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shopping with an iphone

buymilk.jpgI’ve been using an iPhone every day for almost two months now, checking and responding to mail, reading news, playing games, looking over a variety of apps.

High on my list are shopping apps. I’m interested in how they use different methods of invention to help generate and organize the list. Some let you select from a list, others demand that you input your own items. Some allow organization across stores, some create silos for each store. Some allow metadata of amount and have=true, others don’t. Essentially, these shopping apps are outliners that focus and constrain outlining in ways the designers reckon will facilitate making and using lists.

Here are a few I’ve been working with. There are others, but these are the ones on my phone right now, from a variety of countries.

I haven’t decided which are my list-making faves yet, but I will say this: None of them are as useful in the store as a scrap of paper – unless you have a partner handling the list (efficiency low but social interaction high).

In this, shopping apps are a lot like the Maps feature. Maps can be set to trace a route, even to give step by step directions, but while driving it’s not as easy to use the feature as it is a list of abbreviated instructions.

I expected this. I have been trying to use Palms as paper for eight years now, almost always with limited success. It always seems to come down to the physical manipulation of the device in certain circumstances: shopping and driving, for instance. All the data is there. And the device can make inputting data (a list) or getting data (driving instructions) easier, but the device does not make using the data easier.

Set aside looking like a pretentious geek, pulling out and firing up an iPhone while standing, basket over arm, in the coffee aisle. It’s a matter of needing two hands to handle the phone. It’s a matter of constantly finding your place, or of letting the screen time out and having to re-start it. It’s the potential of dropping the thing. All this makes fuss than is necessary.

On the other hand, I have no problem using a look-up app like Save Benjis while shopping for moderate priced gear at, say, Target or OfficeMax. Using the iPhone in this situation to look up information I need to make a more informed choice on what to buy is a dream. It saves a trip back to the laptop to do the kind of research I typically do. I still look like a pretentious geek, but not as pretentious and geeky as those who wear bluetooth headsets, especially those big, clunky Star Trek ones.

These observations about shopping lists and headsets aren’t trivial when it comes to mobile teaching and learning. Attempting uses like these tells me what might work and what probably won’t, and what else has to happen to make things work. For instance, following a list on the phone while doing something else detracts from the doing in a way following a list on paper does not. To address the problem, pair up: one person follows the list, the other performs the task. Seems obvious.

Or another: Looking stuff up while performing a task needs to be facilitated by a tightly focused app. A wide-ranging google search would be difficult while shopping, but one focused through selected sources works. As well, saving the results of the search – as a trail or just the endpoint – has to be possible and should not distract from the task itself.

More on all this later – especially when it comes to composing on the mobile device.

Gotta go write a to do list for the week. Pick up some cilantro and parsley on the way home, ok? I’m thinking lamb tagine for dinner.