Kirsten Winkler made a very good point yesterday when she noted that $400 second-gen iPads are a greater threat to other players (read Android tablet OEMs) in the 1:1 tablet game than the new iPad. At $500, it will see adoption, but remains too expensive for many schools and students, as do its $500-ish Android competitors (particularly the offerings from Motorola and Samsung). That being said, while Kirsten was unimpressed with the new iPad, I have to say that there are some potentially very significant educational applications of the updated technology that will be delivered to my door (and that of many, many other early adopters) on March 16th.
I’m not an Apple fanboi. I like Apple products generally and tend to split my time between my PCs and my Macs (although the latest Ubuntu beta has certainly gotten my attention). Given the choice, I’d probably be rolling out Edubuntu or Userful labs for general computing in schools and Windows workstations for content creation among older students; Chromebooks would be on my short list of potential 1:1 solutions. I’m even one of the few folks out there who prefers Android 4.0 to iOS and my primary tablet is a Motorola Xoom. So I don’t come at this from the perspective of the Mac faithful. Oh yeah, and I think that Apple’s iBooks is one of the greediest, most egregious examples of vendor lock-in ever.
Now that I have that disclaimer out of the way, I have to admit that I’m really excited about the prospect of the new iPad, at least for specific educational applications, primarily because of its extraordinary resolution and its processing horsepower. I also think this will have significant implications for the growing body of educational content and app developers, who will have to seriously consider developing for iPad 2 and the new iPad separately to not only cater to the popularity of the iPad 2 (which, as Kirsten points out, will most likely grow given it’s new pricepoint, although I’m not seeing any evidence that Apple will offer their $50 educational discount on the hardware) as well as to the bleeding edge capabilities of the new iPad.
First, some imagination around what 2048 x 1536 resolution means. First of all, it’s double the resolution of the second-gen iPad. That’s hardly an evolutionary bump. That’s game-changing resolution that can support immersive 3D simulations (think virtual dissections that put every virtual biology activity that came before them to shame), geometric visualizations, lifelike virtual worlds, physics simulations, engineering and design applications, and art activities in ways that only desktops have been able to manage to date (can you imagine ArtRage at that resolution with 4 cores driving the experience?). And even those desktop use cases had lower resolution monitors, usually by a wide margin.
As the folks over at Mashery put it, it’s time to go “beyond HD.” To Kirsten’s point, though, do we really need to be going beyond HD? Isn’t HD good enough? The answer, of course, is yes – HD is “good enough”. But what happens when we don’t need multimedia labs to supplement 1:1 devices because the devices are capable of producing such compelling content on their own? What happens when medical students can study detailed anatomical structures at CT-scan resolutions before they ever hit gross anatomy (let alone an actual patient)? Or a school can dispense with the expense and ethical concerns around dissections with virtual labs that allow even better visualization of frog anatomy or pig brains than could be achieved in a middle school science lab? What about the college engineering student who can leave her workstation in her dorm room and create meaningful, 3D CAD models right in class?
Mashery also pointed out that this is a harbinger of entirely new user experiences centered around voice and gesture, making educational content that much more accessible to students with special needs. 4 cores and no loss of fidelity at high magnification? That sounds like IEP compliance in countless ways that even the very capable iPad 2 can’t reach. Even the ability to stream in HD to the new Apple TV makes me wonder when interactive whiteboards will be fully replaced with student iPads (or tablets that adopt equivalent functionality), Apple TVs, and high-resolution projectors through which students and teachers can share awesome content, again in ways that the average smartboard just can’t make happen.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting that every school deploy fleets of new iPads. However, I am suggesting that the technology we’re seeing in Apple’s latest product has sufficiently significant potential that we all (educators, educational content producers, and ed tech developers) need to sit up and take notice. Maybe this is the device that finally forces publishers to stop dumping PDFs on schools and calling them e-textbooks.