iPads take over the world

Martin Levins
7 May, 2011
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For those who don’t remember, educational computing started in earnest in the early 1980s, when Apple IIs, PCjrs, MicroBees and BBC Micros were all popular.

At that time, I was involved in the trial of BBC machines in South Australia, chosen because they had been designed specifically for education. This ‘designed for education’ thing also carried a liability: ‘We should teach the kids what industry uses’ became the catchcry.

On the Mac side, for years Mac users had listened to the ‘no one uses Macs’ mantra, and Apple market share was quoted at 3:10; we still held our ground.

My personal measure of market share became the number of suits using machines in airport lounges, which began to climb around the mid-to-late-1990s, after the second coming of Steve Jobs. Venture into a Qantas Club now and you see Apple gear everywhere.

This growth is largely related to personalisation of computing equipment, beginning with the RIM Blackberry, where being in touch all the time led to the moniker ‘Crackberries’. I believe that there are some real lessons to be learned here for education. But more on this later.

Those of us who have borne the ‘Apple is a company with has no future’ diatribes may feel vindicated for staying the course, as the current numbers would indicate almost universal acceptance.

According to US-based Changewave, tablet-based computing is expected to double sales in the next three months (that’s 1600 percent per annum, folks!).

Apple’s iPad now has about 85 percent of this market. It may drop, as many claim, but the iPad’s momentum will be hard to slow. Changewave says nearly 80 percent of corporate respondents say their company plans to purchase iPads.

At this stage in a new device’s release schedule, we have to ask some hard questions. Why are people buying them? Are they just cool? Is it the price point?

The iPad 2 (16GB) is about half the cost of a MacBook, though this saving is misleading as applications normally bundled with the MacBook, such as iMovie and GarageBand, have to be bought for the iPad. Site licences are not currently available, and, while you can have a class set of MacBooks without covers, you really need iPad cases.

Battery life used be a reason for purchase, but recent changes to the MacBook will give a day’s use in a classroom to either device. Where the iPad shines, particularly in primary school, is weight – at a slim 30 percent of the MacBook.

While these metrics may guide purchase, they are not as significant as what is done with them. Despite critics who demonise the iPad as an ‘oversized iPhone’, it can create some great content.

However, now that the device is a proven entity, the number of free apps is decreasing, and even a $2 application becomes a liability for a school with 200 iPads.

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