Android Thoughts

A brief history: this summer I managed to buy two HP TouchPad tablets for $99 during the “fire sale.” I’ve since installed a second OS (thanks for CyanogenMod) of Android 2.3 on these devices, making them non-Android Android tablets. The addition of Android (even though it is version 2.3, which is still being shipped on many other devices) allows for the installation of many more apps (from Google or Kindle), making the device much more practical. For example, it can be used for Netflix, whereas with the stock TouchPad OS, WebOS, no Netflix app is available. The developers of CyanogenMod have recently released a few early alpha versions of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), but some features still aren’t working (i.e. You can’t use Netflix yet), so I’m waiting before upgrading.

There are two differences between a TouchPad tablet and a typical Android tablet. First, nearly all Android tablets are 16:10 widescreen devices, whereas the TouchPad shares the same dimensions as an iPad (4:3). Second, the TouchPad lacks the external hardware buttons that are present on older Android Devices, and replaces them with software buttons (which, I believe, is how Android 4.0 will work with all devices).

My thought of the day: Android devices (in all forms) aren’t ideal for children. My three year old has been using our iPhones, iPads, and his iPod Touch since he was one. Of course, as het gets older, his level of interaction increases. But there were many apps, such as Bumblebee Touchbook, that he has been using for years.  Actually, as I write this post on my MacBook, he is using my iPad and drawing (on Noteshelf), and playing a number of games.  At the moment, he’s interacting with Miss Spider’s Bedtime Story.  If he wasn’t using my iPad, I’d be writing this blog post on it instead of my MacBook.

From time to time, we use the HP TouchPads as a Netflix player to alleviate the demand on the TV (the twelve year old typically wants to watch “Good Luck, Charlie,” and the three year old wants to watch “Curious George.”  I’ll also bring the TouchPad to the bathroom at bath time, and let a show play (TouchPad on the counter) in the background as the three year old splashes away.  And from time to time, my three year old tries to interact with games on the TouchPad.  This is ALWAYS a disaster.  If my three year old is playing a game on the TouchPad, it isn’t long until he’s pressed some button he shouldn’t have, is in another menu, or he’s accidentally left the game altogether.  You could argue that this is a TouchPad related issue, and that if the TouchPad were an actual Android tablet, there wouldn’t be (at least until version 4.0) software buttons, only hardware buttons.  My response: do you think any rational three year old (or forty year old) isn’t going to be pressing hardware buttons (intentionally or unintentionally)?

This experience with Android helps me to realize that the iPad…at this point…is still the far better system for schools.  Technologists may prefer tinkering with the Android, but let me say with some certainty that the majority of educators are NOT technologists, and when they are teaching, they want to simply be able to teach.  They want technology to become transparent in the classroom, not the focus of the classroom.  Technology becomes the focus of a classroom in two ways: either there is a visit from a person whose school does not have technology, and the “wow” factor makes the technology the most noticeable factor in the room; or the technology does not work and thus becomes the area of focus.  Educational technology has to be extremely user-friendly for the student and the teacher.  Don’t assume that because students are raised in a digital world that they have any clue of how to actually use that technology.

Our iOS devices have proved to be kid-friendly.  This is why products like the BubCap have been produced.  Has my three year old accidentally exited a program?  Yes.  Are some apps poorly designed, allowing non-readers to find themselves in menus from which they have escaped?  Yes.  But the difference is that kids figure out what that single home button does pretty quickly (yet another reason why all the rumors of the home button going away are laughable), and many developers (particularly for kid apps) are very aware of making kid-friendly apps that even help the non-readers.  Android is still a mess of buttons (physical or not) where the “owner flexibility” of the device is a hinderance for children.

Perhaps Android “isn’t for kids.”  But isn’t the education market a huge potential for growth (Or is Google pushing the ChromeBook for that market?)?


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