Tablets have taken the world by storm. This isn’t a secret. I’ve probably seen as many ipads in the past year in people’s bags as I have laptops. People that would never carry a laptop have no problem being seen with a tablet. While there are certainly a lot of tablets out there, you can probably argue that there is an ipad market, and then a bunch of others.
In October, Wired released stats saying that 97% of all tablet internet traffic is produced by people using ipads and another site stated that over 80% of all tablets sold are made by Apple. That may be changing slightly this Christmas season, but these stats are probably basically still true.
I’ve spent my time with two different tablets this fall and neither of them are ipads. I’ve got an Asus eee transformer and now my son has a new Blackberry Playbook that he received for Christmas. Both of these machines have performed well. The eee pad hooks to the Android Market, is responsive, has a great display and flips between applications easily. The new Playbook has only been around for a few days, but I have to admit – I like it. It is a bit smaller (a 7 inch screen compared to the standard 10), but it is well designed and feels nice in your hands. It doesn’t feel like a cheap piece of plastic. It has a great screen and runs RIM’s own operating system which is proving easy to learn and allows for full multi tasking. It handles flash content easily and renders the web quickly. It’s downfall comes in the size of its applications market. RIM is obviously a 3rd player in the tablet wars and it shows in what is available. Big news last week when Angry Birds hit Blackberry’s App world, months after the Android Market and the App store. No movies to rent. I can’t find a decent WordPress app. While there are certainly thousands to look through, some of the standard ones are simply not there. Plenty of rumours about RIM allowing access to the Android Market (which would solve all of their problems), and about people jailbreaking their Playbooks, but nothing official from RIM yet.
Both of these devices have been great to have around to pick up when you need to get online quickly to find a piece of information or to post to twitter, etc. but I’m still having trouble seeing them as machines to do anything other than read and surf from. I can’t see them as creative platforms.
I know districts have spent millions on tablets, I know people will disagree with me, telling me stories of all of the wonderful things they have done (or had their kids do), but I’m still not convinced. Don’t get me wrong, I like the ones I’ve lived with for the past few months. I think they are great devices and are getting to be powerful multimedia platforms. But what place should they have in our classrooms? Are we aiming only at an education based on the consumption of media and information? If every student (or classroom) could have tablets and laptops, then I think we are getting somewhere. But we all know that with budgets like they are, that isn’t happening in most schools any time soon. I am interested instead to see where schools are going to go with devices like the new Raspberry Pi initiative. That interests me. What can we do with low price (or no price) software like WordPress, Gimp and Scratch? How can we help kids use platforms like Youtube and Figment to share what they make? We’ve only scratched (no pun intended) the surface of possibilities. Do we want students to be consumers of information or creators and community builders? I know which I’d rather see and I’m worried about the priorities that I have been seeing.