Happy 10th Birthday iPhone!

The iPhone is 10 years old!  June 29th 2017 marked the tenth anniversary of what has become a 21st century icon and the apple of Apple’s eye.  Beyond its luring magnetic draw as an object of desire and its smart functional capability (yes – there’s an app for everything), the iPhone is a symbol of digital liberation.  The freedom from the wired and tethered world is a natural function – the true affordance is the capability and empowerment that this brings: the fluidity and ease with which we access and navigate the digital ecosystem and how we have come to live and behave in context of this.  The world is at our fingertips and in our hands.  The push-pull relationship and deterministic nature of technology is one of debate – have we reached a point where we have become entirely dependent on, and perhaps even addicted to our smartphones and other devices?  Would you relinquish your smartphone for even 24 hours? Perhaps reflect on this, and the reasons for your answer.

The ubiquity of connections and the penetration of smartphones is no less than phenomenal.   According to the GSMA ‘The Mobile Economy 2017’ report there were 4.8 billion unique mobile subscribers in 2016 – projected to rise to 5.8 billion by 2020.  In terms of SIM connections, these were reported at 7.9 billion in 2016 – projected to rise to 9.7 billion by 2020.  To put this in context there are, according to a range of sources, over 7.3 billion people on the planet.  In other words, there are more connections than people.  The mobile industry is one of the most disruptive forces that we have ever seen – not only technologically, but also in terms of the societal impact at all levels: individual, group, community, region & country and in personal, social and corporate contexts.  ‘Mobility’ has become firmly entrenched in virtually all aspects of our lives.  Devices and the construction of our future in terms of physical and virtual environmental infrastructure and the way in which we digitally engage with this are also intrinsically related – ‘smart’ has not only become a prefix for ‘phone’ but also for ‘home’, ‘city’ and ‘environment’.

Smartphones and ‘mobility’ have changed or created new behaviours, language and even laws – ranging from the urban pat-down digital dance ritual before leaving the house: tapping parts of your apparel and body to ensure that you have your phone, keys and wallet/purse, thru 2 new sms & txt spk lol! and legislation that governs the usage of handsets in vehicles.  They have influenced the creation of new models of interaction and the creation or disruption of markets – look to mobile banking, contactless payment systems, transport (e.g. UBER), social media and gaming for examples.

It’s also important to reflect on and understand the role that we play as consumers of the technologies.  On one hand, we are exactly that: consumers.  On the other hand, we are the creators and generators of data: stats relating to app usage, network usage, our location through geocoded data, the length of time we spend on calls, who we call, fitness data, health data – the list goes on.  We are an inherent part of the mobile ecosystem that is fuelling the innovation.  We are generating big data, and at the risk of politicising the matter – the democratisation of digital, paradoxically, has created an ecosystem where the digital proletariat are feeding the digital bourgeoisie.  From a more cultural perspective, we are recording the world in a manner that has never been recorded before with our smartphones – creating a digital multi-dimensional imprint of 21st century earth.

At Staffordshire University, we’re proud to have a history in Mobile Computing.  In 2001 we created what was then reported as the first BSc Mobile Computing degree in the UK.  Since then we have been agile and moved with the industry to keep abreast of developments in the mobile ecosystem.  Aspects of mobile computing are taught across modules at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  We have dedicated mobile app development laboratories in the Department of Computing in Stoke-on-Trent, and we teach iOS, Android & Microsoft app development.  Many of our students produce excellent final year dissertations in this subject area.

I’ll end this article, with a quote from Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google (extracted from the GSMA 2017 report): “The last 10 years have been about building a world that is mobile-first, turning our phones into remote controls for our lives. But in the next 10 years, we will shift to a world that is AI-first, a world where computing becomes universally available.”

Happy 10th Birthday iPhone!

