Apple Won’t Be Part of the Tablet Revolution?

 I’d like to send a big acknowledgement to Roger Whaley, a Minnesota band director, who blogged about this article earlier today.  In summary, the original article states:

  • The iPad was the first modern tablet.
  • Tablets cost too much (particularly the iPad)
  • There are tablets in India that will be selling for $37 per student
  • These tablets run on Android
  • They will sell billions of these tablets
  • Therefore, these devices will define cultural changes, not the iPad.  Google wins!

Yes, iPads can be expensive, and from the surface, a $37 tablet sounds a whole lot more interesting than a $499 tablet.  I just wonder what the user experience is on those tablets?  A number of my students came back with Kindle Fires over Christmas break.  I can’t blame them (or their families), as a $199 tablet sounds far better than a $499 tablet, too.  The Kindle Fire can do a lot of things, but there is no Bluetooth (no external keyboards, no accessories), the screen is seven inches, and apps such as Pages and Keynote are missing on the Android platform, not to mention the “forked” Kindle Fire platform (forked off of Android 2.2, I believe).  So–why would anyone in the Western world want a $37 tablet (other than curiosty) that can’t possibly run any better the best Android tablets today?  You can buy the cheapest computer possible–you can buy the One Laptop for Every Child.  But who is going to?

In a third world country, any technology–and technology that requires low power (or can be solar powered) and is rugged–is welcome.  But this isn’t true in the first world.  

I also worry about the upgrade path of these tablets.  Tablet developers are already announcing that they will not update their current tablets to the latest Android OS, Ice Cream Sandwich.  Right now, my three year old has a 2nd Generation iPod Touch, which we bought new in the summer of 2010 as insurance for our iPhones.  It’s been great, but the latest games (even games for little kids, like DoReMi 1-2-3) require a version of iOS higher than 4.2, which is what the 2nd Generation iPod Touch is locked in with.  It’s inevitable…eventually newer versions of hardware have greater capabilities, and programmmers write for those capabilities.  Thankfully, in the Apple world of tablets, there are at least a few years of longevity in those devices (e.g.  The iPhone 3G can run a version of iOS 5).  But Android products have been notorious for not updating old hardware.  So what is going to happen when the world is “full of billions” of Aakash tablets running an old versions of Android that can’t support new (and undeniably better) apps that take advantage of more recent versions of Android intended to be run on newer versions of hardware?  You get a mess.

Actually, you get a situation such as in our school, where we installed Windows XP on notebooks that shipped with Windows 7, so as to keep the IT support standard in our district.  Yes, we did that.  Well–I didn’t do it, but our IT team made that decision.

I’m going to wager that the iPad 1 will be able to run a version of iOS 6, and there’s an outside chance it will run iOS 7, too (if they’re going for the education market, this would be important–they need to demonstrate a 4 year life cycle).

I agree with Glyn Moody, the author of that article.  He states: 

The devices are perfect: they are compact, connect to the Net wirelessly, run off battery power for hours and can be used by children and adults alike with little or no training.

I whole-heartedly agree.  But there are greater issues, such as the flexibility of the device (peripherals or the potential for peripherals), the availablity of quality apps, the friendliness of the OS, the size and weight of the device (not the same, exactly, as being “compact.’), and an existing user base.  Several authors have pointed out that Samsung may be selling more Android phones than Apple, but Apple continues to make more money than Samsung.  Apple invests its money in further research, securing excellent pricing deals on the materials for the next major devices, and in customer support.  If I have an iPad that is acting up, I can go to an Apple store and get service in person.  I couldn’t do that with an Aakash tablet.

As a final note, Roger Whaley notes concern that other countries are probably going to beat the USA in terms of getting tablets into the hands of students.  He’s right.  The United States tends to have a belief that we should educate our children the way we were taught.  If a personal chalkboard was good enough for students in the 1800s, it’s good enough for today.  I’m being ludicrious, of course, but the point is there.  The very same people saying that we don’t need technology in our schools tend to have at least 3 devices (at least one of them mobile) in their own lives…a office desktop, a notebook, a home computer, a SmartPhone, and possibly even a tablet.  Meanwhile, the ratio of students to computers is generally 4:1 (or greater).

It’s wholly possible that Android will get its act together regarding updates and backwards compatibility, but as several authors have written, the companies making Android phones are selling phones, not an ecosystem.  Meanwhile, Apple’s “walled garden” (which I used to hate in the 90s and early 2000s) makes more sense than ever.  No–Apple will continue to be the entire driving force behind the tablet revolution in society and education.  The iPad is already in all of our schools (either 1-to-1, as administration or teacher devices supplied by districts, as administration or teacher devices as provided by out-of-pocket, or as student devices).  The other tablets will simply continue to draft behind the iPad, continuing to improve and offering better hardware and software over time.

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