i-pad, u-pad, we-pad….or do Wii?

January 28, 2010 at 5:42 pm 9 comments

My ten bobs worth about the i-pad. Yes, Graham, getting sucked in…to the debate at least.

So, I find myself getting sucked in to the debate about the i-pad. This is unusual for me because, to be honest I have certainly been on the fringes of what Stephen Fry in his review of the i-pad calls the ‘nay sayers and sceptics’ in respect of the i-phone and i-pod touch et al.

In my defence, though, I have never said that the development of the Apple mobile device armoury is not extremely well conceived, beautifully designed, and skilfully executed, or that Apple have not led where others have followed.

But, neither do I believe that the sun shines from Steve Jobs posterior. There is something about the evangelism surrounding all things Apple that disturbs me. Perhaps it’s the blinding light shining from you know where that restricts our peripheral vision preventing us from properly seeing the full picture.

Where it comes to the i-pad, and indeed i-phone, i-pod touch etc. context is important, I think. At least it is in the world I occupy which professionally and personally revolves around education, specifically primary and secondary education. Even more specifically a large slice of my life is taken up with the exciting opportunities offered to education through digital technology which, as Lord Putnam said at the recent Learning Technologies show at Olympia, has changed the way people interact, engage and make sense of the world’.

The i-pad, in all it’s glory (and I do not doubt its gloriousness) will open up all sorts of exciting opportunities to do some remarkable things in some schools and educational institutions around the globe. But, fantastic as that is, this effort will be restricted to a minority for three very good reasons that have nothing to do with design or functionality. These reasons are that the i-pad is too expensive, too nickable, and too fragile.

Stephen Fry in his review of the i-pad refers to the ‘shockingly low price’ of $499 (£310) for the basic model. Shockingly low for someone of his means, for sure, affordable for someone of my means, completely out of the question for the hundreds of  thousands on a low income. Will the ‘Home access’ scheme (which already restricts provision of access to broadband to one year only)  be extended to the provision of this device, even the basic model. I suspect not. In any case the ‘Home access’ scheme doesn’t by any means reach all the people who need it.

Where the ‘Home access’ scheme is meant to narrow the digital divide, the aggressive pricing policy of Apple (when did you last see a discounted i-phone or i-pod touch), I’m afraid, only serves to widen it. This does play into Apples hands, of course, because their enormous 15.9 billion revenue is made mainly from the haves and the perception that their beautiful products are made for the beautiful people who, of course, can afford them.

I know that Steve Jobs has made a point of saying that he wants to keep the price low, but there is low and there is low.

In a tweet today Graham Brown-Martin (of Handheld Learning fame) said ‘as I walk thru the Elephant & Castle favela I wonder if I’d really whip out an #iPad to read the news…’ Now extend that thought to all the pupils in all the schools.

We recently had a burglary at our offices. Someone had got hold of the key and came in at their leisure when no-one was around. From everything we have in the office, dozens of systems, Macs and Pc’s and all sorts of other equipment, the burglar took just our i-pod touch (my freebie from the Handheld Learning conference) and our Mac mini. Small enough to conceal and very sellable, just like the i-pad. No doubt the good Apple folk would puff out their chests in pride that their products are so eminently nickable so not likely to be much change there.

And as for robustness, I have no idea how much rough handling the i-pad can take (because of its elegance it does seem rather fragile, but this may well not be the case), but it would have to be very robust indeed to survive the ravages of my 12 year old sons treatment. Clothes, books, bottles, lunchboxes, nothing survives the daily onslaught. His mobile phone just about survives, because it is small enough to go in his pocket, and has a case to protect it. Even so it looks pretty sorry for itself, although just about intact.

It might be argued that other devices may be equally susceptible to damage, but that isn’t the point. Someone will have to address the issue of rough treatment, and I don’t suppose it will be Apple. They are just not in that space.

You may feel that I am simply being something of a killjoy about all this, but I think I am just being practical and pragmatic. I don’t doubt, or deride, Apples achievements as innovators. But, in the world I occupy, I cannot see a ubiquitous place, per se, of the i-pad, i-phone, i-pod et al despite all the potential on offer.

In this respect, though, Apples great achievement, and it is a great achievement, is to set the standards for others to follow and I applaud them for that. But I expect to see a greater use of other devices for education, netbooks for a while, making way for smartphones that can be had free on very low tariffs, gaming consoles like PS3 and x-Box, others like the DS and of course the brilliantly conceived Wii.

