I Want an iPad

This winter, during the week of the iPad 2 release, I received a call from a parent  who was itching for any reason to purchase one and see what all the fuss was about. Her daughter had a Mac laptop which was showing signs of age (look! a reason?!) and she was curious to know if an iPad could replace her existing laptop. In reality, she was fishing for an excuse to buy that iPad and try it out herself.

It got me thinking: “Are more parents wondering if they can replace their child’s laptop with an iPad?” I figured, at the very least, I’d get plenty of inquiries here at Beaver about whether it’s a feasible option.

I have been using an iPad since last spring and have enjoyed its flexibility and portability. I love gadgets, it happens to be a great piece of hardware, and it has kept me particularly distracted on those cross country flights in narrow seats. What’s more, from the comfort of my own desk chair at work, I can program my home TV’s DVR with ease.

Despite the comforts the iPad has afforded me, it hasn’t replaced my laptop or desktop, and here are some reasons why:

At Beaver, we are hardware independent. We want students to use a wide variety of hardware platforms.  The specifications we outline in the student laptop requirements are purposefully based on functionality, not bells and whistles. We don’t want our innovations to be restricted because our hardware specifications or operating system requirements don’t support tools used at school.

The iPad 2 (and many of the Android tablets currently on the market) appear to meet these requirements, but in reality, while tablets do run an internet browser, most websites send a “lighter” or “mobile” version of that website to the tablet. These mobile versions have fewer images, less text, and less functionality than their laptop/desktop counterparts.

For instance, the mobile version of Google Docs (which we used daily here at Beaver) has a minimal set of functions. Yes, you can create a document and type text within the document, but you can’t set features—simple things, like double spacing, or even email that document as an attachment.

Google Apps are an essential and fundamental part of our collaborative environment here at Beaver and the mobile implementation of Google Apps currently doesn’t support our needs. Google needs to update and improve their mobile versions or deliver non-mobile versions of Google Apps to tablets before they reach an appropriate level of function suited to our students’ needs.  Safari on the iPad and the Android tablets’ browser need to be able to fully support all of the features available on a full-blown desktop web application.

Three years ago when we selected Google Apps, one of the compelling reasons was its strong integration with the mobile platform — especially in mail and calendar.  Now that the mobile platform has expanded to tablets, mail and calendar are still very strong, but the rest of Google Apps have yet to catch up.

Google and Apple are very much still figuring out the future of tablets. Apple’s apps model is quite different from Google’s web model, but neither of these models are carved in stone. What we see today could be very different two years from now. Here at Beaver, we are going to watch with interest as things work their way forward.

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