The Need For Evidence

We know that technologies have the potential to provide many benefits, but this potential is not necessarily also realised. We therefore need to gather evidence in order to inform our policies – perhaps to help us recognise that what seemed to be a great idea has actually not been delivered in practice, perhaps to make us aware of a need for greater advocacy and user engagement or perhaps for refining the approaches we initially took.

Usage Statistics For Mobile Devices

Such issues came to mind following a recent discussion on the website-info-mgt JISCMail list. The discussion began by addressing the question of whether institutions should be developing iPhone applications providing, for example, resources of interest to new students.

Following a discussion as to whether we should be developing generic applications for mobile devices and whether this could fail to exploit device specific features, especially features which might be particularly valuable for students with disabilities, David Bailey (Bath Spa University) put the discussion into context by providing statistics on access to his institutional Web site from various platforms.

His statistics revealed that 80.55% of visits to the Web site in the past month came from an MS Windows platform, 17.84% from the Apple Macintosh and 0.66% from a Linux platform, The figures for mobile devices were iPhone (0.44%), iPod (0.11%) and Symbian (0.10%) with the figures for mobile devices such as the Palm, Blackberry and Android and gaming devices such as the Wii and Playstation being less than 0.1%.

In response to this sharing of evidence a number of follow-up posts provided additional statistics:

Heriot-Watt: MS Windows (93.51%), Apple Macintosh (5.05%), Linux (0.67%), iPhone (0.34%), Symbian (012%) and iPod (0.11%) (see email).

Sunderland: MS Windows (92.4%), Apple Macintosh (5.7%) and Linux (0.7%). The figures for other devices were all less than 0.1% (see email).

Imperial College: MS Windows (91.69%), Apple Macintosh (6.9%), Linux (0.87%), iPhone (0.3%), Symbian (012%). The figures for other devices were all less than 0.1% (see email).

University of Warwick: MS Windows (89.19%), Apple Macintosh (8.4%), Linux (1.85%) and iPhone (0.25%). The figures for other devices were all less than 0.1% (see email).

Before reflecting on the implications of this evidence we need to be aware of the limitations of these figures: it reflects the experiences of only four institutions; the data is not necessarily based on institutional data and may reflect usage for departmental Web servers and the data reflects usage in the summer vacation. But having acknowledged these caveats, what might the implications be if this evidence does prove to be indicative of the wider higher educational community?

Discussion

Ironically although the discussion on the website-info-mgt list began over access to institutional Web sites from mobile devices the data provides little evidence of significant usage by mobile devices. But the data does reveal patterns of desktop usage which are worthy of further consideration.

I suspect many of the Web and IT developers and support staff who have been critical of Microsoft over the years will be disappointed at the overwhelming popularity of the MS Windows platform for accessing the institutional Web sites described above. Should we now accept that MS Windows has won the battle for the desktop operating system environment? And at a time when, if the predictions are correct, we may see a reduction in staffing levels, do these figures suggest that the time and effort in testing Web sites on the Linux platform may not be justified? This isn’t to suggest that Web sites should be designed for the MS Windows platform, rather that the effort in testing and tweaking for little-used platforms may not be justified.

Of course an argument could be made that the figures suggest that there is no point in developing services for the mobile Web as the current levels of usage are very low. But the difference is that the desktop and laptop computer environment is now mature, whereas the mobile environment is new.

I think there is a debate to be had – and there is also, perhaps, the need to ask “Where did it go wrong? What happened to the diversity of operating systems? Where have the Mac users and Linux users gone?” Or perhaps they are still around, and simply aren’t visiting institutional Web sites. What do you think?