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Entry filed under: Digital teknology, digital world, Education, Gadgets, Games, Technology, video games, Young people.

andwriting and spelchekin League tables, report cards, scrap the lot

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pete Burden  |  January 29, 2010 at 10:13 am

    Quite agree on the price Mick. Some netbooks are already half that price and falling.

    LG has apparently announced plans for mass production of an 11.5-inch flexible-ink display by the end of June, this year, based on flexible e-ink display technology, which HP are also developing.

    Will be interesting to see whether that can be made child-proof. Oh and colour of course.

    http://dvice.com/archives/2010/01/lg-shows-off-ne.php

    Reply
  • 2. Ian Smith  |  February 9, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Mick,

    Nice article and as much as I worship from the Altar of Jobs (sounds rude) it’s good to ask questions about these things: price and robustness are going to be key issues in the future.

    But I also thing the iPad is pointing the way in a different sense: its moving us towards ‘friendlier’ computing i.e. no file system, no real desktop, no folders etc.

    It’s been said on a few sites already but just as automatic transmission simplified the driver’s interface to the car engine, so this new form of UI simplifies the users experience of the computer. Most people don’t care about how the thing works, just that it does. Ruth and I had a (half) serious conversation about buying one and using it as the new family computer i.e. to surf, write the odd letter, send emails and play games – everything we use it for.

    Interesting times…

    Reply
    • 3. Mick Landmann  |  February 9, 2010 at 12:07 pm

      I do agree with you, Ian, and as I said in my post recognise and applaud Apple’s role in paving the way. The i-pad is really currently a life-style product and on that basis I too may well be tempted to get one somewhere down the line, although I’d probably leave it until next release.

      Although having had our i-pod touch and Mac mini nicked from the office I wonder if someone is trying to tell me something e.g. that I should leave these Apple products alone as I have studiously done for very many years.

      Incidentally I had a chance to play with the new Google phone yesterday and would suggest that this is going to be a very serious rival to the i-phone, and won’t be too long before it is available free on a low tariff. That will really set things alight on the education front.

      Hope you, Ruth and the kids are good. We really must catch up sometime.

      Reply
  • 4. Gareth Medd  |  March 9, 2010 at 9:49 am

    These are fair concerns. You don’t mention the return to operating systems that lock the user into buying from the big players through App stores and away from open source. This was discussed in a recent MacUser.

    I don’t quite agree with the cost arguement. I can buy class sets of iPod touches for just over £100 (exc VAT) each. I couldn’t buy a Wii, a PDA, DSi or NetBook for that kind of money.

    Reply
  • 5. Mick Landmann  |  March 9, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Thanks for your comments, Gareth

    An organisation called ‘The Wholesale Applications Community’ (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8515813.stm) has been established which ‘aims to make it easier for developers to build and sell apps irrespective of device or technolgy’. Whether this particular organisation will succeed in this we’ll have to wait and see. There is , though, I think a general feel that the development of apps for smartphones must be made easier, particularly to develop a single app that will run across multiole devices. Content is king. Not Apples view, though.

    With regard to cost, whilst it is true, as you point out, that you could get an ipod touch for £100+ VAT this is still significant money for many schools. It is also true that you can’t buy a Wii for the same money, but of course very many households already have them.

    I think we really need to extend the debate to concepts of education anytime, anywhere, utilising devices that young people already have access to.

    The point about smartphones is that over the next year or two they will be avilable to young people virtually free. That is smartphones that are not Apple. Free versus £100 + VAT seems to me to be a no brainer!

    Reply
  • 6. Stuart  |  March 20, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Mick, I’m fascinated by your aversion to Apple – you talk about Apple’s skills around conception, design and execution, then how Apple lead where others follow, yet you are disturbed by the positive experience and feedback from users of Apple kit.

    Last time I was at BETT (a few years ago now) RM were desperately punting Tablet PCs as the greatest thing since sliced bread for delivering Education – funnily enough, it didn’t really get a massive following because it was essentially, just a Windows machine with a different form of input – it still had all the same security and functionality issues.

    As IT Manager at an FE College, I was looking at the Toshiba Portege 3500 as a Tablet / Laptop for tutors and lecturers, but at every stage, there was some form of barrier that just made it impractical – and at £1800 a pop just for the machine, an unlikely solution.

