Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Google Docs is NOT “clunky old PC software”

I have not yet watched all of Steve Jobs’ presentation from Wednesday announcing the new Apple iPad. I have, however, listened to the first nine minutes. Steve said two things in his introduction with which I respectfully disagree.

At 6:43 of his presentation, Steve said:

All of us use laptops and smartphones now. Everybody uses a laptop and/or a smartphone.

That may be true in Cupertino, but it’s certainly not true here in Oklahoma. I use an iPhone and a MacBook Pro, and we’ve got LOTS of iPhone users around, but smartphones are FAR from ubiquitous. In our schools, we only have five public schools in our state (I think) currently implementing 1:1 laptop programs. That’s going to change with the award of new ARRA funds in February, but it will still be a FRACTION of the students in our state. Many people may WANT to use laptops and smartphones, but we’re a long way from being able to say everyone does.

The second statements with which I take issue were Steve’s comments about netbooks. From 8:15 – 8:45 of his presentation, he said the following:

Now some people have thought that [new device in between a laptop and a smartphone] was a netbook. The problem is, netbooks aren’t better at anything. [applause] They are slow, they have low-quality displays, and they run clunky old PC software. So they are not better than a laptop at anything, they are just cheaper. They are just cheap laptops. And we don’t think they are a third category device.

My netbook is GREAT at doing a lot of things. First of all, it’s very light and easy to carry. That’s a BIG deal. Second, it’s great on the web. Google Chrome runs slick as a whistle on it– VERY fast. And as I “work the web,” using tools like Google Docs, Google Reader, Diigo, etc, it performs just as fast as our family’s Macbooks and my MacBook Pro. I definitely love having a larger screen to work on when I’m home, and I don’t see my netbook as replacement for my own MacBook Pro laptop, but they definitely ARE a “third category device” between a smartphone and a laptop. For many people (particularly K-12 students) netbooks can be their “only” computing device. Students can do creative, collaborative, compelling things on netbooks — not “just” surf the web. Has Steve used Google Docs himself much? It’s a far, far cry from “clunky old PC software.”

If you read my January 25th post, “Predictions for the iSlate on Wednesday: Apple Gambling Big to Redefine Digital Literacy,” you probably know the reasons I was “under-whelmed” by today’s iPad announcements. No forward facing camera for videoconferencing and no multi-tasking functionality. Perhaps most significantly, no vision for the iPad as an entirely untethered device that can make it a laptop replacement. It’s a jumbo iPhone which looks great for surfing the web, but not for revolutionizing 1:1 learning in schools. That isn’t the target market with the device. Apple has built a very sexy eBook reader and web appliance, but it’s very expensive. That price point is a VERY big deal.

The netbook, on the other hand, IS a revolutionary device that, in Steve’s words, is “a cheap laptop.” Today’s cheap laptop was, however, yesterday’s dream computer. Every student in our schools doesn’t need an iPad, even though they might love using one. Students DO, however, need a netbook, and their teachers need full-size laptops along with a LOT of professional development support. (Our Storychasers Mobile Collaborative recommends Macbooks for teachers, btw.)

Commoditization of digital classroom learning devices is essential. OLPC knows and embodies this. Apple does not, or chooses not to target that goal.

As I wrote on Monday, I continue to love Apple and their products. I love Apple’s passion and historic vision for empowering people to change the world. I’m on that proverbial Mardi Gras float. I’m as enthusiastic a Mac user as you’re likely to find anywhere, who is not actually employed by the company.

When it comes to 1:1 computing, however, I believe digital learning devices need to replace pencils. Netbooks can (and with visionary leadership) will do that very soon. The iPad won’t.

colored pencils

XO Laptops

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9 responses to “Google Docs is NOT “clunky old PC software””

  1. Dean Mantz Avatar

    I can not agree with you more Wes. I came from a district where we had a 1:1 program and thought we were technology leaders. These days I reflect upon those times and compare to my new district where we don’t have 1:1….close but not truly. Former district had very few educators using the 1:1 program the way it should be. Their laptops are now basically electronic typewriters rather than a tool for learning and collaboration on a global level. Where as my new district’s grade school was provided with 85 netbooks. Students are gaining more experience with a variety of web based resources and time to write with that implementation. The thing is teachers in this elementary are just scratching the surface of how to use the features and options that netbooks provide. I will predict that they will be asking for more over the next year as they gain a clear picture to the advantages netbooks provide.