Khawar Hameed is a Senior Lecturer/Academic in the Department of Computing, School of Computing & Digital Technologies, Staffordshire University, UK. @K_Hameed

Digital Transformation: Digital Leadership

Isolated transformation of Lime Butterfly ( papilio demoleus ) on white with clipping path

On the 1st March 2017, the Government published its UK Digital Strategy – seven strands of digital thread woven together to provide a framework for action to address digital transformation in the UK.  The ambition: “to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone” [1].  The strategy aims to build on the very strong and credible position held by the UK in the digital sector, and to create an economy which “is resilient to change and fit for the future” [2].

The seven strands of the new UK Digital Strategy are:

  1. Connectivity – building world-class digital infrastructure for the UK
  2. Digital skills and inclusion – giving everyone access to the digital skills they need.
  3. The digital sectors – making the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business
  4. The wider economy – helping every British business become a digital business
  5. A safe and secure cyberspace – making the UK the safest place in the world to live and work online
  6. Digital government – maintaining the UK government as a world leader in serving its citizens online
  7. Data – unlocking the power of data in the UK economy and improving public confidence in its use

The UK’s current digital stronghold is reported in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) which tracks the evolution of EU member states in digital competitiveness.  The Index is an element of the Digital Single Market programme – one of the European Commission’s top priorities.  This perhaps provides a somewhat nostalgic reassurance of the UK’s position in an EU context, and its future post-Brexit potential in its drive to grow as a world-leading digital economy.

‘Digital’ is not just about the technology stack – it’s about the harmony and congruence of a range of cross-disciplinary concepts and the technology to yield affordances of: inclusivity & connected communities, efficiencies & productivity, service innovation & value, competitiveness & strategic advantage, empowerment, and releasing the full potential of human capital across the spectrum of personal, social and corporate life. Transformation can manifest through small-step changes or macro-level disruptive intervention.  ‘Digital’ is sometimes referred to as the 4th Industrial Revolution, and like any revolution it can have transformative impact.

We see and experience transformation all around us: in a personal context as we progress through life, at our place of work as it responds to sector-specific demands, and in nature as the seasons change.  Transformation can be disruptive & challenging, but the results can be beautiful – like a butterfly that emerges after the four stages of metamorphosis, governed by the laws of nature.

Governance of digital transformation is an interesting matter.  We have seen a significant ‘democratisation of digital’ in recent years, and this has seeded the growth of a fertile digital economy and ecosystem – an open playing field for a game that is still evolving, and in which the role and position of players is yet to fully emerge.  Perhaps it is then not so much about governance of (or within) this evolving landscape – but much more about digital leadership.

The new UK Digital Strategy provides a well-constructed and harmonised framing mechanism – seven strands which, individually and compositely, provide the basis for achieving digital transformation for the UK.  Leadership that translates this into implementation at national, regional, local, and institutional levels is perhaps the key to digital success.

The definition of digital leadership is somewhat embryonic and evolving.  Attributes cited include that of: having transformative vision (this is frequently referred to); being a forward-thinker; capable of creating a distinct and effective digital culture; having a change-oriented and ‘can-do’ mind set; the capability to inspire; to be able to manage complexity, and to understand digital congruence & alignment [3].  Other attributes and capabilities cited include: the ability to frame the digital challenge and to assess organisational digital maturity; focusing & targeting investment; understanding internal & external governance; implementing strong enterprise-level governance; engaging the organisation at scale, and sustaining the transformation [4].  The definition of digital leadership in context of CxO-type roles is perhaps a matter for debate, and on this note – it’s interesting to observe the prefixing of the term ‘Digital’ to a range of jobs across industry sectors.

Finally, the UK Digital Strategy refers to the UK’s proud history of digital innovation and the early of days of computing.  We’re very proud to be part of that history at Staffordshire University.  Last year we celebrated ’50 Years of Computing’ – a milestone of being at the forefront of computing education and one of five institutions that first started to offer degrees in computing in 1965.  Since then we have helped to create an international workforce of highly-skilled computing professionals who have applied their knowledge and skills to yield transformative digital solutions to solve society’s problems.   As an institution, we continue to pioneer in the world of computing and the digital economy – recently undertaking an institutional-level digital transformation programme to become a fully digitally-enabled University and digital leader in the HE sector.

