An Initial Reaction to the iPad

Steve Jobs’ 27 January unveiling of the Apple iPad has drawn reactions running the gamut from adoration to ridicule.  Most comments in the latter category take aim at the device’s name. Other negative opinions focus on the iPad’s inability to multitask, lack of a camera, or the fact that it isn’t more like a netbook.

I for one agree with Jobs’ quip in his keynote: “The problem is, netbooks aren’t better at anything.” He goes on to show how the iPad is designed to do chosen tasks better — the chosen tasks being email, displaying photos, watching videos, playing music, browsing the web, playing games, and, yes, reading e-books. In addition, one can create Keynote presentations, spreadsheets, and word-processed documents using iPad versions of these apps, features which look quite impressive and set the iPad notably ahead of both the iPhone and arguably netbooks.

Those who have test-run the iPad testify to its clever usability and speed, courtesy of the new custom-silicon A4 chip. The iPad’s price tag is very reasonable, and its 3G data plan with AT&T is surprisingly low-priced and flexible, with no contract to sign. This alone well positions the iPad for all kinds of users — businesspeople, artists, students, academics, everyone. And since, in many parts of the developing world, 3G is the most common method of internet access, the iPad is in this respect well-positioned for new inroads into international markets.

For me, the most interesting, even revolutionary, news about the iPad was not only that e-books would now be available for purchase through Apple just as music and films have been, but also that Apple has been negotiating with textbook publishers to this end. In the UK we have had Sony e-readers and Waterstones, while the e-books scene in the States has been dominated by the Kindle and Amazon, but neither Waterstones nor Amazon has been offering very much in the way of textbooks for e-readers. We at Beyond Distance have been evaluating the use of e-readers by masters-level distance students as part of our DUCKLING project. As a part of this project, publishers Routledge made a special deal to allow us to include their textbook on the e-readers supplied to students, and we will be sharing with Routledge the results of our research. Now that Apple has taken the major step of promising textbooks on iPads, we should begin to see textbook publishers not only provide their materials for e-readers but hopefully benefit from Apple’s consistent “cool factor” with students.

Vive la revolution!

Terese Bird

Disruptive Technologies

Those of us who attended the JISC “Next Generation Technologies in Practice” conference at Loughborough, or maybe followed the event on Twitter, may have been taught a new phrase last week, I know I did – “Disruptive Technologies”

Those of you who have already heard of this term may be laughing at those of us who, until this point have never heard of it, and when you read on you will kick yourself because the number of examples in our field in recent years is endless…

A disruptive technology or disruptive innovation is a technological innovation that improves a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically by being lower priced or designed for a different set of consumers.

Disruptive innovations can be broadly classified into two:
• A new-market disruptive innovation is often aimed at non-consumption (i.e., consumers who would not have used the products already on the market);
• A lower-end disruptive innovation is aimed at mainstream customers for whom price is more important than quality.

An example that jumped into my mind when I thought about this were the new ‘Netbooks’, you must have seen people tapping away in meetings, on the train and at other events – these are a type of laptop computer designed for wireless communication and access to the Internet which enable web browsing and e-mailing. Netbooks rely heavily on the Internet for remote access to web-based applications and are targeted increasingly at cloud computing users who require a less powerful client computer.

Can you think of any other examples, not just within the educational field, if so reply with a comment!

Matthew Wheeler
Keeper of the Media Zoo

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