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Is the iPad getting any better for schools?

Last year, Stu McGregor concluded the iPad wasn’t yet ready for school deployment. Six months on and following changes introduced with Apple’s iOS 4.2, what does he think?

For me this is still a ‘yes and no’ question. Sometimes people like to talk things up simply because they want to be seen on the competitive edge – the iPad’s ‘cool-factor’ makes it especially prone to this. However, understanding the uniqueness of this device is still critical to assessing whether it has a place in your education environment.

The iPad is much more than another computing device, it’s possibly the first tangible shift to accessing the internet for all information for everybody that we’ve ever witnessed. Read that again. This isn’t a laptop. This isn’t a desktop. This is personal digital experience accessible for everyone without feeling like you’re sitting in front of a computer. And that’s the point. Its success is precisely because it ISN’T a computer (in the conventional sense).

In spite of those who decry the tight controls that Apple imposes through its App Store on the iPad, those controls allow my mum to have a trouble-free digital experience. Apple knows all the software and stakes its reputation on it being safe. Can you email on it? Yes. Surf the Net? Yes. Synchronise calendars? Yes. Create basic spreadsheets and documents? Yes. And the rest.

I labour on this point because it’s so critical. I believe this is the best personal computing device to hit the market. The tablet revolution has been waiting to come for more than a decade. Finally, after many false starts, it’s happened. This tablet works. Everything else is simply copying.

I think people are realising that the iPad is a game changer, not in the sense of ubiquity, but in terms of changing the rules about how we interact with technology. Which is why it leads in the area and others are merely catching up.

Its success has caught everyone by surprise, even Apple. But let’s get one thing straight, its success is because it fills a gap: it is a simple-touse personal device. It’s not a multi-user device, which means it’s not cluttered with security measures.

It’s easy to manage and get your head around. However, it’s this strength for an individual that becomes the primary shortcomings for the iPad in education. It has limited value in a shared environment – and unless iOS radically changes (which I doubt), this is what it will always be.

So, given this constraint, shared deployment significantly limits the iPad’s usefulness, when its potential is for so much more. When working through your approach to deploying the iPad, remember:

  • Don’t compare it with the laptops or desktops. It’s not competing with those. Look at it as a smartphone, but bigger and more versatile.
  • Desktops and laptops are powerful, multi-user, multi-purpose instruments. I use my iPad mainly for reading, viewing and gaming.
  • iPad settings and saved states exist solely for one user. While some applications allow you to save to servers, iWork, Dropbox and WebDAV, the login process is clumsy for multiple users.

In my previous article, I raised six objections to the iPad. Has anything changed?

1.  It still doesn’t support flash.

2.  You can edit Google docs now but it’s clumsy and slow.

3.  You can print … kind of. Officially only to printers that support it, which at the time the feature was released was five.

4.  You can save files to a school server but it’s clumsy and it’s only from certain applications like iWork.

5.  Licensing of apps is a bit of a nightmare. You can’t purchase two or more copies of an app on one account, therefore unless you have individual accounts set up for each device, one app licence per machine is impossible to do.

6.  Stealability. Thanks to GPS it’s possible to locate any iOS device anywhere in the world (provided location settings are set to on).

The release of iOS 4.2 hasn’t change the game as much as I would have liked. If only Google Apps worked efficiently. If only word processing was like the desktop experience. If only it were a little bit multi-user oriented, then I would be happy to recommend it but as it stands now, my advice is to only get them if your future ICT strategy accommodates limitations for the sake of breaking new ground.

Stu McGregor is an iCT Consultant for primary and intermediate schools and writes for INTERFACE magazine.

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Categories: Article, Issue 29

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