Steve Vosloo
Steve Vosloo

The pros and cons of an mHealth cellbook

It’s great to see an innovative approach to HIV education: Metropolitan and CellBook have created an information booklet — called B the Future — on HIV and Aids that can be downloaded onto your cellphone. An iAfrica.com article explains the concept nicely. To try it for yourself, SMS the word HIV to 32907.

My thoughts on the pros and cons of this product are below.

Pros:

  • Great price! A once-off cost of R1 for the SMS.
  • It uses a platform that’s highly pervasive.
  • Because the cellbook is downloaded, you don’t need cellphone reception to read it.

Cons:

  • The actual reader lacks some basic features, eg page-up, page-down, back or the ability to create bookmarks.
  • You can’t search the content.
  • Web links in the text aren’t clickable.
  • There’s almost no cross-linking in the content itself.

When producing content for the cellphone, it’s important to think about exploiting the affordances of the device eg interactivity and communication. In most cases it’s not good enough to simply dump content from print format into cellbook format. For example, with the B the Future cellbook, how about the ability to click a phone number in the text that initiates a call to an HIV/Aids support line, or that sends an SMS that returns the location of your nearest HIV/Aids testing centre. Or click a link to a MXit chatroom. Or cast a vote on a related issue. Or simply include more hyperlinking within the text itself.

With better features in the cellbook application, and more interactivity in the content, this product holds huge potential for mLearning, mHealth, mGovernment and a myriad other contexts.