Enter the iPad (or Not?): Apple's New Table Computer Has Earned Raves for Its Design, Portability, and Dynamic Apps, but Is It Any Better Than the Netbooks and Laptops Now Fueling School Computing Programs? Depends Who You Ask

By Waters, John K. | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), June-July 2010 | Go to article overview

Enter the iPad (or Not?): Apple's New Table Computer Has Earned Raves for Its Design, Portability, and Dynamic Apps, but Is It Any Better Than the Netbooks and Laptops Now Fueling School Computing Programs? Depends Who You Ask


Waters, John K., T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


FEW COMPUTING DEVICES have sparked the burning gizmo lust ignited by the iPad. Apple's latest entry into the tablet PC market didn't generate much heat when it was first unveiled in January, but by April 3, the day of the official release, feverish customers were mobbing Apple stores. The company claims to have sold 300,000 iPads by midnight on that first day, and that more than a million apps and 250,000 e-books were downloaded to those devices. Apple says it delivered more than 500,000 iPads before the end of the first week. Demand in the US has been so great that the company postponed its European launch.

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Mixed in with this nationwide hot-tech-toy fervor is the cooler consideration of the iPad as an educational tool. This device and the competing PCs set to follow it into the marketplace represent a new student-computing platform that K-12 school districts have already begun to explore in pilot programs.

It's still early, but as educators begin weighing the pros and cons of the iPad, predictions that the device would make a three-way race out of what had been a head-to-head competition between netbooks and laptops for the increasingly discriminating wallets of K-12 are proving to be premature. It's beginning to seem that schools are more likely to be determining how this touchable form factor complements, instead of displaces, other keyboard-bound devices in their overall student-computing strategy.

Filling a Niche

The tablet computer isn't really new, of course. Bill Gates introduced Microsoft's Windows Tablet PC Edition software at the annual Comdex technology trade show in Las Vegas nine years ago. Most of the leading laptop manufacturers have been offering devices designed to allow users to write on a screen with a stylus for years.

Gates predicted that the tablet would become the most popular PC type within five years of his Vegas announcement. But the tablet devices developed in the ensuing years, with their rotatable, even removable touchscreens, were expensive and never managed to fulfill Gates' expectation. Few have found much success beyond niche markets.

But Apple got so many things right with the iPad that the device effectively redefines the category. It's fair to say that it's the first of a new generation, though it certainly won't be the last. Next-gen competitors have already been released, and more are coming (see "Top 5 iPad Challengers," page 44).

More importantly, unlike its predecessors, the iPad was born into a thriving software ecosystem, established largely by its smaller touchscreen siblings: the iPod Touch and the iPhone. About 1,000 new iPad-specific apps were available in the App Store on the day of the device's launch, and software developers have been rushing to add more ever since. It's the volume and vibrancy of these tools that is pulling in K-12 users.

"The apps that ate coming out for the iPad are so innovative and different from what we've seen," says Julie Bohnenkamp, director of technology for Center Grove Community School Corporation in Greenwood, IN, which is launching an iPad pilot program this year. "And they're so easily accessible once they're downloaded. They're just there for the students."

Center Grove, a district that serves more than 7,500 students in one high school, one middle school, and six elementary schools, is starting with 15 iPads this summer in a pilot program with English as a New Language (ENL) students. The plan is to launch a larger program in the fall.

"That group of students provides a small target audience," Bohnenkamp says, "which allows us to analyze effectiveness and develop best practices. And it's also the perfect tool for that particular group, because we can easily customize the iPad to the different languages our students come to us with. And we can enable accessibility features that turn text to speech."

Center Grove is starting out with free downloadable applications such as Tao Translatelt, originally created for the iPhone but adapted to the iPad. …

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