Are iPads Hammers?

One of the people I follow on Twitter recently tweeted this article, entitled “The Secret to Successfully Using iPads in Education.”

I don't disagree with the concepts in the article; you should definitely have an end goal in mind with a 1:1 iPad initiative, but also the flexibility to go beyond that end goal, or to change the end goal. The part of the article that bothers me, however, is the comparison of an iPad to a hammer.

Is an iPad like a hammer? Perhaps I'm tainted by the phrase, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Making the analogy that an iPad as a hammer has a decidedly negative feel, even if the author's perception of iPads isn't negative.

I have been thinking about this analogy since it was retweeted four days ago, and I have figured out what my response is…the iPad isn't a hammer, it's a Swiss Army Knife.

A hammer has one specific purpose…it deals with nails…it pounds them, and removes them. And to make matters worse, there are specific hammers for special situations…sledge hammers, finishing hammers, standard hammers. And in “serious” jobs, you don't even use a hammer, you use an air gun.

The iPad isn't a hammer at all. It isn't limited to one function.

A Swiss Army Knife, on the other hand, is a survival tool. Give one to a Scout, or to a woodsman, and they can do amazing things. What you can do with the knife depends on how many tools are in the knife. And MacGyver showed us that you can do anything with a Swiss Army Knife (Yes, MacGyver was a TV show…trying to insert some humor here). I even heard that a man once built an entire house with a Swiss Army Knife (I can't find an Internet link to this, so this may be an urban–or rural–legend).

What you can do with an iPad depends on what apps are on the iPad. I love to see people encouraging the use of the iPad as a device that creates things…but that isn't the sole purpose of the iPad, either.

Why do I support the iPad? Ultimately, it is the one device that can be used in all subjects, supported by a wide variety of apps (some content-based, some creation-based) that can teach the basic skills that students will need in subject-related professional software beyond the high school experience. It's a blank slate only limited by the imagination of developers…and are developers ever a creative and imaginative bunch! Yes…there are other reasons, such as iBooks and iBooks Author, long battery life, the life span of iPads over various upgrades of iOS, and so on. But when it comes down to it, I support the iPad because it is a Swiss Army Knife that truly can be used in any subject, at any level–and there is no other device that can make that claim.

No, the iPad doesn't do all things, and there may be need for “professional level” devices in some subjects, such as laptop carts in STEM/PLTW classes. If schools go 1:1 with iPad, and STEM/PLTW courses already have laptops, do we think that we will take away their laptops when we go 1:1? Of course not. But when an iPad can handle nearly all of our “traditional” use of computing (research/writing papers/making presentations) and do so much more in every subject area, how can we consider any other device? Steve Jobs made the point that the future of computing is much like trucks and cars. There was a point in our culture when an agricultural-based society needed trucks, but as our culture changed, the majority of the population moved to cars. Likewise, people will continue to move to tablets (which will also continue to advance) but computers will still be needed for heavy computing tasks, just as we still need trucks.

No, iPads aren't hammers with a single tool. They are Swiss Army Knives with a collection of tools called apps.



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