Tech Tuesday – The Future of Phones, Part Two: Modular Phones

Two weeks ago we focused on the fact that we may be moving toward a future of fold-able phones. This week, rather than focus on the front of the phone (we talked a lot about flexible displays) we’re talking about the metaphorical ‘back’ – the components that construct your phone.

The inside of the Samsung Galaxy S 4G.

Modular phones, or phones that you can easily build yourself out of separate, specially designed parts, seem like something the LEGO® company would create. But is also the dream of phone techies, and Google and Motorola have begun the process of making that dream come true.

But what is the idea behind a modular phone? Netherlander Dave Hakkens describes the inspiration for and the idea behind modular phones in the video he posted in 2013.

 The video went viral in the month after it was originally posted, and inspired excited conversations among tech journalists, bloggers and vloggers. In the wake of the hubbub, Google (through Motorola) came forward with its own modular phone plans, titled Project Ara. Hakkens has opted to work with the project by providing an open forum to share advances in Project Ara and to project the voices of everyday phone users back to Google.

The Project Ara team leader, Paul Eremenko, presented the first prototype of the Ara at Google I/O this year.

But what makes this idea so special, when it’s likely that this phone will be heavier and clunkier than the sleek, big-screen phones that are already being sold?

A mock-up of the Project Ara phone with one of its components removed.

As Hakkens expressed in his video, there is some hope that this type of phone, in which you can update only the attribute that needs it (bigger camera, faster processor, bigger battery, etc.) will result in a reduction of the electronic waste that comes from mobile phone users updating their phone every two years (or whenever they drop their phone and crack their screen). It would also open up the market for manufacturers: rather than trying to convince companies to include their camera, battery or screen in individual phone models, parts manufacturers can sell directly to consumers. That could result in more competition and through it better, cheaper phone parts. Consumers wouldn’t have to pay several hundred dollars to their phone company each time they upgrade, and could potentially experience less overall cost. The lessened expense might open up the market to those who would not otherwise be able to justify the expense of a phone.

So what’s the problem?

As with most technological advances, there are several. The most obvious is that the technology is still in its developmental phase, and has some distance to come before it’s ready for sale. A potentially bigger problem is that it’s possible that phone companies aren’t going to want to support a phone that their customers won’t want to replace every two years. The current upgrade model that is place is a huge cash cow for most providers, and the design of the Ara means that that money would go to parts manufacturers.

Finally, and perhaps most distressingly, there is no guarantee that the Ara would reduce the amount of technological trash that goes out into the world each year – in fact, it might add more to the amount of pollution we produce. If upgrades become cheaper and easier to obtain, people are likely to begin replacing, and therefore disposing of, parts of their phone more frequently than they would dispose of their old phones. For that particular issue, it is a game of ‘wait and see.’

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Fall Semester 2014 – Welcome back, Mitchell Friends and Family!

As we round the bend into the new semester, we at the library are looking forward to welcoming back our old friends and welcoming in the new! Just this Friday we hosted several of the sessions for the final first year orientation of the summer. Our RAs (resident assistants) and OLs (orientation leaders) were on campus helping us prepare for the influx.

Jen Welsh, the Coordinator of First Year Experience at Mitchell, talks about student life in college.

All of our returners are arriving tanned and cheerful with stories of what they did with their summers. It begs the question, of course – the blog has been quiet over the summer, so what have Mitchell’s librarians been up to?

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Tech Tuesday – The Future of Phones: Part One – Flexibile Phones

With all of the rumors circulating about the unveiling of the iPhone 6  on September 9, we at the library decided to do a little digging into where the future of phones might be going. While (thankfully) the phone industry has moved away from the image of futuristic cell phones presented by producers in the 80s, every year mobile phone companies release phones with creative new features to entice consumers.

Ok, Star Trek fans. We admit the show was awesome, but the technology was painfully clunky and we’re grateful that this isn’t what cell phones look like today.

The alleged pictures of the new iPhone that were leaked earlier this month show a larger device than the iPhone 5, 5c and 5s, with a truly massive screen. Some of the technology journalists have taken to calling it a ‘phablet,’ because it is a clear combination of the utility of a phone and the screen of a tablet. But that’s an expected upgrade. The Samsung Galaxy S5, Nokia Lumina Icon and the Google Nexus 5 all have 5 inch screens in comparison to the current iPhone’s 4 inch display. It’s become standard practice for mobile phone companies to increase the size and resolution of their screens in each new generation, which made us wonder whether or not there are any truly innovative updates to come. As you may have gathered from the subject of this post – there are!

