In the iPad's Defense

Yesterday, I scratched and scribbled through a quick blog entry on computer science and ran across something that was perplexing. I have to come back to it in light of blog entries like this one, which assert:

I am sick of people saying that the iPad is for consuming and not creating online digital content. There is no doubt that the iPad is a great device to browse the web, read an eBook and check email (consuming) but it can do so much more than that. You will see from my list below that the iPad is far superior to the laptop in a lot of different areas of digital content creation (Source: School Technology)
As you might imagine, I have a slightly different perspective. This argument reminds me of the one made that a hammer can be more than a blunt object used for pounding nails. As to my biases about the iPad--and they are evolving--I'll be blunt and state them up front:
  1. The iPad is the best, locked-down proprietary tablet on the market.
  2. The iPad allows one to do only what Apple allows; to me, this isn't the standard any piece of equipment developer should aspire to. What should that standard be? Allow end users to do whatever they can imagine, and if the developer's imagination is limited, empower end-users to create their own scaffolds for achieving their imagined goals.
  3. Given the choice between an iPad and a $200 netbook like an Asus Aspire One running Linux, I'll take the netbook any day of the week.
  4. You pay $500 for the iPad, then, if you want to use it for text processing, buy an additional $50-$100 keyboard to enhance it.
  5. You get nickle-and-dimed to death for the apps you need to do real work (e.g. Keynote, iMovie). 
  6. The ultimate purpose of the iPad is to keep you spending money and siphon funding from your wallet, or if a school district, school coffers. Of course, this is what Apple designed the iPad for.
Of course, these are biases. They are certainly limited by lack of imagination, vision, and experience. Have you had a different experience?

While the iPad allows one to do quite  a bit (just watch Kevin Honeycutt present, taking advantage of the music apps on iOS), but bias #2 and #5 above pretty much ruins the iPad as a device for serious computing. Of course, serious computing may only be incidental to this device.

One of the commenters (Bob) at Brad's blog points out the following:
In my eyes there’s no denying that the iPad is a superior device for content consumption. Which is why people probably label it as such all the time. That said, I’m sure it can create content just as well in some areas. The painting is a prime example (I have had some great results with SketchPad and a stylus – which is in my eyes still superior to a finger). 
However when it comes to photo editing, movie editing, typing and more, I cannot go outside of my desktop. Not even a laptop will do as it feels too cramped for me. I can type quite fast on an ipad no problem, but a keyboard and a mouse will blow the ipad out of the water for me any day for almost all applications. 
The difference is probably not even in the controls so much as it is in the user interface. The ipad, due to its touch control and relatively small screen, cannot afford a great many panels and windows. It must turn to other types of interface in order to save screen surface. Swiping, pinching, etc. In some applications this works great, in others it doesn’t. 
Personally I find I’m missing my keyboard + mouse + extensive windows interface in most cases.
Of course, many of us can overlook these issues with the iPad in Bob's comment, or spend a $100 to buy a nice keyboard to interface with the iPad (more money!). You just lower your expectations for the device, much as you would for a smartphone or low-end Android tablet or old computer creeping along.

But the most offensive aspect of the iPad includes situations like this well as reactions to it. and perfectly illustrate bias #2 in regards to the Scratch young users:
“I think the iPad generation is going to miss out on software programming,” said Oliver Cameron, developer of the Friends iPhone app. “Kids don’t need Macs anymore.”
It doesn’t help that Apple enforces strict rules around how iOS apps must be programmed, which occasionally results in some collateral damage. 
Take for example Apple’s rejection of Scratch early last year. Scratch for iPhone was an app for kids to view programs coded with MIT’s Scratch programming platform. 
Apple rejected the app, citing a rule that apps may not contain code interpreters other than Apple’s. This rule appears to be specifically designed to prevent meta platforms such as Adobe Flash from appearing on the iPad, thereby allowing Apple to keep its iOS platform to itself. 
The young community of Scratch programmers, however, doesn’t pose a threat to Apple’s business, and the rejection of the Scratch app shows how Apple’s developer rules can harm the art of programming.
This blog entry aside, have no fear. I am not a network nazi pushing that everyone use a specific device because of my biases. And, I doubt that schools will give preference to programming--which only a fraction of kids do--over the other benefits an iPad provides. I just wish folks would stop pushing iPad as THE teacher and student computing device, just ask, if you have only a precious amount of funding to spend, is this the best device to achieve Texas Technology Applications:TEKS in schools, the SBEC Technology Standards for School Administrators, and the NETS-T/S/A?

