02 April 2010

Welcome iPad and Web 1.5

I've used tablet computers for years, and I love tablets.

I would, if I could, dump the whole Interactive White Board thing and throw a Tablet PC down in the center of every four or five students. With this tool, running Windows7 and no other paid software at all, students could see and hear text, could watch videos, could listen to podcasts, and better still, they could create via keyboard (real or on-screen), via video camera, via microphone, via speech recognition, via handwriting, via drawing, and they could instantly share their creations with their classmates or the world.

So why does Apple's iPad leave me so disappointed? OK, not the iPad itself - Apple is entitled to sell anything it can for whatever price its acolytes will pay ("I’d wear their underwear if they made it."). Rather, it is the embrace of the iPad idea by anyone in the educational community which disappoints me, because this seems - to me - a massive step backwards. 

Yes, we're moving back from Web 2.0 to Web 1.5, and Steve Jobs will only charge you $500 (or $1000) for that privilege. 

When David Pogue tells you that "techies hate it" but "everyone else loves it" he is accurately reflecting those who surround him in The New York Times building, a group who, like Jobs, has always been a bit scared of Web 2.0... of everyone having equal status as creators and consumers, of open source software and free content. So when Pogue writes, "the iPad is not a laptop. It’s not nearly as good for creating stuff. On the other hand, it’s infinitely more convenient for consuming it — books, music, video, photos, Web, e-mail and so on," he is expressing the fondest wish of The New York Times Company, which has never been very happy with the free-for-all that the internet has become. 

"Not nearly as good for creating stuff ... infinitely more convenient for consuming it." 

As Web 2.0 has developed there have been, essentially, two different sides of the equation, but the split looks confusing to us because of the frames with which we see our tech companies. On one side we have Apple, Amazon, Barnes&Noble - all of whom want to be "your content store." Remember that Apple "got rich" by figuring out a way to take a nascent music sharing culture and switch it over to a paid, proprietary format. Yes iTunes is cool, yes, it is pretty cheap, but Napster, of course, was a lot cheaper, and a lot more open. Apple got you to buy music for your iPod then, and now they'll get you to buy your newspaper for your iPad. The iPod allowed creative mixing, but the iPod was not a creation tool, it was a storefront in Apple's conception. The iPad is an extension of that theory, as is the Kindle, as is the Nook.

On the other side, a curious mix of companies and organizations, from Google to Microsoft to Adobe to open source collaborators. For these organizations the goal has been compatible and essentially open content which can be used on virtually any device. This side sells access, creativity, and creation, but has no particular interest in actually selling you content. Of course part of this world goes back to the beginnings of the PC when Apple decided to control all the parts in their machines and Microsoft decided to make an operating system which would work with just about anything you plugged into it.

it's all consumption in Apple's iPad ad

But I'm not here to be anti-Apple. I love my MacBook Pro. I wouldn't have paid for it myself, I run Windows on it half the time, but except for those missing keys Steve Jobs tells me I don't need, its a great computer. I'm here, rather, to be against educators rushing to embrace a controlled consumption tool. I believe that education needs to be significantly about creation, and I believe that education is best served when knowledge flows freely - both with ease and at the lowest possible cost. So I do not want schools embracing a technology which limits creation, and I do not want to deliver our students as customers to Apple or Amazon. We've spent a century delivering them to textbook publishers, and it is time to stop.

should one company control access to your students?

With the iPad we are stepping back to an earlier web, a web centered on consumption, before we all created everything we wanted, however we wanted. Before we all began to meet over Skype video calls and G-mail video. Before we became more creators than consumers in our online day. 

And I don't want to go back, not even half a step. 

- Ira Socol


Chris Fritz said...

I see a lot of educators go crazy over iPod Touches too and it drives me nuts. I don’t own an iPod Touch, but doesn’t the battery only last a few hours with wifi on? Why not just get a netbook or laptop, since students will be tethered to the wall anyway? Then students would be able to view webpages more easily, watch videos with Flash, use a greater variety of applications, and generally just do the things they would do on the iPod Touch, but faster and more effectively.

iPod Touches are great on-the-go tools because they’ll fit in your pocket, but personally, I’d much rather have a class full of netbooks or laptops. Then I can ditch the textbooks, save a lot of money on paper, and over time, the small price difference could even pay for itself.

Sorry for the rant - I know I'm probably preaching to the converted.

Nick Dennis said...

I don't really see it as against web 2.0 when it has access to the web on it (apart from Flash)...

irasocol said...

"against" is one thing Chunks, "not supportive of" is another. The camera has become such the heart of interaction, and the USB port is how accessible input devices connect, and keyboards let all kinds of users create.

I understand that phones (so far) have had limitations. But I don't see why we should expand those limitations.

- Ira Socol

Nick Dennis said...

It can do all the things you mention via bluetooth or the 30 pin connector. I see where you are coming from but think it will aid collaboration and aggregation (key qualities of web 2.0 for me). Apologies for the 'name' too - I signed up ages ago and have not changed it. This is Nick Dennis!

bruce1lj said...

