The notion that soon everything will be in the cloud, and we’ll just use an interface surface near us is not new. The notion is that the technology will recognize you and present your environment, ready for you to accomplish your goals. This is a nice idea, and I can see it working, but it’s not trivial.
Contrast this to the element that Judy Brown talks about as important component of mobile learning. For her, mobile devices have to be something you’re familiar with and have with you all the time. And that, to me, is the sticking point.
With an interface surface you come upon, would you necessarily recognize the different ways the interface would manifest? You don’t want a big touchscreen (despite Minority Report imaginings) for very complex work, because the research shows your arms fatigue too quickly. So you might have a keyboard on some devices. And the variety could be high. And, yes, it’s your interface, but with all the different possible form-factors, could you make it comprehensible? And you’re still at the mercy of availability of surfaces (kinda like waiting in line for computers to check email at conferences has been).
Now, I can see having a mobile device and then using an accessible interface that recognizes you by the device proximity, so you’re not stuck. And I can imagine that it would be possible to make a scalable interface (just not necessarily easy). I do wonder, however, about some surfaces being so designed for aesthetics that the usability is compromised (c.f. The Design of Everyday Things).
And, particularly for my notion of slow learning (which I need to augment with ubiquity and personalization – quick, I need a new phrase! :), the ability for a device to be with you may be required to do the teachable moment thing. That is, having a context-sensitive device right that at the appropriate place and time may be needed to really develop us in the ways we deserve.
So I don’t take that vision of ubiquitous computing surfaces at face value, I think that there are some reasons why mobile devices may still make sense. Which isn’t to say there’s not a way, but I’m still holding out for something with me.