Netbook/iPod Touch/Kindle/iPad Update

One of the more popular posts on my blog has been Netbook vs. iPod Touch Debate from back in March.  Well since that time, the landscape of potential portable devices in schools has changed.  Our school’s media coordinator has gotten a Kindle, so I’ve had the chance to play around with one of those.  The most recent entrant is Apple’s iPad, the claimed “middle ground” between smartphones and laptops.  Here are some updated thoughts from myself and my discussions with my students.

Kindle

Amazon’s Kindle, the top in the current line of eBook readers, has been suggested as a great idea for students.  After all, one of the biggest complaints about textbooks is their cost and weight right? (Nevermind other, more valid complaints regarding errors, sanitized, standardized language, over reliance by teachers, etc)  The Kindle would allow students to have all their books in one place, plus it’s Internet enabled…sort of.  The Kindle does allow you to go online, but online in the most limited sense of the idea.  Sure Wikipedia seems to work fairly well (for those teachers who will actually let their students use it) but the majority of the rest of the web is very limited. Additionally, and here’s my biggest complaint against the Kindle: schools are dealing with a TON of overhead. Buying the Kindle only gives access to a small number of free eBooks.  Owning a library means a school already has hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on print books, all which are unusable with the new eReader.  Along those same lines, buying one copy of a physical book allows many students to read that book.  Buying one copy of a Kindle book, allows that one student to read that book.  Not very cost effective despite the lowered cost of Kindle editions.

iPad

My feelings on the iPad are largely summed up here by Russ Goerend.  He beat me to the punch.  I like many others, was very excited about the announcement of the Apple Tablet/iPad.  Steve Jobs keynote left me somewhat uninspired, and continued reflection led me to be downright depressed about the next few months of technology in schools.  Schools have lately (perhaps always) been engaged in the game of technology one-ups-manship, where neighboring schools/districts/states try and show their dedication to technology by having things that are newer or better than those around them.  With the new “it” item being the iPad, it won’t belong before we hear about a district purchasing inordinate numbers of them for students.

The problem is, as it stands now, the iPad is an infinitely poor laptop replacement.  Steve Jobs portrayed netbooks as “Cheap laptops”.  The iPad, by similar logic, could be categorized as an expensive “not quite laptop.”  A few of the issues with the current version of the iPad:

  • Runs iPhone OS – this limits users to running a single app at the same time.  No grabbing pictures from Safari and dragging them into the Keynote slide you’re creating, no listening to Pandora while working on email, no toggling between two apps that you are using for anything.
  • No camera – This to me looks like the “big announcement” for the iPad 2nd Generation. Leaving a camera off of this device seems to have no logical reasoning unless it would have pushed the iPad over the desired price point. Still, no camera means, no photo taking, no video, no video chat.
  • No USB, no storage expansion, nothing that’s not in the App Store…that’s a lot of No’s…
  • Must sync back to another computer…This makes the iPad only an accessory.  It can’t stand on it’s own forever. Just like the iPod Touch, which few people would argue is a total replacement for another computer, the iPad will require users to connect back to another device.  I see this posing problems for schools trying to run implement their use large scale.

A few things the iPad, MAY have going for it

  • Keynote and Pages – great to see these make their way to other mobile devices, but what will we find out they can’t do? We know they won’t run at the same time something else is running. Will they end up running on the Touch/iPhone? At $9.99 I’m not sure many folks would buy them for the smaller devices, but it stands to reason if they’ll work on the iPad, they SHOULD work on the iPhone/iTouch.
  • iBooks/Kindle App – Together, these two apps will likely make the Kindle a very hard sell.  Since the iPad can do everything a Kindle can, plus more, someone looking for an eReader will be hard pressed to go for Amazon’s device. Except on the cost level. If that is the only consideration for someone, then the Kindle may still make sense.  iBooks looks very good, despite the potential eye-strain that we all may be dealing with from looking at a backlit device for our reading.
  • Aesthetic Appeal – The iPad looks cool…every kid would be excited to get one…schools would get a great PR boost…but that’s not what technology in schools is about, or shouldn’t be…

From the addition of these two items to our list, I have to put my current rankings of the 4 in terms of their benefit to schools in this order:

  1. Netbook
  2. iPod Touch
  3. iPad
  4. Kindle

Netbooks just offer so much in terms of creation, collaboration, and communication. The iPod Touch gets us closer to the mobile learning device many of our students will be using after school ends. The iPad has potential, but just isn’t there yet.  And the Kindle, well, at least Amazon doesn’t have to worry with it too much more, just selling the eBooks for it. Hey, that’s really what they wanted to do to begin with right?

Would love to hear your thoughts on my rankings.

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