|Game Changer: Is it iPad?|
|Written by Graham Brown-Martin|
|May 11, 2010 at 01:36 PM|
The Apple iPad ushers in a new era of computing that leaves the world of offices behind, a profound paradigm shift that is difficult to appreciate until one has had the opportunity to live, play, work and learn with one. Graham Brown-Martin, founder of Learning Without Frontiers, explains why he thinks this is the most exciting development since the original Mac and why the education sector should take note.
I’ve been enjoying the benefits of an Apple iPad since early April and whilst Steve Jobs made it clear when launched that it was not intended to be a replacement for a laptop I wondered how close it could get. Could I dump the day to day laptop and just use this wafer thin marvel? After all, over the past years I have developed the knack of being able to run a lot of my day to day concerns via my iPhone whilst on the move rather than carrying a laptop in a saddle bag.
Of course, life wasn’t always like this.
I used to pack a MacBook Pro 17” that frankly weighed a ton and was embarrassing to use in a train or plane let alone the underground or on a 453 from New Cross Gate into town. Of course, it was great for those odd times when I was power-using but those days are fewer and further between. A logic board failure meant a recent sidegrade to a MacBook Pro 13” which is light and portable by comparison. But my real use of the laptop is moving my office from A to B with occasional stops along the way. Battery life, long (although not as long as Windows) boot-up times, wear and tear mean that the laptop is not really a mobile device, not something I can just pick up and use without finding the right place, waiting for it to start up or being conspicuous on a bus. It’s a portable office not a mobile computer.
And this to me is the crux of the winning argument for the iPad and the new category of casual computing devices that will certainly arrive from every computer manufacturer who intends to remain in business this time next year.
The iPad marks a paradigm shift in mobile computing that until you’ve lived with one for a few days is difficult to grasp. But let me put it like this, the clue is what our desktops and laptops are and were designed to do and what the iPad isn’t and hasn’t been designed to do.
At the Edinburgh Interactive Festival in 2006 in front of a large audience of hard core gamers with a penchant for overclocking their desktop PC’s and pimping them with neon strips I suggested that by 2010 desktop computers would be all but dead and that laptops would be on death row. Mistaking shock and disbelief for interest I was emboldened and suggested that much of our data would also be stored on remote servers with applications being remotely distributed. I even demonstrated a product, RedHalo, that my associate company had created to do just that for the education sector.
Alas, it was a classic tumbleweed moment reminding me of an earlier career destroying period when in the mid-90’s I presented to a large music industry conference in Cannes and suggested that the record industry business model was dead.
At both conferences I was heckled on stage. I was scathingly reviewed in the press after Cannes where it was suggested my views on copyright showed a lack of social responsibility. After the Edinburgh gig I was heavily flamed online on various well-known forums, my parentage questioned as well as my potential need for medication.
It seems that few people want to hear about disruptive change, despite what our politicians tell us. In the education sector our agencies don’t want it, our trade associations don’t want it and certainly those with business interests in maintaining the status quo don’t want it. Not really.
When you think about it, the attitude from the music industry towards change is little different to large sections of the educational technology sector with the losers ultimately being the end-users or learners.
But change of a disruptive nature is happening faster these days especially in a connected world and particularly with technology. Those who heard Ray Kurzweil’s closing keynote at last years Handheld Learning Conference will recall his proposition that we have entered a period of exponential change where the kind of linear change that used to take 100 years now takes place in less than 10. On this basis my iPad equivalent in 2030 when Handheld Learning Girl will have completed full time education will be quite something.
Will we really be worrying about a lack of keyboard? If so then maybe a Remington typewriter is for you.
My point is this.
From around the 1950’s most people had two options in life that the education system would prepare them for; working in a factory or working in an office. In 2010 both of these options have changed quite dramatically.
Manufacturing has all but disappeared in the UK and where manufacturing does exist humans are being rapidly replaced by service robotics. This trend will continue to other manual or labour intensive industries including construction. Few people now aspire to work in an office and where offices still exist these environments are also changing.
It’s this latter issue that gives rise to technologies like the iPad which, contrary to popular belief, is not Apple’s take on the Tablet PC. To compare this genre of product to a Tablet PC is to completely miss the point.
Desktop PC’s since the earliest Apple II and IBM PC were all about office tasks. In the same way we apply technology over existing teaching practice, technology was also layered over traditional office tasks so word processing replaced the type writer, spreadsheets replaced the ledgers and so on. Things got so sophisticated that the computer companies created whole operating systems to emulate an office environment with filing systems and other desktop and office based metaphors.
Microsoft won this era of computing evolution and successfully applied their technology across a broad range of devices that let you take your office wherever you needed to be. You could have your office on your big desktop, in a laptop on a Tablet PC or even in a smart phone.
Tablet PC’s and smart phones that emulated offices failed because they lacked relevance and the same can be said for pedagogy when teaching practice fails to respond to the impact and meaning of new pervasive technologies.
