Emerging Technologies in Mobile Computing

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One of the clear trends in recent years in the digital world is for more power and more features to be packaged into increasingly smaller packages. Today's mobile computers, digital cameras, and digital camcorders have features unimaginable a few years ago. While in other fields these devices might be dismissed as expensive and unnecessary toys, for the language professional interested in capturing and sharing authentic language materials in digitized form, they offer exciting opportunities for enhanced presentations of target cultures and languages, as well as pedagogical possibilities for the creation of Web journals or electronic trip portfolios.

Laptops and Multimedia
While increasing in speed and storage capacity, laptop or notebook computers have become smaller. Although there are still six- to eight-pound heavyweights, the trend is towards thinner and lighter models with relatively little compromise in performance and features. Laptops such as the Sony VAIO or Toshiba Portege are fast and powerful machines under three pounds and less than an inch thick, yet sporting large screens and comfortable keyboards. Toshiba also makes the diminutive Libretto, a full-featured Windows 95 (or NT) computer the size of a paperback book; the Mitsubishi Amity is similar in size. One important component lacking in these featherweights is a built-in CD-ROM or DVD drive which comes as an external drive. In some cases this is true of the floppy drive as well. All the machines listed above come ready for sound recording and playback, although an external microphone works better than the built-in one. For digitizing audio and video, a large capacity hard drive is needed, as is probably an external storage device. Some laptops have optional swappable Zip drives or SuperDisk drives. Hard drive storage is also available on PC cards (formally PCMCIA cards), or "flip" drives which attach through the PC card slot. To use PC card drives, a Type III slot is required (usually available from two Type II slots being located together).

If you're taking along a laptop to capture video, it's advisable to have a model equipped with a "zoomed video" (ZV) PC card slot, which comes as a standard feature on many new laptops, both Windows and Macintosh. This provides enhanced video digitization since the ZV slot bypasses the processor and displays video directly to the screen. Devices are available which take advantage of the ZV slot such as the Kritter camcorder or the CapSure video capture card which supports PAL and SECAM as well as NTSC.

Some laptops also have one or more USB ports (Universal Serial Bus), to which USB cameras (e.g., the Kodak DC260) or scanners (e.g., the Umax Astra 1220U) can be connected. One cutting edge connector that offers faster throughput than USB is Firewire (also known as IEEE-1394 or i.Link). This has been available on desktop computers and PC cards, and is now beginning to appear on laptops as well. Firewire allows for direct transfer of digital video from digital camcorders, which makes the process of moving video to the computer no more complicated than moving files from a floppy to a hard drive. Robert Godwin-Jones Emerging Technologies: Mobile Computing... Language Learning & Technology 8

Handhelds and Palmtops
What used to be known as personal digital assistants (PDAs) are now generally classified as handheld or palmtop computers. One of the first of this breed, the Newton Messagepad, has been discontinued by Apple. A similar, although smaller and less powerful device, the PalmPilot (from 3Com) has become very popular. It fits easily into the palm of the hand, allows for pen-based input and offers easy synchronization with desktops or laptops. However, there are few educational programs for the PalmOS, as compared to those still available for the Newton Messagepad and eMate, and data storage is minimal since there is no PC card slot.

The handhelds garnering a lot of recent media attention are those based on...
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