.

Mobile Devices Already Mainstream

Clothes, pencils and even laptop computers remain staples, but they are being increasingly shoved aside by mobile gadgets.

In other words: in spite of the weak national economy and cost-conscious shoppers, as many as one out of five students were expected to bring new tablets or smartphones to school last month, according to a survey sponsored by PriceGrabber, a unit of Experian.

Tablets and smartphones inspire creativity and learning the way that chemistry sets and crystal radios did a generation ago.

The mainstreaming of mobile technology is no shock to anyone who has the slightest bit of contact with today’s youth. Americans of college age (18-24 years old) send an average of 1,640 texts per month, or 55 a day.

Middle and high school students (13-17 years old) are twice as prolific, according to Nielsen, sending an average of 3,364 text messages a month, or a whopping 112 per day.

Educators are arguably being even more aggressive. 2,300 school districts in the U.S. are using the iPad, including 600 that have 1:1 iPad:student classrooms.

At http://ipadpilots.k12cloudlearning.com/, I list more than 170 colleges and 150 K-12 schools and school districts that have deployed iPads on a mass scale. Recent large adopters include Longfield Academy in the UK, which rolled out 1,400 iPads this fall, Archbishop McCarthy HS in Florida, which deployed 1,200 iPads to students and Zeeland HS in Michigan which gave away 1,800 iPads to students.

Or take Long Island University has deployed 5,000 iPads to students and faculty in its first year, and expects to roll out 10,000 by December.

“We started to realize that the need for PCs is starting to die,” CIO George Baroudi told me last fall when the rollout began. “The mouse is dead,” declares Baroudi. “Long live the finger!”

Tablets aren’t a superficial techno-fad. Their unique strengths are being taken advantage of by educators. In a psychology course at LIU, students use iPads to track the progress of autistic children. Meanwhile, geography students are using the iPad’s built-in GPS receiver to make maps and analyze earthquakes. At Zeeland High School, students are using an iPad app to study from flash cards for a literature quiz.

"Now we can spend more time doing critical thinking -- applying those terms on those flash cards," a student told USA Today.

Textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has developed math apps that have been shown to boost student proficiency by 30% over regularly-taught classes.

What That Means for Employers

The aggressiveness with which schools and students are embracing mobility is a good lesson for those of you in the adult world.

But don’t let this blog fool you: Generation Mobile isn’t arriving years from now. They’ve already arrived. Chances are that they have already invaded your workforce today, bringing their preferences and skills.

According to a survey in the summer by Kelton Research and sponsored by my employer, Sybase, an SAP Company, 58% of U.S. and U.K. workers desperate to use their preferred mobile device at work (aka Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD) say they would give up free coffee in exchange for that right. 39% would give up free food, while 20% would even give up a vacation day.

Their desperation stems from this simple fact: their employers’ IT departments haven’t caught up. Almost half (44%) complain that they don't have access to enough mobile applications to do their jobs as well as they can from their work computers. Meanwhile, less than a third (29%) think their IT department is good at managing mobile devices.

For organizations who likely already employ members of Generation M, the lesson should be as easy as an ‘A’ in a ‘Rocks for Jocks’ course: embrace mobility because a fast-growing swath of your workforce not only expects to have mobile tools at their disposal, but because they have the mindset and know-how to take advantage of them.

Do so, and you’ll transform your business for the better, enabling your company to ‘school’ the competition. But eschew mobility, and your company will run into a fate much more serious than an ‘F’ on a report card.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Hardware, iPad, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets, Wi-Fi

About

Eric Lai tracks the latest news and trends in enterprise mobility. A veteran tech journalist most recently covering enterprise software for Computerworld, Eric joined Sybase, an SAP company in April 2010. Eric's views are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of SAP. This blog is sponsored by SAP.

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