I'm all for a good opinion toward any new piece of technology, but I can't get past the "through" in the first sentence of the first paragraph. I think you're trying to say "throw" (as "through" doesn't make sense), and that kind of error invalidates the whole argument.

irasocol said...

nice job catching that spelling mistake bruce1lj - I should claim that I was using the iPhone's bizarre predictive word system, and that's what Steve Jobs made me write. The lack of a real disambiguating predictive speller is another iPhone, iPod, iPad accessibility issue. Lots of free ones for Windows.

- Ira Socol

Raymond Johnson said...

I liked your argument, Ira, and my reaction to the iPad has been tepid at best. I've been a linux user for over 10 years, so I have similar, if not greater, difficulties in justifying spending valuable resources on a closed product. Not only is the iPad a closed platform, but I hate the idea of DRM-encumbered content. Schools have moved away from Apple because of the price, but just because the iPad is (relatively) affordable it doesn't mean it's the best tool for the job.

Urko M. said...

I agree fully with the views of the article, and will definitely stay away from all Apple products for as long as I can.

I can't help feeling "itched" by the way you depict Microsoft as being all for open accessible standards, when it's quite the opposite, and they try to lock you down to their platform at every chance they get. See the "supposed" OOXML "standard".
I don't understand how you want to stop sending kids to the textbook publishers, but see no problem with sending them to the Microsoft counter to part with their cash.
I don't understand either why you would buy a Mac, and therefore "tell" Mr. Jobs he is doing things right.
Broaching the Digital Divide is best done with Linux. Windows 7 is not free, and will never be, exactly like MacOS.

Get Ubuntu (or some other version of Linux) and install it on your Mac.

Why not put it there in those netbooks instead of Windows 7? Why is it that it's important to avoid paying for everything else, but it's alright to pay for Windows 7?
I really don't get it.

But I'm with you in your points :)

irasocol said...


You raise important points. I am NOT claiming that Microsoft is in any way "open source," it is not. But rather, that unlike Apple, Microsoft has really never attempted to control hardware (anyone can make hardware for Windows, and, unfortunately sometimes, does), and Microsoft does not sell content. Google does not control hardware either, and does not sell content. So "open" - in the way I am using it here - means that Microsoft and Google are companies willing to work equally with all equipment and all content streams. That doesn't make Microsoft "good guys" but, especially in education, it is a very important distinction.

That said, I love open source, and I'm a huge advocate of Mozilla, of Open Office, of Linux - and I'm particularly interested these days in Gnome, but... I have yet to find the open source operating system which runs Tablets as well as Windows 7. And, in defense of Windows from a "Special Educational Needs" guy, Microsoft's O/S is highly accessible, and works extremely well with a myriad of free and open source accessibility products, from WordTalk to Click-N-Type, PowerTalk to DKey, and on and on. And even for those needing the support of paid access packages (WYNN, etc) Windows works better than other O/S systems often do, and offers far more options.

That's why, IF you're going to pay for one thing, I'd say, make it Windows 7, at least right now.

But Open Source solutions get better daily, and my advice on Tablets might be very different a year from now. I hope it is.

As for the MacBook Pro, it "comes with the job," from a decision-making level way above my status. My personal tablet is an HP.

Anyway, progress on Linux tablet software? improvements? Next steps? please, let us know.

- Ira Socol

Raymond Johnson said...

The two most promising linux-based (both Android) tablets/e-readers I know of are:

JooJoo (formerly the CrunchPad): https://thejoojoo.com/
Styled like an iPad, larger screen, 16:9 widescreen

enTourage eDGE : http://www.entourageedge.com/
"Dualbook:" e-ink on one side, LCD on other, both sides touchscreen, designed for student use

Both are $499. The JooJoo looks more polished, but text entry, PDF annotation, and note taking looks easier on the eDGe.

I'd love to see DRM-free, cheap e-books, but I'm afraid that won't happen anytime soon.

Urko M. said...

The problem with sticking to what does the job now, is that it creates no pressure for companies to step up and make things work with Linux.
Lets us stay very nice and easily in our comfort zone, and we know where that can lead.
I've heard this quote a few times lately in the context of IT in Education:
"We do this because it's hard, not because it's easy."

If nobody asks HP/Dell/Whoever to test their tablets with Linux, and make it a factor in choosing the internal components for compatibility with Linux, they will never do it.

That said, now that the iPad is putting the tablet market in the spotlight, we should see quick improvements.

The tablet that has caught my eye is the Notion Ink Adam. I am going to do all I can to get one.


Paul Hamilton said...

The thrust of Ira's post resonates with me. Apart from iPad's convenient size and the possibilities afforded by its touch screen, I see little reason to rush to put iPads in the hands of learners in our classrooms.

I appreciate the OS discussion here because I've recently been broadening my life-experience by learning to use a Mac for the first time ever. I've also installed Ubuntu on a netbook, so I can learn at least a little about using Linux.

My primary interest, in learning Mac & Linux is to know more about their accessibility options. If the range of available accessibility options was extensive, I would be completely sold on Linux. Unfortunately, accessibility options seem very limited, even for basics such as text-to-speech, word prediction, voice recognition, etc.

