iPad Not the Only Mobile Learning Device

2010-09-10 001 (640x480)The stream of articles and blog posts around the general theme of ‘iPad transforms education’ seems endless. Most include a list of tasks that can be done with an iPad, but virtually none of the pieces point out that virtually all of those tasks can be performed with other widely available, less expensive, equally portable and useable, and often more capable mobile devices like netbooks and even lightweight laptops.

I urge writers and readers alike to continually ask the question ‘the iPad can do it but can it also be done equally with other mobile devices’. At a rough guess well over 95% of the time this is true. It is important to be very clear about which tasks only the iPad can accomplish. Equally, be clear about which tasks only the other mobile devices can perform.

It is clear to me that many writers about the iPad have no idea what a netbook, for example, can offer. I use my iPad and Samsung N210 netbook (shown above) side by side through the day. I can’t bring myself to settle for just one of these devices, both have their strengths. This is my table of comparison.

Feature iPad 3G Samsung N210
Cost $926 (w/case, adapters) $638 (w/3G USB, BT mouse)
OS iOS 3.2 Windows 7 Starter
Multitasking No Yes
Weight 870 g 1318 g
Battery hours 10 10
Storage 16 GB 250 GB
UX Touch, onscreen keyboard Mouse, real keyboard
Start-up time ~ 1 second ~ 5 seconds (from sleep)
~ 40 seconds (from cold)
Shutdown time ~ 1 second ~ 15 seconds (to sleep)
~25 seconds (to cold)
GPS Yes No
Mic Yes Yes
Camera No Yes
Apps Very large number Windows app universe
Browsers Very few, no Flash All with all video formats
VGA out for projector Adapter that few apps support Yes
USB ports 1 with crippled photo-only adapter 3
Flash card reader Adapter Yes
Personal portability score 90% 80%

Where one or other device is at a major disadvantage I have coloured the feature red. Most other features are common such as 3G service, audio socket, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, screen size and resolution. I should also point out that it is possible for me to buy a netbook with 3G on board, having a solid state drive with lightning on/off times, and being significantly thinner and lighter for the same or cheaper price – even more of an iPad competitor.

My own portability measure takes into account that the iPad can go with me to more places but is a little heavy (compared to a Kindle for example) and eventually needs to be tethered to a PC/Mac for umbilical iTunes sync.

The big deal breakers with the iPad are very significant:

  1. High price
  2. Productive information gathering (document and repository), creation and editing requires a full-featured filestore, rapid app switching and sophisticated copy and paste, all missing from the iPad
  3. Access to all features of browser-accessed online services such as Google Docs (and many others), particularly the creation capabilities via Safari on iPad is cut off from many of these services
  4. Browser add-ons and extensions that perform powerful, productive tasks are not available; only an occasional bookmarklet works on Safari

While individual iPad apps can alleviate some of the problems the current navigation between hundreds of apps is tedious and unproductive in the extreme.

Of course to be fair there are iPad features that puts it, at the moment, into a class of its own:

  1. The instant on/off capability of the iPad raises productivity a great deal; this leads to quick checks and lookups of information never before possible on a large-screen mobile device
  2. Location-based apps and services using GPS; the cell tower location service comes a distant second
  3. Consumption of all online information and media is ultra-convenient

These comments will very soon be old hat because:

  • Android-based tablets will bring all iPad features (except the polish of the user interface) together with the netbook prices, i/o ports and OS features as well as apps, although lacking the Windows apps universe
  • Windows Phone 7 (WP7) phones will be here well before year end and will challenge the iPhone/iPod touch and Android mobile phones. It will be the expected WP7 slates in my view that will in the next year start to become strong iPad competitors.
  • HP WebOS slates are likely to make their mark in the iPad space too.
  • Windows 7 slates are more problematic, both in their date of introduction, and their likely ability to challenge the iPad on responsiveness, battery life and a touch interface designed from the ground up.

For me, I expect to be writing a similar post to this in about 6 months comparing my Android tablet with my iPad.

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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