A Response to “No iPad”

This weekend, my family and I were camping in north central Minnesota, and Internet connection–both 3G and wi-fi were sporadic. In one of the situations where we had service, I saw Tony Vincent's (a leader in educational technology who I have seen speak in person) tweet about Matthew Gudenius's “No iPad” video series:

I read Mr. Gudenius' artilce and watched his video, and am stunned. I'm wondering how “a teacher, a computer programmer, and an educational technologist” is able to come up with this position against iPads as well as to rationally support his claims.

Before I go into a response to his concerns, I'd like to make one view point explicitly clear: At the current time, when you choose any device other than the iPad as a tool for 1:1 integration, you are saying that you do not support technology for any subject other than STEM (science, technology, English, math) courses. Ironically, Mr. Gudenius says that money spent on iPads takes away from the arts, music (music is an art), and athletics. Let's be honest: funding for the arts is always an issue, and technology for the arts is a relatively unknown factor in education. Meanwhile, athletics are seldom in danger of funding issues, and if they are, booster clubs and communities rise up to meet the need. You can't use a laptop/notebook in a daily manner in a number of classes, including music, art, physical education, industrial technology, and family and consumer science. Some of these subjects do not have desks or tables on which such devices can be held. However, a tablet can be used in every one of these subjects.

Let's look at Mr. Gudenius' main points:

#1) There are millions of websites that the iPad can’t access because it doesn’t run important web applications like Flash, Java, Shockwave, or Unity. The number of educational websites that use Flash is staggering, and many of these websites are absolutely free – but the iPad can’t access any of them.

There are some apps that run Flash on an external server back to your iPad, but we all know that iOS does not run Flash. Neither will any Android devices from this point forward, and those that can, do so poorly. This past year, on Steve Jobs' birthday, Adobe announced that it will no longer be developing Flash for any mobile device. I've never understood why the people that “hate” the walled garden of Apple are so happy to hitch themselves to the walled garden of Adobe. Who makes Flash? One company. Why cede them that level of control?

In his latest posts, Mr. Gudenius is happy to point out websites by subject area (specifically STEM subjects at this point) that run Flash and cannot be used on an iPad. How about turning the tables and suggesting that those websites should be adapting to the open standard of HTML 5? Or using Adobe's own resources to turn Flash into HTML files? And if websites are committed to a closed, old standard, do they carry the up-to-date content we want for our students?

Yes, there are some Flash-based music websites that don't work on my iPad, such as Noteflight. There are plenty of regular notebook/desktop programs that don't work either–even open source programs like MuseScore. But in both examples, there has been a committment to get the services to iOS eventually.

#2) Unlike other tablets, the iPad doesn’t have a USB port or storage card slot, which are easy ways to transfer files and connect to peripheral devices like digital cameras. This creates a major limitation and setback, especially when having students create or save work.

Hilarious. No, you can't connect a USB storage card, and part of that is Apple's committment to the cloud. They want your stuff stored safely in the cloud, not where it can get lost or scrambled on a fautly card. Meanwhile, the camera connection ($29) kit allows you to connect digitial cameras, MIDI keyboards, and even traditional USB QWERTY keyboards to your iPad. I picked up a non-Apple camera card combo attachment for $2.50 the other day (I still need to test this).

#3) iPads – and tablets in general – are not effective for project-based learning or productivity in general. They can run games and e-books just fine, but we need to be teaching our students to be the creators and producers of tomorrow… not just mere consumers. iPads and tablets are limited by weaker processors, lack of keyboards, and mostly by their inability to run powerful productivity software.