My initial impressions suggest that, for an extensive range of accessibility tools, it isn't much better for Mac than it is for Linux, at least not without spending considerable cash.

So, although we'll always have to pay Microsoft for its OS, there are still many more people creating accessibility tools that run in Windows than in Mac or Linux. I'm grateful that so many of the PC accessibility tools also remain free of monetary cost.

An individual's ability to choose tools from a variety of options is important, because "one size" never fits everyone!

poguenyt said...

Interesting post. However, when you write about "those who surround me in the Times building," you're missing a key point--I have never worked in the Times building. I work from home.

I've only visited the Times building about 5 times in 10 years!

My remark instead is a reflection of the thousands of email messages and blogs that I've read about the iPad.


David Truss said...

I don't have anything intelligent to add to the conversation, but this image told the story months ago:
I'm a huge Mac fan, but I have no interest in a bigger version of my iPhone that isn't a phone, isn't a camera, doesn't like to multitask, requires me to have a laptop on the side and then doesn't fit in my pocket.

irasocol said...


I apologize for mis-representing your work situation yet I'm not entirely sure the point was so off target. There are, I believe, two circles of people discussing computers, one group media "conservatives" seeking better ways to do what they've done, the other seeking to do different things. "Times-World" - real or virtual - I suspect is heavily in the former group.
Either way, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the consumer tool/producer tool issue, and be assured, we all read you.

-Ira Socol

Ed A said...

Ira, as someone who wants to see schools free themselves of published textbooks. digital or print. I completely agree with you.

Steve Lee said...

I understand your concern but at least there are web apps and W3C widgets to open up the platform for creative use.

The iPad seems to fit some place between 'knowledge workers' using desktops type hardware and mobile consumers, if you ignore tweets and email as creating content.

Karen Janowski said...

As always, you challenge my thinking. But I have a different perspective offered in my post here http://bit.ly/beaeOS .
It's never one solution and this is another option to add to our student's toolbelts.

@teaching_music said...

I am unclear how a device that has such a unique approach to content consumption is a step backwards.

Convergence has its limitations, and I do not think it should be the final arbiter in what is considered a step forward. I think we should judge tools on what they are designed to do, not what we hope or wish they would be.

So on the point that some educators might embrace the device and try to use it as a primary creation device, I too would have some concern. But would an iPad be a "step forward" for a backpack full of heavy textbooks? I think so.

I think we just need to get clear on what the essence of the device is, rather than labeling it as a "massive step backwards."

irasocol said...

Karen and teaching_music,

I totally respect all that Karen says in her post http://bit.ly/beaeOS but remember that I began by saying that I loved tablet computing, just not this tablet.

I agree that "cool" is great, that the touch screen is a fantastic interaction device, that choice in input systems is essential ("With this tool, running Windows7 and no other paid software at all, students could see and hear text, could watch videos, could listen to podcasts, and better still, they could create via keyboard (real or on-screen), via video camera, via microphone, via speech recognition, via handwriting, via drawing, and they could instantly share their creations with their classmates or the world").

Yes, HP's standard 12" multi-touch Tablet weighs 4 pounds, but those 4 pounds come with 3gb of RAM, 500gb of HD space, a real keyboard, a DVD+Blueray Read/Write Drive, a camera, fingerprint log-in, handwriting recognition, mobile broadband (should you want it-on any network) and none of the iPad's limitations for the same price as the 3G iPad with big memory.

That computer can utilize all the free tools available for Windows for accessibility, can utilize all the sophisticated assistive technology available for windows, and allow browser and office software choice.

And you are not linking your students directly to the storefront of a single content seller.

And that's right now. Newer, cheaper systems are coming from HP and from open-source linked manufacturers.

In other words, we need to separate the Tablet idea from Apple's product. Just as with the Kindle, I object to the iPad as a system solution - not an individual tool - for schools because it is one more example of schools selling their students to a vendor, which will always raise costs and limit opportunities in the future. And, as with the Kindle, I do not like adopting more limiting devices systemically. There are already better, free-er tablets than the iPad - I've seen them used in schools and they are brilliant. There's no reason to jump on a lesser, more controlled, device.

- Ira Socol

Raymond Johnson said...

More and more I see my iPad objections having more to do with iTunes than the iPad itself. The iPad hardware (except perhaps the omission of a camera) itself seems fine, and the software is okay for this kind of device.

But how would my iPad experience be if I refused to (or couldn't) use iTunes? Is there any other way to load apps? Is there any other way to load movies and music? I don't own a Mac or an iPod and have been very happy with my non-Apple mobile solutions. Buying an iPad would mean buying into the Apple ecosystem, an ecosystem I've done just fine without so far. I'd be happy if Apple wanted to be my hardware provider, but I don't need them to be my gatekeeper.

Ed Webb said...

For reasons similar to Ira's, l want tablet computing without being locked into the app-store universe. Just acquired a Fujitsu running Windows7 and am very happy with it. Educational possibilities are many and exciting.