Sunday, February 14, 2010

iPad, Netbooks and education

The commotion caused by the release of the Apple iPad gives us an excuse to re-consider the impact that these devices could have on education. Since the IDB we have indicated our belief that one to one computing models will have a rapid penetration in the education area in Latin America. If so, and knowing the enormous power that Apple has taken in developing mass consumer devices, we want to reflect on its potential.


What is the iPad?

Before entering into technical descriptions can be found here, the question is where is it located in the space of the devices already available. For harder than Steve Jobs (Apple CEO) has put on talk of a device unique, seems to me that we are witnessing a new "netbook". Probably the most sophisticated, comprehensive, versatile and striking netbook, but not much more than that.

What are the netbooks: Mobile devices like a traditional laptop, but less powerful (in speed, memory, storage) and smaller (keyboard, screen). Its main objective is to stay connected to the Internet, meeting basic needs of connectivity and productivity on the go.

The netbooks were born 10 years ago, but they exploded in markets just 4 or 5 years ago, pushed by the OLPC initiative, designed precisely to provide computer access to children in developing countries. Today they are a thriving industry, with equipment designed especially for education (OLPC XO, Intel Classmate) and many other manufacturers to producing varieties for professionals, housewives, university students, etc..

The iPad is a Netbook, precisely for the reason given by Jobs during his presentation is halfway between a smartphone and a laptop, and fully meets the classic definition of a netbook. It differs in that instead of a physical keyboard has a multi-touch screen and virtual keyboard. In addition, from a functional standpoint, is a netbook.

The iPad in education?

If the iPad is another Netbook, does it offer something substantially different to the world of education?

So far, the projects we have known in Peru Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Haiti, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Maine (USA) have used the existing equipment and have tried to make the most of relatively inexpensive devices (compared with investment made earlier) that produce a high communicational and social impact (the educational impact is being evaluated and is still a mystery).

So far, it seemed that in primary education, especially the first stage, seemed played by XO and the Classmate, while in secondary education, has opted for Classmate, other netbooks or laptops straight.

It seems that the device made by Apple does not have a clear space in which to position themselves in the education field. While it has some obvious advantages over some of its competitors (eg 10,520 educational applications are available in App Store, most free, multimedia management, deployment of texts, in addition to its large touch screen), its price puts it well above its competitors.

There may be countries willing to pay the price, but for large scale projects (national or sub-national) seems unlikely to compare the $ 499 of the iPad, with $ 350 of the Classmate or $ 200 for the XO.

I suspect that Apple does not take too long to offer a new product: the ePad. A iPad designed for education, perhaps with a slightly smaller screen (6 to 7 inches) and a lower storage (8GB?) falls below $ 300. If this happens, only then can it be proposed as an alternative to consider in the context of Latin American education systems.

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