  2. Christopher Rogers Avatar

    I agree with you in the sense that Jobs’ rhetoric was a bit over reaching yesterday, and the description of the device as ‘magical’ on the Apple website is maddening. But I think that over time, just as the iPhone has evolved into something that was never expected when it was unveiled three years ago the potential for the iPad is something that we just don’t know yet. If the iPad develops the ability to multi-task, which is expected with OS 4.0, and has decent handwriting recognition, and Apple creates a large marketplace for textbooks…well now we are talking about something that most netbooks just can’t do.

  3. Dave Avatar

    I agree. My netbook is great – does everything I need to running Windows XP. I use web based apps like Google Docs and I use OpenOffice. I have graphic editing software and much more. BTW, I haven’t paid for any software that is on it!! It’s all free and open source.

    I don’t think the iPad is a game changer for education. It’s a cool device for home and fun, but lacks many things that would make it really useful in education. No flash support, no multi-tasking, all paid apps. It’s also expensive (twice the cost of my netbook which does more).

    I can see it eventually being good for education, especially art classes, but it’s not there yet.

    Here are some more of my thoughts on the iPad –

  4. Kansas Nana Avatar
    Kansas Nana

    Just wait till you have time to see the entire Steve Jobs presentation. Awesome isn’t quite enough to describe it, IMHO!

  5. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Our family watched all but the last 10 minutes of the entire preso this morning (schools are all cancelled here due to our ice storm) and I agree, the iPad does look like a very slick device. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying “it’s not cool.” If it had a built-in forward facing camera, I’d want one right now. The application which impressed me the most on it was Brushes, which Marco Torres introduced me to in October when I was in Maine for ACTEM. It was incredible to see the way he can use the app to draw and paint. The Flickr group for Brushes is just amazing. This is a sketch (among many photos) Marco made of me using Brushes:

    Brushes drawing of Wes Fryer by Marco Torres

    I definitely see the point of how “personal” it is going to be surfing the web with an iPad. I’m eager to “try one on” at our local Apple Store in Oklahoma City as soon as they are available. I’m sure we’ll get one for our family at some point, but not sure exactly when. It is tempting to think about waiting for a 2.0 version, which might have a camera. The biggest functionality I see for this which would have a transformative impact for learners in our house is drawing and painting with Brushes on an iPad. The possibilities there are really amazing.

  6. Tim Tyson Avatar


    I think we all were hopeful for a much more powerful handheld device, not just one that is sleek with an intuitive touch interface. I was stunned with the lack of a camera! And I haven’t heard anyone mention iMovie or Garageband on the device. Without a camera, and with no way to connect a USB or firewire camera (will manufactures get creative with the dock connector?), students will not be able to create rich media on this device. Without Flash, augmented reality enhanced content can not live on the device. I’m sure the device will mature in time, but I so wanted a school solution in the $500 range.

  7. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    “The case against the iPad” is an interesting read. (h/t to Kansas Nana!) Good points about Apple’s approach to locking up access to content / DRM.

  8. ricardo Avatar

    In my opinion, people “misconcepted” the Netbooks. At least here in Brasil, people do exactly what he said: they buy netbooks and use them as cheap notebooks – and complain about how awful they are. However, you can’t say that netbooks aren’t a kind of device. Ask my sister. She loves her, uses it a lot and with the right use: internet access, online tools, and simple daily tasks – writing her documents and school notes.

    I also totally disagree with him about everyone owning laptops and smartphones. Walk around a third world city and you will see how many people have an smart phone and a laptop (okay, these sells are growing, but we are pretty far from it being ubiquitous). Also, is still common to people not have a desktop at home, rather an smart phone AND a laptop. And this laptop growth is not a tendency in terms of “people are aquiring a second computer to carry around”. Not at all. Many people are buying their first computer (FROM THEIR LIFES) now, and they prefer a laptop instead of the traditional laptop.

    And I bet that the are places in US that is not common to everyday people own an smartphone. So he should say “we that are here, in this room, we all … “.

    Add to that that 3G, wifi and even wired connections aren’t good in most part of our country (and I imagine in most 3rd world countries). So owning and smartphone or this giant iPhone is like having a phone that can play nice games and joke apps.

    That is all for now,