Netbook vs. iPod Touch Debate

There is currently a debate bubbling just under the surface comparing the iPod Touch to Netbooks for the future of classroom computing.  Recently at the NCTIES conference, Cool Cat Teacher, Vicki Davis, mentioned she would rather have a classroom set of iPod Touches than laptops.  I want to address a few things I’ve seen floating around these conversations.  First of all, I have my own of each and love them. The amount of free and low cost programs that exist for the Touch far surpass anything available for any other phone/PDA, the quality varies wildly, but there are good versions of nearly everything that is out there.

A few limitations on the Touch:
1) Copy and Paste…although it seems little, you can’t copy something from a webpage and paste it into an email. This is supposed to be fixed with the iPhone firmware upgrade coming out this summer, which will cost $10 for Touch users.

2) Google Docs support…At this point in time you can only read Google Docs created elsewhere on the Touch. You cannot edit Docs or create new ones. This may seem like a minor thing as well, but there is no good alternative text entry method for writing anything slightly longer. Zoho Docs seems to work as a basic text editor, but I have not tried it extensively.

3) Video/Audio recording…While the Touch is great for playing video and audio, it is not capable of recording video. There is no camera as there is with the iPhone. Even if there was, the iPhone firmware currently does not support video recording. Those who have “jailbroken” their iPhones are able to record video and stream it through UStream and Qik, but this is against the Apple EULA (for what it’s worth). Additionally, the Touch does not have a built in microphone. It is possible to purchase an external mic which can be used for rudimentary recording, but the apps available to record are very simplistic at the moment.

4) WiFi only access…If your building is wireless this won’t be a problem. If not, then you won’t have Internet connection. The difference in the iPhone and iPod Touch is the way information is sent to each device. The iPhone can operate on AT&T’s 3G network receiving Internet over cell phone signals or via wifi. The Touch only operates over wifi.  This can be a limitation if your school does not allow personal devices on the wifi network.

5) Flash support…currently the version of Safari that comes on the iPod Touch does not support Flash animations. This severely limits the capabilities of many online sites/educational games, etc.

6) Small size of the screen…while the screen is significantly larger than most PDAs or cell phones, it still is not optimal for some uses. For example, someone mentioned grade entry. Our school uses an online gradebook system which is accessible from the Touch. The problem is, in order to read the numbers that are entered, you have to zoom in so far that you can no longer see the student names. This makes entering more than one or two grades at a time difficult.

1) Anywhere access…as long as you have a wifi connection you can take you computer with you where ever you go. The power on the iPod touch is very similar to that of many computers just a few years ago.

2) Kindle for iPhone…though the screen is somewhat small for this, you can download books from Amazon’s Kindle Store. This is a HUGE benefit as the free application saves you the $360 it would cost to go out and buy a Kindle. The functionality of the Touch far surpasses the Kindle for student creativity. The Kindle is purely for consumption of content. Having access to the largest ebook retailer in your pocket anywhere you have wifi access is amazing.

3) Calendar and contact syncing…this is improving with the Touch all the time. Though I haven’t ventured too far into this yet, I believe it is possible to integrate Google Calendar with your iPod Touch now and simultaneously update both your online calendar and your Touch calendar from either the Touch or a computer.

4) iTunes University…Fantastic professional development opportunities await for free. Take college level courses via video podcast. Dive into podcasts from major names in education. This is great for students to see as well.

Overall, the cost of an iPod Touch is significantly less than that of a laptop…unless you start looking into netbooks. The functionality of netbooks exceeds what most people require from their portable computers. My recent NCMSA blogging stint was done entirely from my MSI Wind netbook, which was quite the conversation starter in and of itself. The only thing a netbook lacks that the Touch has, is access to the Kindle Store. For the cost, I’m very satisfied with my netbook…at $350 if it lasts me 2 years, I’m looking at a cost of only about $16 per month of use. The Touch is only $10 per month based on the same time frame. The real question to ponder is, are there applications on the computer that you can’t live without, or vice versa are their applications that put the Touch far ahead of the netbook market. At the moment, there’s only one (Kindle) but that may well change in the near future as more folks begin developing iPhone/iPod Touch apps.

Where do you stand on the netbook/Touch debate? Which do you think will be the future of classroom computing? Or do you see something else entirely filling the classroom niche?


3 Responses

  1. Two more positives for the Touch.

    1 – Instant On. A netbook will take a minute or two to turn on.

    2 – Battery Life. I can use my Touch all day without a recharge while a netbook will be dead long before lunch time.

    • The Touch doesn’t have instant on. It returns from standby very quickly, but it takes much longer to do a full boot. Also, a well configured netbook should not take a minute or two to turn on. My 800Mhz netbook, which is much slower than standard 1.6GHz netbooks, takes less than a minute to boot up. I could get it boot much faster if I were using a lighter OS, or if it were more powerful.

    • 1 – A netbook will not take a minute or two to turn on, it boots in less than a minute. But why would you boot a netbook, when you can put the machine in standby or hibernation mode, which are much faster than a boot

      2 – Times have changed, lots of netbooks now last longer while using wifi than the iPod touch with Wifi on.

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