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CS Going Mobile?

By Dave Reed

I recently ran across some statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau that I found interesting.

By 2008, the number of text messages sent on cell phones (357 per month, on average) exceeded the number of phone calls made (204 per month, on average). For teens, the gap between texting and calling is even more pronounced, 1,742 texts vs. 231 phone calls per month, on average. If anything, the texting gap has widened in the last two years as we hear reports of teens averaging 4,000 texts a month!

Clearly, smart phones and handheld devices are becoming the pervasive computer technology for young people. My guess is that desktop computers will soon go the way of the dinosaur, and that even laptops will decrease in popularity as many people realize that a Blackberry or iPad can give them all of the connectivity they need. The question remains as to how computer science education adapts (or doesn't) to this shift. Will CS programs start to emphasize mobile computing, including the social implications of mobile technology?

Will programs continue to create courses on the development of mobile software (akin to Stanford's iPhone class)? Can understanding mobile technology be the hook that interestsmore students to take a computing course?

Any thoughts, predictions, or experiences people want to share?

Dave Reed
CSTA Board of Directors


"It depends on the platform". One feature I remember from early computers, is that they featured end-user programming.

The iPhone does not, and in fact Apple will reject applications that include an embedded programming language interpreter.

If we want to make it easy for people to customize their handheld devices, then programmability is the "killer app" here. Google, in contrast to Apple, recently shipped a beta version of the "App inventor" for creating applications for the Google phone by connecting code blocks together, similar to how Scratch works.

I look forward to seeing Apple change its policies and encourage a wide variety of software development environments for the iPad/iPhone. The example of Hypercard should be obvious to them - it enabled a whole generation of software development by educators and students, inspiring clones such as Toolbook and Runtime Revolution.

I believe there is a future software development environment for touch-screen mobile devices that will make software development again. While this isn't the same thing as building new curriculum for high school computer science, it's a start.

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