What if?

At the technology workshop, I was asked a good question:

What if, in two years, some company comes out with a tablet that costs $100. Won’t schools go with that tablet?

The answer is complex, and I wasn’t able to come up with a complete answer on the spot. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

  1. There WILL be $100 tablets, there already are. At the same time, I fully expect the iPad to continue to be a product offered by Apple, although I wouldn’t doubt the eventual offering of a smaller iPad (to match the Kindle Fire/Nook Color) and a larger iPad to add choices for the consumer. As a music educator, I’m terrified of schools adopting a smaller iPad or a smaller device, because the iPad is already at the fringe edge of being too small to use for music reading…particularly if scores are simply converted from paper resources to digital resources.
  2. If the iPad has been out two years, and competitors have had two years to catch up…why haven’t they done so? Apple may hold some patents that keep competitors from developing “equal” devices, but I’ve used (and am using) Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, the “latest” Android operating system which will last for all of 2012 and beyond (if current hardware running Android 2.2 and 2.3 are any example–don’t forget, the Nook Color and Kindle Fire are based on 2.2, and many NEW tablets and phones are still using 2.3). Techies that desire the customizable qualities of Android will argue with me, but Android does not match the fit and finish of the iPad in either the operating system or most apps. I’m personally terrified to think of the problems that will be caused if you put Android devices in the hands of every student. For example, my three year old can use my iPad without any issues, but he always ends up in the wrong places on my Android tablet. I think there is something to be said about the three-year old test when it comes to usability. So, if the iPad continues to be refined as a device…will its competitors catch up?
  3. Furthermore, wouldn’t a $100 tablet be a bare-bones device? Would it have as fast of a processor as a current iPad? What operating system would it run? What mark of quality would define the device, the OS, and the very apps that it runs? Will it run Microsoft Office? Will it be able to stream media wirelessly to a projector? I’ve learned that cheap does not always equal good, although an inexpensive product does not have to be a bad product. Will the $100 tablet fulfill the role of the iPad? And if the current iPad is too slow to handle certain tasks, won’t the $100 tablet be too slow in two years?
  4. Will iBook-quality interactive textbooks be available on those devices?
  5. There is a lot of talk about the living and working conditions of employees at Foxconn who make products for Apple (and just about every major manufacturer). Apple is taking steps to protect those people as much as possible under Chinese law. What will the working conditions be for employees who make $100 tablets?
  6. Will Apple continue its current price structure? Some people think Apple should sell iPads and iPhones at a loss, like Amazon does with the Kindle Fire (I believe they lose $7 per device…the components cost more than the device). Perhaps Apple will reduce its profit margin, but in doing so their profits would decline, and then market analysts and Apple antagonists would have a field day about the “arrival inevitable downfall of Apple.” (They would do so with great glee, because they despise Apple’s success). Maybe Apple will sell an education-priced iPad as soon as mid-March with the introduction of the iPad 3.
  7. My gut feeling is that districts that are going to simply (only, barely) meet the digital requirements of 2017 (2015 in Florida) would settle with the $100 device, but that school districts wanting to effect real change in education with a flexible device will go with iPads. On a side note, I still think the only feasible long-term answer is for students to provide hardware and schools to provide apps and resources (iBooks).
  8. There may eventually be a better product than the iPad on the market for education, but I haven’t seen it on the horizon…and I keep looking for it.

Only time will tell.


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