With the office metaphor out of the picture and things begin to slow down which is why Microsoft's share price has flatlined as they cling on to meeting the needs of the past. Whereas corporations like Google and Apple have seen a different future.
It should be said that Microsoft have some amazing technology in their research facilities and consumer electronics groups yet the organisation is so hamstrung by its archaic yet overly powerful operating system and office application groups that anything genuinely innovative is strangled at birth less it deflects investment from the fiefdoms of those who would be kings.
The fact is that the office metaphor doesn’t work anymore, it’s just not relevant to the way most people now wish to see their lives. Why do we need to have a “computer” with an “operating system” that we must master with endless “applications and drivers” to configure and so on? As I wondered out loud in a recent volley on one of the Becta research lists - why do I need a bulky lump of tech with a lardy OS when I just want to surf, write, look and listen? If a computer is really advanced then anyone should be able to use it without any formal training.
This razor blade business model of constantly buying bloated operating systems, massive applications, managed services and an industry that exists to show you how to switch it all on and off has got to be heading for the cemetery.
So can I carry out most of my day to day work using an iPad?
Well the answer is pretty much yes. This article has been entirely written, edited and uploaded using one, the video’s and images were all filmed using an iPhone, the images edited on the iPad.
The majority of my work email has been conducted via my iPad and I’ve been using a MiFi from Three for times when I was away from a WiFi connection as my iPad isn’t 3G. I’ve written whole reports and proposals using the iPad with embedded charts using the iPad version of iWorks. Ironically one of those proposals, for developing a conference programme about innovation in learning and technology, was turned down no doubt in favour of somebody who put theirs together using old school tech and has mastered a funny handshake.
The keyboard takes a little getting used to and I use a bluetooth one for when I need to get large quantities of text down but I’ve also started using the Dragon Dictation voice recognition App and it’s spookily good and quicker than my typing. Importantly the iPad battery seems to last forever requiring a charge every 2 to 3 days.
But what I’ve really noticed is that the iPad has opened up a whole set of new casual computing activities that I hadn’t really bothered with before. I now regularly read the morning papers using it, I stream video to it using the Air Video App from my domestic media server, it’s an immediately on surfing device, rapid note taker, musical instrument (Korg Electribe), I’m reading SuperFreakonomics on it for myself and Winnie the Pooh for my youngest using iBooks, I’m catching up on old episodes of The Soprano’s while I’m sitting on trains, gaming based on the iPads accelerometer and large screen feels more involving. To date I’ve had no problem whipping it out at bus stops around the Elephant and Castle Favela because, after all, nearly everybody else is packing iPhones and Blackberry’s anyway. Either that or it’s because I’m 6’3 and have recently taken up boxing.
In a few short weeks I’ve found that my iPad, like a sort of transitional love object, is rarely far from my finger tips. But here lies a new problem. The iPad is intended as a personal device, it’s not easily adaptable for sharing. Friends, family and interested bystanders who want to hold and test the device have access to my private email, social media accounts, etc. There is no “guest account” and from what I understand nothing on the horizon although a printing App is coming soon. If this really is a new, third category of device between the smart phone and the laptop then guest or multiple accounts is a must.
So much for my personal impressions, what of education?
My instinct tells me that whilst initial sales of the iPad have been to trend setters and early adopters in the consumer sector the big uptake of iPads will be in the vertical markets such as education and healthcare before it then levels out to the rest of the consumer sector.
Why? Because I think that beyond the “Apple fanboy must have latest gadget” consumer it’s going to take longer for regular consumers, the kind that immediately got the iPhone, to get their head around why they need or want an iPad. Casual computing is a whole new category and one that will, in my opinion, be vast but will take time to gestate.
Sectors like education, however, should immediately grasp the power and meaning of a platform such as the iPad and, as I’ve said, the wave of similar devices that the iPad will spur from other manufacturers in the same way that the disruptive iPhone sent them rushing back to innovate at the drawing board.
Putting the iPad into the hands of children has been a revelation to me. When the iPad was launched and all there was to see was a video I took the time to show it to some school children aged between 8 and 13. With all the static on Twitter and forums between the Apple lovers and haters it seemed sensible to hear what younger people thought. Unsurprisingly, the younger children quickly grasped the concept and wanted one, the older the child and especially those over 13 were less convinced by the video.
Once I received my iPad I wasted little time in downloading new Apps and getting the iPad into the hands of youngsters. The only real problem I’ve had has been getting it back. Some of the Apps are just awesome with Theodore Gray's (of Wolfram Research fame) The Elements, an interactive guide and stunningly illustrated eBook to the Periodic Table, being one of the most notable. But there are already stacks of relevant App’s appearing.
Those who attend the Handheld Learning Conferences will know Handheld Learning Girl who is now aged 4 and starts full time education at primary level in September. HHL Girl is somewhat fortunate in that she gets to experiment or be experimented on with lots of new gadgets from early iPods to Nintendo DSi’s, PSP’s, 2G iPhone, Wii’s, PlayStation 3, Apple TV and a Byron Review busting iMac in her bedroom. Actually she is a very willing guinea pig and seems to have taken a natural interest in such things but she is by no means unusual amongst her peers who attend the same inner-city state primary in a highly culturally and socially diverse part of SE London.