The UK Digital Strategy can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-digital-strategy

[1] UK Digital Strategy, Ministerial Foreword, Published 01/03/17

[2] UK Digital Strategy, Executive Summary, Published 01/03/17

[3] Aligning the Organization for Its Digital Future, MITSLoan Management Review, Findings from the 2016 Digital Business Global Executive Study and Research Project, Delloite University Press

[4] The Digital Advantage: How Digital Leaders Outperform Their Peers in Every Industry. MITSloan Management, Capgemini Consulting

Khawar Hameed is a Senior Lecturer/Academic in the Department of Computing, School of Computing & Digital Technologies, Staffordshire University, UK,

It’s Internaut Day!

Today is Internaut Day! It marks 25 years of public Internet access and recognition of the ground-breaking World Wide Web (WWW) work of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the results of which have had profound global impact and changed the way that we live. It is this aspect – the impact on our lives, that I want to focus on and celebrate in this brief article.

The web has bridged distance through telepresence. We can ‘be there’ without really being there.   Relationships have been maintained or formed through the Internet, and the emotive essence of dialogue has been strengthened through visual contact that goes far beyond the written or spoken word. Isolation has been transformed into a sense of belonging, community, and shared social experiences – the world has indeed become a smaller place where we have become virtual neighbours.

The web has changed how we work. Work is no longer a place that we necessarily ‘go to’, it’s what ‘we do’. Consequently, new patterns of how we work have emerged. Spaces morph – places of leisure become places of work and vice versa, and those places of work become decorporealised into a federation of physical and virtual fragments where the work ‘place’ can be accessed as long you have an Internet connection. The reach of the Internet and the decorporealisation of work enables reach into a workforce that would otherwise be difficult – it brings a true meaning to the word, ‘inclusive’

The web has changed how we learn. It has become our tutor, our encyclopaedia, and in many cases our first port of call when we need to know. The immediacy of information access accelerates the process of knowledge development – and knowledge is the keystone in a knowledge-based economy, where what we know is perhaps more valued than other skills and attributes.   Education has become more accessible and inclusive than ever before. Around the world it has allowed individuals to develop their knowledge and enabled host societies and communities to move forward – the divide between knowing and not knowing has been reduced. Every place has become a place of learning as connections and access to the Internet have become a common part of life.

The web has enabled voices to be heard. From the individual voice that needs the occasional virtual soap box to the vox pop that represents critical mass of thought and opinion – it has become our sounding board and our amplifier.   Sometimes the world listens, and sometimes it responds. It has created a virtual platform where all citizens can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with politicians and leaders to engage in constructive debate through accessible channels.

The web has changed how we value space. In addition to valuing the worth of real estate in conventional terms we also now value in terms of connections.   The real estate may, in those conventional terms, be extremely valuable but if you are disconnected in a connected world then that space is of no value to you – the feeling and reality of disconnection is perhaps too much to bear.   Thus we think about the world around us in new ways. We consider the ‘space of flows’ (Castells) in contemporary ways – in ways that are fundamental to the digital citizen and a new society.

I’m going to leave the final word of this article to the Black Eyed Peas and their ‘Now Generation’ lyrics. You can look them up on the web…

Happy Internaut Day!

Augmented Reality and Merging Worlds

Man holding cellphone playing Pokemon Go.

Last weekend I visited Trentham Gardens with the intention of immersing myself in the ether of the natural environment – to enjoy a peaceful walk, to absorb the array of natural colours & aromas, and to seek and enjoy the unchained and liberated sense of spatial freedom. My visit turned out, however, to be more of a field observation rather than a walk in the park – and Pokémon Go was to blame! The experience highlighted the increasing pervasive presence, use, and impact of Augmented Reality, and re-affirmed my view that there is no better time to study Computing than now. Let me explain.

