In the last few days I've been test
driving the new Apple iPad and I have a few thoughts about it as a
product and an experience. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll
admit upfront to being an Apple fan of many years. I've had an iPhone
for some time and have marked well it's strengths and weaknesses as a
phone and a computer and I find that the iPad with wifi delivers an
experience not unlike that of the iPhone. The major ah ha for me is
that this device "is" the iPhone and iPod touch with a
functionally-sized screen. The use experience seems intentionally
designed to make users of other Apple devices feel immediately
comfortable. A few interfaces are rendered more useable by enhanced
screen size, email being the first one I noticed.
What really surprised me was the feel of many of my favorite apps at 2X
size. I was prepared to be annoyed by some of them, especially guitar
apps as I knew the fret board would be enormous and ungainly. Of course
you can downsize to their original, designed size but I quickly had a
mind shift that is particular to my role as an educator. It seems to me
that the larger size has something of a simplifying effect on the user
with regard to the fret board.
The enlarged size makes it seem less condensed, more inviting and easy in some way.
As I handed the iPad, in the form of a guitar to kids at the recent KSTL conference,
even the most reluctant seemed comfortable strumming the digital
interface. As I consider elementary and special needs populations and
indeed populations over thirty with their diminishing visual acuity, I
really believe that this screen and it's more functional, user friendly
size will cause a shift in adoption of this and other devices like it.
There are shortcomings to be sure. The inability to interact with some
Flash based websites being a glaring one and the clunky way the iPad
interacts or fails to interact with some Google sights and tools being
another. I'll count on my PLN and their incredibly geeky minds for
workarounds until the issues are solved by either Apple or the makers
of web sights and tools.
What I'm excited about are the MANY functional and beautiful
experiences that are delivered by the device. Keep in mind I'm using
the 16 gig wifi version while anxiously awaiting the 3G model.
Portability and true cloud computing functionality is what I'm after
and it's not fully realized on my current device. There is however a
strong opportunity to rehearse new behaviors while using it.
The video, music, reading (via the iBooks app and others) is typical
Apple magic. When this device rolls a little farther into the cloud
computing terrain, I believe it will be a true, netbook killer. With
it's bent toward tasty multimedia and it's functionality as a nearly
full blown MacBook, it is a powerful entry into a niche that I truly
believe will transform the computer use landscape. I see Grandma in a
wifi environment finding this about as threatening as "The Clapper".
I see toddlers interacting with learning games and low vision people using the easy
accessibility features to hold on to book reading a bit longer. The
interface seems tailor made for little hands or for hands that might
not have perfect dexterity. There is a forgiveness in the experience
that I think will feel like benevolence to many users. In delivering an
easy, non-threaten computing experience, Apple had either accidentally
or intentionally made a device that seems to belong in "special needs"
environments. I can't yet speak for true sturdiness, which will be
crucial as young hands make first contact but I believe that through
the use of housings and smart design, couple with "care and feeding of"
training by instructors, these things will become troopers in
My litmus test is: Would I buy this for my Mom? This device passes that
test with flying colors. If you ask me if I'd recommend carts of these
for classrooms in the place of net books, I'd ask you what you want to
accomplish with them. For writing, surfing and research, they rock
right out of the box. As for deeper, more creative pursuits, there will
be apps for that.
What we in education will be challenged to do when we adopt these
devices is to look to gurus who find powerful, affordable apps and
field test and adopt them before the school year starts, in the way we
clone a disc image today. I'd hope that there would
be budget room for more additions as new, useful apps seem to be birthed by the minute.
I would caution users to be wary of the app shopping spree with regard
to our classroom devices. As for personal use, I think it's healthy to
look, download and preview new apps as educators. It not only
reacquaints use with our inner learner but it put teachers in the
driver's seat with the tools we hand our kids. My advice would be to
set a budget and put the choosing of new apps at a premium, like giving
your kid an allowance. This way you'll have to discern and research
rather than casually and impulsively buy.
What might be the most amazing revelation that we in education will
stumble over soon is the power of app creation. As it gets easier to
imagine and create apps, we might put teachers and kids in the role of
inventor and give them a launchpad for future success. The democratic
way that app markets work is unbiased and driven by the quality of the
idea and the experience the app delivers. My hope is to see categories
for apps creation at kids tech competitions and showcases become
ubiquitous in the coming years.
Whether we're talking about the Apple store or the Android store, apps
are the new big engine for the digital experience and rather than buy
an expensive, broad use app with limited niche value, people will buy
inexpensive, "just in time" apps to solve right-now problems. I for one
want my kid playing on that digital playground.
I'm a little amazed that most of the things I'm most delighted with in
this device have to do with the generosity of the enhanced screen size.
After years of chasing the next small, amazing gadget, I find that this
screen lays it right down the lines of functional, portable
computer use. I think Apple has researched and found the sweet spot
that many people will consider a home run. I will write and share more
from my perspective as an artist and an educator as I continue to learn
from my experience with this device!