What is Mr. Gudenius looking for iPads to do? 95% of school computer use in our era is simply to do wordprocessing and presentations (and connected research on the Internet). This is a problem in and of itself, but situations where higher power computers are needed (i.e. STEM engineering) will always have their own computer lab. But even in those situations, there are CAD/CAM programs for the iPad. Meanwhile, Apple has made a wonderfully powerful suite of iWork for iOS which would easily take care of most of the “tedious” chores that schools place on students with traditional computers these days. I should also mention that the price of these applications–even without Educational Volume Discounts–is a huge area of savings for schools. And as for keyboards…students are far less concerned about “typing on glass” than adults–and voice recognition is becoming main stream. If you really need a keyboard, you can buy one in a case (such as my Zaggfolio)–for not much less than the cost of a “traditional” bluetooth keyboard (and in fact, that traditional bluetooth keyboard can be used, too. It just wouldn't be as portable)

#4) iPads are NOT cost-effective – there are alternative devices that are more affordable and yet can do all of the same things the iPad can do… or more.

You can get the 16GB iPad 2 for $399. You can even find refurbished models from Apple for less. That iPad 2 doesn't have as nice of a screen or as nice of a camera as the new iPad, but it can run just as fast (if not faster). Look for speed improvement with the 4th Generation of the iPad in April 2013. Meanwhile, what other devices are out there? Schools will not buy Walmart laptops for $349, because there is no service agreement for an institution. They buy large numbers of devices in bulk, with attached service plans. Those purchases start at $1000 and go up from there–even with non-Apple laptops. So really, there is no notebook or laptop for a school that is “more affordable.” What about tablets?

You can find lower-cost tablets than the iPad, but in doing so, you run into other issues. First of all, if you are concerned about the longevity of an iPad (i.e. the iPad 1 will not run iOS 6), Android EOLs (End-of-Life) devices with operating systems every few months. The latest Android iOS, Jelly Bean, will not run on most current Android devices. How do you expect developers to keep up with that? And in terms of developers, although some key apps are available for iOS and Android (e.g. Evernote), many iOS apps are not available on Android? Why? Well, there are thousands of Android devices that developers would have to try to make compatible, and Android operating systems from version 2.1 through 4.1 that are still being sold today! (Not to mention some “forked” versions, such as the Kindle Fire or Nook). The iOS environment has proven to be more profitable than Android, in almost every instance. This means that developers tend to go to iOS first, and Android later (if even then).

Additionally, how are you going to buy and distribute apps and manage devices? Only one tablet has group management features, and that is the iPad. Admittedly, Configurator has some issues–but at least it is available. So, saving $50 on a device (or $150) doesn't make much sense if there is no way for you to manage those devices in a school setting. And how exactly are you buying those apps and distributing them? Is there an Educational Volume Discount Plan (note: the volume license is US only at this point)? Not on Android.

And don't get me started on the usefulness of the 7″ device versus the iPad, or the widescreen 10″ device and the iPad. Both are a poor answer for paper-based education versus the iPad. You had better start with a device that can be used to subsitute what you already have, or you are in trouble. If there is an iPad mini, I will be petitioning secondary schools to NOT buy them in place of full iPads. If you have a 7″ device, you have a device that is relatively usefulness for sheet music, which is one of the easiest way to immediately use an iPad in music.

In conclusion, you are sticking your head in the sand if you say that the iPad isn't the best device for schools. This doesn't mean that the iPad will always be the best device, but it does have a significant lead. Fraser Speirs, the famed Scottish iPad educator, mentioned that every new Android device (such as the Nexus) is given a “fresh start” when compared to an iPad. This shouldn't be. Android for tablets has been available since October 2010, a few short months after the introduction of the iPad. Google and its hardward manufacturers shouldn't be given a restart with every device because the operating system and its apps should already be on par with the iPad–but they aren't.

Six months ago, a representative from a local company asked me, “What if, in a year, another device comes out that is as good as the iPad and only $100, and we've put all this money into developing for the iPad?” Well, we're 1/2 way there, and that device isn't there, and it doesn't cost $100. The best we can do is a 7″ device from Google (Nexus) that is $199, 1/2 the screen size and, 1/2 the memory of an iPad, at a savings of $100 or $200, depending on the device (iPad 2 or new iPad). For the record, I think schools should be providing required apps and e-books for students, and students should provide their own devices (except for student with socioeconomic needs, and we could take care of them). But for now, the model is for schools to provide the entire package, and that's probably unsustainable. But the answer isn't laptops, it isn't other tablets. And Mr. Gudenius is just wrong.



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