    There are Schools on the US who have found the iPod touch startlingly effective learning tools for children starting school because they are intuitive to use and completely engage the children in learning to the extent that they almost have to wrestle them of the littleuns

    Curiously (and I know it is a different age group) there have been Educational institutions in the US who have given students their own iPod Touch or iPhone and been able to make learning resources, timetables, admin info etc etc available with (reportedly) a great deal of success and benefits to both sides.

    One real world issue I can see, is that updates would be done through iTunes, one of them at a time – in a classroom only environment, you’d need to task a techie to do the job, one or two (depending on how many machines you make available for the task).

    If the resale value of stolen items and how indestructable kit may or may not be, are some of your KPIs, then your eye may not still be on the ball.

    IMHO, if you drink the Apple coolade and try to look for the positives, you’ll find that the Apple stuff has more enablers than barriers.

    Stu

    PS – I did manage to accidentally write off a £5,000 military grade, indestructable, Panasonic ToughBook, when someone kicked the power supply, pulling the machine off my knee, landing on the power cable, wrenching the connector off the motherboard – that wouldn’t have happened with an Apple laptop because the power connector is held on magnetically and would have just popped off, leaving my machine on my lap – not something Apple screams about – you need to experience some of it to understand it.
    Indestructable? Pah! 🙂

    Reply
    • 7. Stuart  |  March 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm

      I was doing this at work, and got interrupted a few times, so some of the points are missing words or even sentences finishing the point 🙂

      Reply
    • 8. Mick Landmann  |  March 21, 2010 at 12:10 am

      Hi Stuart

      Many thanks for your comments. I don’t think I have an actual aversion to Apple. I just find the evangelism that can accompany all things Apple a little disturbing. For example, imbuing Apple products with such characteristics as being ‘intuitive to use’ simply belies the truth. You have to ‘learn’ how to use an iPod touch, just as you have to ‘learn’ how to use any other device. Once you’ve learnt it, you know it, but it isn’t intuitive.

      Actually I think it is far from intuitive. I have an Android smartphone and when I first got an iPod touch (the one that was stolen) I had a number of problems adjusting to its interface, understanding what its icons meant. And the i-tunes interface is simply awful (I say that both as an ordinary user and as someone who has spent the last 25 years designing interfaces).

      That being said I completely agree that there are some fantastic things being done with i-pod touches and i-phones in an education context. There are also some fantastic things being done with other handheld devices in schools which are also ‘startlingly effective learning tools for children’. I believe that it is digital technology, in a range of guises that offers real opportunities for education, not any particular device or application. I’d say, actually, that the reason that I’m sure you are right when you say ‘they almost have to wrestle them off the littleuns’ is not because the devices in question were i-pod touches but were handheld devices offering them a new connection with learning.

      If a school or education institution is able to make good use of I-pod touches, i-pads etc. that’s great. My point though, is that for the three reasons I cite, cost, nickability, and robustness these will not be the devices of choice for schools, that’s all.

      On KPI’s it is my view that it is essential to look not just at a devices actual performance but at the environment in which it is required to operate, otherwise one is just getting half the picture. If a device is rendered unusable because it isn’t sufficiently robust to withstand the ravages of the environment in which it is deployed, then it is not an appropriate device for that environment. In this context, just looking pretty simply doesn’t cut it.

      Make no mistake I am an admirer of the magnetically held on power connector used on Macbooks but there are so many other ways, in the hands of say a twelve year old boy (not intending to be sexist), that a Macbook or other portable device can be damaged.

      So, in conclusion I’m certainly not against Apple as such. I simply recognise that Apple is not the only fruit.

      Reply
  • 9. Pete Burden  |  March 22, 2010 at 9:48 am

    One way, I think, to look at Apple is that they simply serve a slightly different part of the market.

    They seem to address mainly the early part of Rogers’ bell curve – innovators, early adopters, and early majority.

    I know that products like the iPod and iPhone are stretching into the late majority, but by that stage of market development Apple typically no longer holds a so dominant market position.

    Cost obviously becomes more of a factor for the majority and therefore other entrants like Google with Android, and the other major players who have a different market strategy – aimed at serving the majority at lower cost – start to gain market share.

    But what Apple so usefully gives us therefore is set of products that suggest, through their success or failure, what the future product set for the majority is going to look like – but not who the suppliers will be.

    Pete

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations

    Reply

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