iPad – Breakthrough or Misstep?

Totally Online, by Jim Shimabukuro
The iPad debuts today, and, as an educator, I can’t help but wonder if this will be the breakthrough portable communication device that will hasten the release of students and teachers from the grip of classroom walls.

I’m excited by the possibilities, but I can’t help but feel disappointed by the actual product. I haven’t had my hands on an iPad, but I’ve already formed an impression based on what I’ve read in today’s breaking news.

Frankly, I can’t see any advantage that it might have over existing devices. It’s huge in comparison to, say, an iPhone. It’s roughly 7.5″x9.5″x0.5″; it weighs about 1.5 pounds. It’s about the size of a large photo, 8×10, but its thickness makes it three times heavier than a typical paperback. I’m surprised more by what it lacks than by what it has. It doesn’t have a built-in camera, card reader, or USB ports. It can’t multitask; you have to run one application at a time. It can’t play flash videos, which are heavily used on the web. And, if I’m not mistaken, its range of applications is very limited.

It has some nice features: The screen is large, 9.7″ diagonally, and the resolution, 1024×768, is quite good. Users are reporting quickness in screen loads. It uses touchscreen technology that allows for an on-screen keyboard. The battery life, 12 hours, if accurate, is a definite plus. The 64GB of maximum storage seems adequate, but it drives the cost up.

To place the iPad in perspective, compare it to my subcompact notebook, Aspire One, which is smaller in width and length but slightly larger in thickness when closed. The Aspire has all the features of a standard notebook, including a comfortable keyboard, built-in camera, 120GB hard drive, 1GB of memory, ethernet and wireless connections, and USB ports. At approximately half the cost of the iPad, it runs nearly all my applications.

The weight of the Aspire One makes it difficult to hold and read in one hand, as I would a paperback. At 1.5 pounds, the iPad, too, won’t be replacing the paperback.

Frankly, I see the iPad as a less than effective transitional or bridge device that attempts to position itself between leading edge cell phone technology (which includes limited camera and web capabilities) and today’s netbooks.

The upside to the iPad is the questions that it raises for educators:

1. What qualities or features will the iPad need to include to become useful tools for learning?

2. How will educators in the near and distant future use well-designed iPad-type devices in the learning process?

Claude Almansi on 4 April 2010 said:

Thanks, Jim.

Re 1. What qualities or features will the iPad need to include to become useful tools for learning?
The ones you mention- USB port, streaming Flash capability (though with YouTube leading the way in using HTML 5 instead of streaming flash, maybe that won’t be as necessary in a near future).
Now two things that might already be implemented (?):
No DRM and no End User License Agreement limiting what people are allowed to do under copyright law.
Tactile/audio recognition, in particular for the virtual keyboard (as Google is publishing its Project Eyes-Free applications in open source, this should be feasible for Apple things too).

Re 2. How will educators in the near and distant future use well-designed iPad-type devices in the learning process?
I don’t know, but there seem to be some interesting suggestions coming up already for the iPad on the iPAD Learning LAB by The MASIE Center blog.

Harry Keller on 4 April 2010 said:

The iPad may represent the first step toward a truly useful, inexpensive education-capable device. In my opinion, it’s not there yet. Even the expected flood of applications for it won’t put it over the top.

For me, the lack of Java is more important than the lack of Flash. However, given the number of Flash-based education applications, it certainly misses the education target in that respect as well.

I’m awaiting the iPad II, which may fill in the gaps and make it all of the way to education tool. Expect the next generation of iPad to be a bit larger, lighter, and more functional.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks, Jim.

    Re 1. What qualities or features will the iPad need to include to become useful tools for learning?
    The ones you mention- USB port, streaming Flash capability (though with YouTube leading the way in using HTML 5 instead of streaming flash, maybe that won’t be as necessary in a near future).
    Now two things that might already be implemented (?):
    No DRM and no End User License Agreement limiting what people are allowed to do under copyright law.
    Tactile/audio recognition, in particular for the virtual keyboard (as Google is publishing its Project Eyes-Free applications in open source, this should be feasible for Apple things too).

    Re 2. How will educators in the near and distant future use well-designed iPad-type devices in the learning process?
    I don’t know, but there seem to be some interesting suggestions coming up already for the iPad on the iPAD Learning LAB by The MASIE Center blog.

  2. The iPad may represent the first step toward a truly useful, inexpensive education-capable device. In my opinion, it’s not there yet. Even the expected flood of applications for it won’t put it over the top.

    For me, the lack of Java is more important than the lack of Flash. However, given the number of Flash-based education applications, it certainly misses the education target in that respect as well.

    I’m awaiting the iPad II, which may fill in the gaps and make it all of the way to education tool. Expect the next generation of iPad to be a bit larger, lighter, and more functional.

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