Augmented Reality is about the merging of worlds – the real world and the virtual world.   The result is a hybrid construct that we are able to perceive, experience, and interact with. We are naturally and physically part of the real world in terms of the immediate spatial context and what it presents (i.e. what we physically see, touch, hold, taste etc.) and in terms of a temporal context (i.e. how we live through and suffer the effects of time – like getting older every day!) A virtual world is one that has been digitally created. It is, relative to the ‘real world’, artificial – for example, when you play a game you are immersed in an environment that has been created (programmed) and this is what you interact with. When engaging with each type of world, the resulting experience is very real. It may be subjective, but real – it’s what we feel.   I used the word ‘relative’ earlier – and that’s because there’s a great deal of debate to be had about what me mean by ‘real’ in the first place.

What I observed at Trentham Gardens is indicative of what is being observed and reported around the world – changes in fundamental behaviour as a consequence of accessible Augmented Reality. I saw the duality of two worlds manifest and unify seamlessly as my walking companion traversed through Augmented Reality by interleaving the world of Trentham Gardens with the world of Pokémon – yes, she was playing Pokémon Go!

I admit that at first I was irritated, perhaps more so at the intrusion of technology in such a serene and tranquil natural setting than at the disruption of our dialogue caused by the intervening smartphone (an iPhone 6 to be precise). Irritation soon turned to intrigue, and hence began my observations. I observed that my walking companion fluently described the composition of the floral labyrinth and its component perennials, and then described in detail the Stage 1 form of Pikachu and its evolution to a Stage 2 Raichu, and how a Poliwag evolves to a Poliwhirl and then a Poliwrath.   This was followed by a real-world description of pollination – triggered by a bee hovering around a bed of Tulips. The bilingual switching was instantaneous and the articulation was impressive.

I observed that in following the paths through the gardens and around the lake my fellow walker was also on the trail of certain species of Pokémon. The route entailed physical exertion, taking in the scenery, learning about the historic clock tower through augmented reality, learning about Pokémon Gym battles, and capturing at least 4 different types of Pokémon during the walk. She periodically stopped to effect these captures and I noted her resulting emotive expressions of joy and victory – not dissimilar to those resulting from the appreciation of the Italian Gardens. I observed the interleaving of the physical spatial context with the virtual ecosphere of another reality, and effective temporal co-ordination of living in clock time and virtual time simultaneously. She was, effectively, in two places at the same time.

Our walk ended after an hour and a half. I concluded that Augmented Reality was a serious matter – something capable of affecting all aspects of life and behaviours, something capable of generating new experiences and changing the world that we live in, and something that raises metaphysical questions relating to fundamental existence – and what we mean by this. Should we be surprised by this? Perhaps not. Consider this: you have been digitised and injected into the digital world for some time and your digital avatar, in its various forms, has been traversing that world – perhaps typified by the expressions, “you’re in the system” or “you’re not in the system.” Transcending boundaries of different worlds started long ago. What we see today is an evolution, but with revolutionary impact – where technology has matured to such a degree that a reciprocation can occur and the digital world can, in its various forms, inject itself into the physical world that we live in – into our system.

So why do I think that there is no better time to study Computing than now? Scholars of Computing are the architects of the digital future and next-generation systems. The technical composition of the discipline provides not only the nuts and bolts needed to construct that future, but also the knowledge and skills of how to build it. Augmented Reality is one example of how Computing can be innovatively applied to yield transformative impact and value across industry sectors including the creative industries, healthcare, business, future living environments, and secure societies.   Our students are not just scholars of Computing – we see them as Digital Pioneers.

Links:

The School of Computing at Staffordshire University

Undergraduate courses in Computing

Postgraduate Courses in Computing

Trentham Gardens

Image Credit:

California, United States -23 July 2016 : Man holding a cellphone while playing Pokemon Go and trying to catch a monster. Pokémon Go is a free-to-play location based augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic and published by The Pokémon Company as part of the Pokémon franchise.