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Tim Holt said…
So lets see...someone went way way way because they can't do programming on an iPad? Geesh...

My Honda Civic doesn't go 200 MPH either...wah wah wah...

Big Macs taste like cardboard...wah way wah...

It is easy to discuss from the viewpoint of what something CANNOT do, heck, wives all over the world do that about their husbands every day.

So if we want to discuss the things one CANNOT do with a device, lets talk about a few:

Netbooks, which all the gurus were saying would allow for 1:1 were big hits huh? The screens were so small that you needed to hook them into a monitor to see them. So, who is buying these POS nowadays? No one.

Desktops were going to be THE no. No one is buying desktops anymore, except for very specific purposes.

Open Source was going to save the world...nope.The derivative patent infringing software costs just as much in the long run as proprietary. And the dirty little secret about OS that the FOSS folks don't want mentioned is that IF YOU DONT PROGRAM, IT IS AS CLOSED AS ANYTHING. So for most NORMAL people, open source is closed.

Thin Clients: Cost just as much as desktops. If you run them and want to watch Flash...good luck...POS as well.

I think that if you go through the TCEA catalog for the 2012 convention and see how many sessions have to do with iPad will quickly see which way the winds are blowing. There are tons of "iPads in the classroom" workshops, breakouts..

I think you need to look at what people ARE doing with these "LOCKED DOWN" devices: Creating Whiteboards, using them as document cameras, using them as digital microscopes, e readers (making books much more interesting than reading on a laptop), movie creators, cameras, web surfers.

And where is Android in all of this? PC World doesn't think that it is all that "Open"

So what this blog sound like to me? Someone that is afraid of letting go of control:
TIm Holt said…
By the way Miguel, who are you speaking for?
Yourself, or the 2nd grader that will be using it?

There are MANY examples of content creation using iPads by elementary students.

I am looking at the new TA TEKS for K-2: No programming.

TA TEKS 3-5: No Programming

TA TEKS Middle SchooL: Cant see programming...

However, the iPad CAN pretty much do all of the other things that the TA TEKS call for in grades K-8.
doug0077 said…
Hi Miguel,

While I certainly have my views of the iPad as a personal computing/consumption device, I think the real discussion should be about how KIDS rate them as devices.

I know I am confortable with a larger screen, a mouse and keyboard and the ability to customize stuff. For young kids, tapping, swiping and smaller screens will all they know and will use them to be highly creative.

Just a thought,

Tim Holt said…
Quick Google search "iPad and Programming" found this:

So, maybe Scratch is not on iPad, but other languages are.

Perhaps this quote needs to be retracted: "“I think the iPad generation is going to miss out on software programming,” said Oliver Cameron, developer of the Friends iPhone app."

Just saying...
Tim Holt said…
and here...
TIm Holt said…
And here:

And here:

And here:

And here:

Starting to get the idea?
Not to mention all of the content on ITunes about programming. I counted 13 podcasts all about Scratch.
Failing a change of heart in Cupertino, I implore other tablet makers not to neglect the importance of orientation lock. Samsung's Galaxy Tab also controls orientation with software, but you need only to drag down a menu from the top of the screen and press a button. It's not as convenient as hardware, but it's a step up from the iPad.
Anonymous said…
Comment emailed in:


First, I would love to be able to comment on your blog, but the Visual Verification won’t show for me.

Second, I’m in total agreement about the iPad. I own one, use it daily, enjoy it immensely, but it’s not the best solution for most school applications. Typing, video editing, serious photo editing, programming, desktop publishing—in other words, many of the serious tasks students should be doing, would be a nightmare on an iPad. I’m not a Mac guy anyway, though I have 90 Macbooks I’m responsible for in my library, but I can’t imagine trying to do anything other than a very simple presentation using a tablet. I see no value whatsoever in carrying around a 1.2 lb tablet, plus a keyboard, plus three or four dongles to be ready for the same presentations my Toshiba Portege will do with nothing added.

Notwithstanding Tim’s normal irritating diatribe, if we allow kids to use only what the technology they prefer, we will grow a generation of recreational consumers of content instead of a generation of innovators, creators and serious contributors. This e-mail would have taken four times as long to create on an iPad, and I don’t have that kind of time to waste!

Thanks for the work you do to help all of us be better educators,

David Phillips – Media Specialist

Prairiland High School

TCEA Director - Area 8

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