iPad naysayers have it wrong

OK, so that's a provocative title for this post, and let's face it - much of the hyperbole surrounding the iPad is cringeworthy.  But spend a bit of time looking at what people are doing with the technology, and an interesting picture emerges.

First off, here's Penguin Books CEO John Makinson demonstrating the work that his team has been doing to reimagine their back catalogue for the iPad, and create new "books" that fully exploit its capabilities: (note that these are Apps, not "conventional e-books" in EPUB format)

Next up, Flipboard, an App that creates an interactive newspaper for you based on public newsfeeds and a mash up of your friends' Facebook and Twitter posts: (no paywalls here ;-)

Now let's up the stakes...  The popular contention is that the iPad is a device intended for passive media consumption.  But wait, what's this?

In this video Franz.K demonstrates Aurora, an iPad app that effectively replaces an entire class of device, the Yamaha Tenori-On (MIDI controller capability notwithstanding).  This ability of touch screen computers with fluid user interfaces to become "universal devices" has been much remarked upon, and other examples can be readily found - e.g. Korg's iElectribe.

Time to turn the volume up to 11 now, with a demo of RJ Voyager for the iPad.  This is a wholly new way of making music that takes full advantage of the large multitouch screen as a control surface and Internet connectivity to download new "scenes":

But surely there's nothing new about touch interfaces?  Products like the HP TouchSmart PC have achieved some market penetration, and the "tablet" form factor has been around for a long time.  Clearly a very large part of the success of the iPad is down to Apple's canny approach to building upon the ecosystem of developers and apps that has coalesced around the iPhone and iPod Touch, and the evolution of touch technology from resistive screens that had to be used with stylii to the modern capacitive multitiouch paradigm.  Perhaps more than anything, though, the iPad finally gives us Star Trek technology - the kind of computer we feel we deserve for the 21st century.

The Educational Bit

So what conclusions can we draw for educators?  If the evidence of the iPhone is anything to go by, there is a distinct possibility that next academic year's intake of students may well forego laptops in favour of iPads - or tablets from other vendors.

It's already been widely noted that the absence of Flash support (Frash notwithstanding) for i* devices will cause problems with many learning objects created with a Mac/PC audience in mind.  Joshua Kim notes that:

My first attempts to get all the content that can play through a browser and an LMS to play correctly on an iPad (curricular articles and videos) resulted mostly (and disturbingly) in failure.

This may actually be a blessing in disguise, by helping to steer people towards an open standard approach to learning objects based on HTML 5 and open video codecs such as WebM.  However, widespread adoption of the iPad might well lead to the orphaning of large volumes of Open Educational Resources - produced in most cases at the taxpayer's expense.

It's interesting to consider different Higher Education institutions responses to the iPad - Jodi Harrison sums this up nicely in a blog posting:
The first camp, the early adopters, is rushing to adopt the device on a massive scale. Many are considering whether to provide an iPad to every student and faculty member. At least two institutions, Seton Hill University (not to be confused with Seton Hall) and George Fox University, plan to provide an iPad to every student later this year.
The second camp, the skeptics, wants nothing to do with the device. Some institutions, including Princeton University and George Washington University, are banning or limiting the use of the device on their campus networks until Apple provides fixes to possible connectivity and security bugs.

Ask yourself whether your institution is progressive or regressive? :-)

[Princeton have previous form here, having carried out a Kindle trial and concluded that the device wasn't ready for prime time for serious educational use] 

Of course many institutions have scaled back PC provision for students on the assumption that they will mostly bring laptops.  With that in mind, I'll leave the last word to John Naughton, describing the experience of editing a book using Pages on the iPad:

Later, I import a draft chapter from my current book project into Pages — and find that it’s stripped out all the footnotes, rendering the document entirely useless. I can’t work on it on the iPad in other words. Bah!


Martin Hamilton

Martin Hamilton works for Jisc in London as their resident Futurist.