Pictures of the iPhone 6 – it’s a big one!

Samsung leads the way in the first futuristic update that we’re discussing this month: flexible phones. One of the detriments of having a large display is that the phone takes up more space, making it harder to tuck your phone into your pocket, wallet, or purse. Larger screens are also easier to shatter than the screen of a smaller, more compact phone. In a 2013, Samsung presented a prototype phone with a flexible screen that might be the solution to those problems. It’s the first step toward accomplishing an idea that has been floating around the minds of phone designers for some time.

While Samsung has yet to create a phone that can be folded up like a paper map such as the one in this commercial, this year has seen several new products that indicate that manufacturers are taking steps in the right direction to someday achieve that. In October 2013, Samsung released the Galaxy Round, a phone that curves horizontally across the front rather than lying flat, a clear move toward successfully production of non-traditional screen shapes.  Even more exciting was LG’s January 2014 release of the G Flex, a vertically curved phone that is has a very limited flexibility in its shape: while its display is extremely flexible, its body and interior components are more concrete in form.

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So what’s making these phones a reality after years of discussion?  Mainly, the successful invention of a screen that can be gently bent and twisted without damaging its display, including the recent advances in flexible touch screens. However, the existing bendable screens have a serious limitation: the organic LEDs (OLEDs) that project light and images onto the phone display are very vulnerable to oxygen and water molecules. Any damage to the screen that exposes the OLEDs to the air can destroy the display completely.  Despite this weakness, the current phones represent a huge leap forward in flexible technology.

What else is preventing us from becoming a society that uses fold-able phones on a daily basis? Beyond the fragility of the existent flexible screens, other components necessary for phone operation are still an issue. Batteries, camera lenses, and hard disks all need a stationary space in the phone’s body in order to work. LG has taken a step forward to lead the field in conquering this issue with flexible batteries, but there is still a long way to go before the entire body of your phone can be rolled up and tucked away.

In short: we’re not quite to the level of the technology in 2009’s Star Trek, but we might be on our way there!

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Tech Tuesday – Apps for your Mental Health

While the month of May is over (and we’re sorry for the radio silence, really – we were a bit focused on orientation [WELCOME, Class of 2018!]) we’d like draw attention to the fact that  May is National Mental Health Awareness Month here in the United States.

 Technology has changed so much of our approach to daily life that it’s no surprise that it’s also altered our approach to mental illness. Beyond the use of  MRI technology as a diagnostic technique and increased ability to reach rural areas using telecommunications to compensate for a lack of local psychiatrists, more resources are becoming available through a resource owned by 58% of Americans: a smartphone.

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A New Display and a Fond Farewell

Here at Mitchell College, we’ve reached the end of our academic year. Saturday morning (May 17) we proudly graduated the class of 2014 and wished them a fond if melancholy farewell. We’re sorry to see them leave, but so very hopeful that their next steps will take them to a successful future.

We are also saying goodbye to another figure, one who has been here far longer than this year’s graduating class. Mary Ellen Jukoski, Mitchell College’s President of the past 20 years, will be stepping down from her post.

presidentnoshade

Mary Ellen Jukoski has been at Mitchell’s helm since 1994, when she stepped into the role of Acting President. She was appointed President in 1995 and has led the college ever since. Under her guidance, Mitchell College offered its first four year degree, a move that led to the eventual creation of baccalaureate degrees in 30 majors. She led the creation of the Thames Academy, a one year pre-college, post-high school certificate program, and spearheaded the move to NCAA Division III athletics. Under her oversight, the college renewed its 10-year accreditation and received a five-year, $2 million federal Title III grant.

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The library’s latest display consists of a timeline of Mary Ellen’s activities at Mitchell and a hanging display of articles that relate to her many accomplishments. The documents represent a portion of the library’s archival collection on her successes.

We welcome anyone curious about our President’s activities to come and peruse the small display and investigate her impact on Mitchell College, and we bid her a fond farewell and best wishes! We know she will continue in success, whatever her next steps may be.

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Tech Tuesday – Losing Net Neutrality

So you follow blogs, read the paper, watch or listen to the news. You’ve heard about the FCC ruling that broadband companies can now charge companies for faster service. All the techies seem to be really freaked out about this.

What does this have to do with the regular, non-techie population?
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