The most surprising aspect of her immediate use of the iPad was an instantaneous understanding of how to operate it without any instruction at all. Of course, she’d had the experience of using Apps on her iPhone but that also required no instruction and the skills were completely transferable but how she used the iPad as a consequence of the size of the screen was different and noticeably better.
In her first session of proper usage that lasted about 2 hours (she had to be gently stopped for a break) she explored numeracy, literacy, art, music, singing, evolutionary biology (understood), the periodic table (not fully understood), a fast paced game called “Snail Mail” and then finished off with a round of Golf. Those that have suggested the iPad is a read only device for delivery of content really haven’t used one, there are creation tools available in abundance.
She has since been a regular user of the iPad for both passive and interactive applications including watching movies and using BBC iPlayer for catching up on missed episodes of Cbeebies and Dr Who. Having dropped the iPad on numerous occasions it has proven to be quite robust, certainly more so than a dropped laptop.
Now, I’m not as qualified as many of the people who visit this site to say how valuable this new device is to the learning and teaching process after all until it’s used as a tool it is just an inanimate piece of tech. It’s usefulness will surely depend upon how it’s deployed. But here are a few thoughts.
HHL Girl is not especially unusual in her acceptance of what we call technology but has always been there as far as she is concerned. Her peers from better off and less well off homes are hardly different in their natural use of these devices. I could be fooling myself but I think she is learning something from using them from problem solving to reading to counting to simple arithmetic and more. She also uses them across the things that she does and by that she doesn’t seem to view it as a “computer or technology” session, she’s often combining activities with cutting up paper or drawing or playing make believe with toys. So I’d say that this technology is already embedded in her world to the point of invisibility. The iPad form factor is especially good for embedding because it takes up little space and is often lying on the floor as part of her other combined activities. I call this her “personal Microsoft Surface mode”.
We have a generation of parents who use smart phones, have social media pages on things like Facebook and play casual games, who are very much engaged in the digital world around them. Heck, a lot of them are even playing full bodied video games and spending family afternoons together around consoles like the Wii.
I understand that there remain digital divides yet I also live in one of the more deprived parts of the country, albeit in a leafy corner, but still I see people from all walks of life staring at the mobile computer in their hand at the bus stops and chip shops along the Old Kent Road. In my opinion this divide does not exist in the same way that the “Home Access Programme” might have us believe where the solution has been to layer an expensive old style model on top of a serious challenge.
My canard then is that HHL Girl and children like her up and down the country are coming to a primary school near you supported by parents who already have an expectation about mobile and pervasive technologies. Yet schools in some parts of the country and indeed HHL Girls own school where she is due to join this September are ill-prepared for this generation. They are still preoccupied with interactive white boards, ICT suites, keyboarding skills, learning platforms, educational software that is so boring your grandmother would die using it. Perhaps there’s a nod to installing a WiFi network but it stops at the school gates and woe betide you should you want to bring your own learning weapon of choice to have constant access to that network in a way comfortable to yourself.
So what will happen when these children arrive in the classroom?
Some will, of course, be lucky. They will encounter some of the incredibly talented teachers who are taking the risks to rise to the challenge of engaging with this generation with a teaching approach fit for the future. Some will be unlucky and will risk being a generation lost to somnambulism at best or Ritalin at worst, accused of being disruptive because they can not contain their desire to learn.
It’s not specifically the iPad that is the silver bullet here but the era of new style of invisible, matter of fact, computing that it arrives with it. Any manufacturer that doesn’t have an iPad like device by end of 2011 will be out of the game at least where end-users / consumers are concerned. The impact that this new style of computing will have will need to be reflected in the way we integrate technology into our teaching practice.
It’s not like we didn’t have any warning, the concept was created as far back as 1968 by Alan Kaye with the Dynabook. The relentless progression towards mobile computing has continued since with countless trials, initiatives and projects for mobile learning across numerous platforms from primary to higher education, healthcare, business and military. The UK has some of the best global examples of this work yet we still stare at our shoelaces and mumble in the face of the aforementioned naysayers who have a vested interest in holding back disruptive change. But don’t worry other nations will pick up where we left off, polish it up and sell it back to us in due course.
That there is even a question whether the future has arrived, is mobile and works remains a mystery to me. As we head towards our Learning Without Frontiers Festival this coming January 2011 it seems that the body of evidence is now overwhelming and the savings possible as a consequence of moving to these more relevant platforms compelling.
For me the arrival of the iPad marks the end of a journey, not that I believe things will suddenly stop here, indeed I’m certain we are just seeing the beginning of an exhilarating new innovation race where performance increases whilst prices fall. By end I mean that when we started this community and the annual conferences there was a question about whether mobile learning and the devices needed to achieve efficacy would ever really arrive.
Well now it has.
|Last Updated ( Nov 12, 2010 at 12:30 PM )|