BY DAN FROELICH

About six months ago, I posted a note to my network asking people if the iPad was only a consumption device or if would ever been seen as a truly productive device for creation. I received a mixed response and just sat on the thought for a while. On my way home, I was listening to This Week in Tech, Episode 286 where Leo Laporte, John C. Dvorak, Larry Magid, and MG Siegler were discussing the merits of the iPad as a creation device. Feel free to listen or watch the podcast and make your own decision regarding this debate.

After reviewing the five iPad advertisements, I noticed an interesting trend. The earlier commercials have a 2:1 ratio of content consumption compared to content creation. As you move through the newer advertisements, the focus leans toward a 1:1 focus of consumption and creation. The final tally ended in a count of 22 applications targeting consumption and 13 aimed at creation. It sounds to me that Apple is attempting to capture the spirit of this device as a device primarily used for consumption. I scoured the internet for articles and research. One of the simplest graphics I found outlines the features of Apple’s three mobile platforms. Take a look and comment on it below.

Strengths

The iPad is a very stable device. Thanks to the closed operated system, the average consumer doesn’t notice any instability or crashes in iOS. As a reader and video player, the iPad provides an adequate amount of viewing space and backlight for low-light situations. Through the iTunes Store and App Store, users can access a plethora of games, publications, media, and organizational tools. With applications like Blackboard Mobile, FlipBoard, iBooks, and Amazon Kindle for iPad, teachers have an amazing array of  research content, multimedia, and instructional text available on a single device.

Limitations

The iPad has no means of exporting content to a USB drive, although applications like Dropbox attempt to offer a file system to transfer content. The closed operating system does create limitations to file-system structure for managing photos, media, and documents. The Safari browser for iPad notoriously denounces any support for Flash content which makes millions of websites impossible to render and use.

The App Store is also known as a limiting factor for advanced users. Without cracking the operating system, users can only access approved applications. The biggest barrier to content creation on the iPad focuses around the unexplained decisions that have limited users’ access to a variety of creation tools. Google Docs was one such feature. When it was originally released, the iPad’s browser didn’t support editing in Google Docs, but in recent months things have changed and users can now edit their documents (with limitations). Users will experience mixed results in support for certain content-management systems and even some online learning platforms due to features disabled in the mobile Safari browser.

Another major limitation to many K-12 users is a lack Adobe of Flash support. While Apple contends that this isn’t a major issue, I challenge you to go through many of the common instructional support websites designed for interactive learning and discover just how many sites are programed with Flash. One very popular K-2 website that is rendered useless is Starfall. If you have an iPad and attempt to visit www.starfall.com, you will get a message asking you to update your browser to support flash. This cannot be done, at all, period. Many textbook companies offer companion websites to extend learning online. Many of these are designed with Flash as the foundation for interactivity.

What now?

With more than 300,000 applications and 10 billion application downloads, Apple certainly has the numbers to keep going, but will their restrictive environment stifle creativity and lean more towards consumerism?  I hope not. Fortunately, Android OS 3.0, AKA Honeycomb, was officially announced last week.  Does this mean the iPad is doomed? Not hardly. But just as in the mobile phone market, competition will drive innovation. With two major platforms, users will have greater choice and see the possibilities of tablet devices. Ultimately, we will need to watch as the current generation of tablets evolve into iPad 2 and devices like the new Motorola Xoom. Either way, I can’t wait to see users pushing designers and developers to support our creativity as technology advances.

In the classroom

Educators across North Carolina are exploring the best fit scenarios for the iPad in the classroom. One of LEARN NC’s online instructors, Lucas Gillespie, offers some support for iPads and iPods in the classroom. If you conduct a Google search for “iPad in the classroom,” you’ll get a really rich listing of sites set up to support the iPad in education. One familiar name in handheld technology in education is Tony Vincent. Over the years, Tony has evolved his Learning in Hand site to meet the demands of today’s forward thinking educators and their use of technology in the classroom. Stop by and check out his Do’s and Don’ts.

Additional reading

Content Creation v.s. Content Consumption: The iPad Revolution

Entelligence: the iPad as a productivity tool

Reading as a Participation Sport

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