1.4 Why did we decide on the iPad?

     As a former Chief Information Officer (CIO) and a technical advisor to CIO’s at various national agencies, I have had to either make decisions or advise others on IT purchases. Make the wrong IT purchase decision and typically it is the users who suffer. I gave a lot of thought and applied a significant amount of research to the platform decision. There are five core factors that led to my decision to buy an iPad. So without further ado, here they are:

  1. The Tablet Decision: Given the advances in mobile technology, a tablet made more sense than a PC. According to recent IT analyst reports from very reputable companies (e.g. see the Gartner report here), Tablet sales are dramatically outpacing PC sales. I believe the primary reasons are smaller size and weight, longer battery life, and a better user experience. The latter is an advantage held by Apple over its competitors for the foreseeable future. User experience is a non-trivial matter. I wanted my son to have access to a platform that would present the least amount of challenges to him learning how to use it. He has a laptop PC at home, and I consider the user interface far too broad in scope to even consider an attempt to configure it specifically for learning. Apple products are famous for having user experience at the heart of every design decision. I’ve owned an iPad for nearly two years so I knew what to expect. That did influence my decision somewhat, but I continued to make an objective decision based on other factors.
  2. Low Maintenance is a Must Have: I made a conscious effort to avoid solutions that would need more maintenance than I’m willing to take on. I’m already the resident IT help and believe me, that can often be the source of much pain for me. I am very keen to avoid the question, “why isn’t this working”? In my experience, Apple products just work. I believe that is partly because applications (apps) are all vetted by Apple for stability (less buggy software). There are many reports of instability issues on the Android OS and Microsoft Windows Tablet OS platforms. I also like services like backing up data on the iPad to the iCloud, which means I don’t have to worry about doing it myself. I no longer even have to connect his iPad to a computer. Everything requiring networking happens wirelessly, including updates and file sharing. These and other maintenance aspects might seem trivial in the beginning, but they are the types of things that wear away at you over time. Especially if you are the lucky guy who gets to fix things when they go wrong.
  3. Security is Important: I’m concerned about vulnerability to cyber attack, which is common on PCs. I also have significant concerns about other platforms that I considered. Apple will be enforcing a sandbox requirement (apps can’t access resources that do not match their intended use) in the new year. One of the ways that viruses and malware create problems is the virus infected device gets compromised by actions performed by legitimate apps (e.g. trick your email app into sending all of your contact and other private info to someone else without you having a clue that it’s going on). Malicious viruses and malware has increased on the Android platform by 76% in the second half of this year alone. Apple devices are historically less vulnerable than the others, but this is very much something to keep an eye on. Our son can’t install any software on his iPad and his email traffic is limited to teachers, family, and a few friends. I’ll keep it that way as long as I can. Again, safety and stability trumps most everything else. I believe that software should be designed more securely in the first place and I like the fact that Apple sees this as a critical need. Although the case is already compelling for the iPad, I continued my consideration of alternatives.
  4. Constrained is Good: Many Techies prefer Google’s’ Android OS and Windows Tablet OS and I think I understand why. Although lower cost is often a major reason, I believe the highly technical dislike the fact that they are more constrained on Apples’ iOS (again, Apple vets all software intended for distribution to their platform, they make sandboxing mandatory (read about it here), and apply other methods to make sure that everyone plays nicely together on their platform). The PC and Android platforms are comparatively “a free for all” as opposed to the highly controlled Apple environment. Despite this, the trend towards Apple products is truly nothing short of a massive about-face when one considers that Apple nearly went out of business in the 1990s. A big factor then was the Apple model of developing, controlling and owning all the systems wearing the Apple logo. Nobody else got to build Macs. I don’t think that the turn around is down to the fickleness of consumers. It is because Apple is designing solutions that consumers want. More importantly in our case, our son is not a techie. Therefore, the techie perspective does not apply in this case. I want our son to stick to using his iPad for learning and not for tinkering around with the hardware and often unsafe software on the less controlled platforms. Controlled is good for the foreseeable future.
  5. Cost is not a Primary Factor, User Experience is: I know that not everyone can take the position that we have. Others might come to a different decision if they have budget limitations. I completely understand that. However, when I considered the cost of academic failure I shifted cost to a lower tier place on my evaluation. That said, I confess to leaning towards what I consider is the best product available. Not because I just like spending more money, but because I want to increase the likelihood that our son will use the technology. User adoption is a fickle thing. I don’t want to build-in the need to intervene to get him to use the tool that has been chosen for him. I want him to use it because he wants to. There, I said it. User experience trumps cost.

     There are many other reasons to go with a tablet and I concluded that the iPad is the right product for our son. I am not advocating the Apple solution for everyone as there are factors that come into play, depending on each circumstance (e.g. cost).

     So there you have it. My reasons for choosing the iPad. Now I’d like to share some of my observations about Tablet use in the broader sense.

     I think it is noteworthy that the South Korean government will be banning all school paper books by 2014 (see an article on it here). You know something really big is happening when an entire government embraces a technology as the South Koreans have. We are talking about a technologically advanced country here. Do they know something that we don’t? My guess is they want to give their students as much of an advantage as they can. Others might speculate that the move is intended to head off the US giant, Apple. They see a major technological storm coming and they don’t want an overseas opponent to their own supplier of Tablets, Samsung, winning out. Even if it is a form of protectionism, the students will benefit from having access to technology that can transform the classroom. I sure hope that the US doesn’t miss an opportunity to benefit from a transformation that a US company largely enabled. Until Apple released the iPad, very few saw the potential of Tablets. Now the market is growing rapidly. I think we will find that the classroom as a logical place for the technology to be applied.

     There are many excellent sources of information on iPad use in the classroom. Here are 8 that I found useful:

  1. Why use iPad and iPod Touch in education
  2. iPadsforlearning.com
  3. Bronx Green Middle School (BGMS): iPads in the classroom blog http://bgmsipad.blogspot.com/
  4. Kathy Schrock’ “iPads in the classroom”: http://www.schrockguide.net/ipads-in-the-classroom.html
  5. Quick list of iPad resources for the classroom: http://web20classroom.blogspot.com/2011/03/quick-list-of-ipad-resources-for.html
  6. Cybrary Man’s Educational Website: http://cybraryman.com/ipad.htmlEdudemic
  7. The Ultimate Guide to Using iPads in the classroom: http://edudemic.com/2010/12/the-ultimate-guide-to-using-ipads-in-the-classroom/
  8. Math That Moves: Schools Embrace the iPad (NY Times article) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/05/education/05tablets.html?pagewanted=all

     My next posting will focus on the task of getting the student involved. For quick access, click here.

By Ken Granville

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