For instance, Qualcomm has invested in a technology developed by a San Francisco company, called “mirasol,” that uses a series of mirrors to hold color in place, creating a reflective display that uses less power than an LCD screen—while at the same time allowing the screen to be seen in bright sunlight.

“Full sunlight actually helps the screen, not hurts it,” Johnson said, explaining that the technology uses ambient light to help with reflection. She said Qualcomm will begin commercializing the technology later this year.

Although today’s applications reside mostly on the device itself, in the future these will exist largely in the “cloud,” Johnson said—meaning users can take their personal information with them wherever they go, and they’ll have access to it no matter what device they’re using at the time.

In addition, 4G wireless devices soon will be deployed, and these will support cellular connections that are 10 times faster than 3G speeds, Johnson said—enabling wireless video conferencing and other bandwidth-intensive applications. However, that will put an enormous strain on the operators of mobile networks, she acknowledged, who will have to solve the challenge of bandwidth management in a way that won’t upset consumers.

Smart phones vs. other mobile devices

Not everyone at the summit was convinced that smart phones are the future of education technology.

One industry executive whose business is involved with netbooks and laptop computers, as opposed to cell phones, noted that smart phones allow users to consume media and also collaborate with others—but they’re not as good at supporting content creation (a third important pillar of a 21st-century education).

It’s one thing to leverage a technology that today’s students already have, the executive said. But “if you invest in smart phones for learning, you then don’t have enough money to invest in a full-featured learning platform.”

Plus, when you factor in the cost of the associated service, “the public sector can’t pay $45 per child, per year for a data plan,” she said.

Monthly service fees do present a challenge for schools, Johnson acknowledged. But telecommunications companies are starting to feel market pressure to reduce their rates and offer consumers more flexibility.

For instance, users of Apple’s iPad will have the option of paying for a monthly data plan as they go, rather than being locked into a two-year service contract—and “we’ll see more of this in the future,” she said.

A proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to expand the use of e-Rate discounts could help, too, Johnson said. The FCC’s plan would provide full e-Rate support of wireless internet service delivered to portable learning devices that are used off campus.

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the One-to-one computing: The last piece of the puzzle resource center. Educational technology once meant taking a weekly trip to a PC-filled computer lab, or using a classroom projector or PowerPoint for a presentation. But today, technology is as ubiquitous in schools as it is everywhere else. Modern students are digital natives–they’ve grown up with constant access to laptops, cell phones, the internet, mp3 players, and other tech tools for both homework and social use. Go to:

One-to-one computing: The last piece of the puzzle