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.
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