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

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Dear Father Christmas…..

As always I’ve been a good girl and decided that a seasonal approach to my final blog entry of the year would be appropriate.  Below is a (short) list of some technology that I’d like to find wrapped up for me on Christmas day:

  • Sony PRS-600
    This is the latest version of the Sony e-reader, we’ve been using the Sony PRS-505 as part of our DUCKLING project (http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/beyond-distance-research-alliance/projects/duckling), but this latest version features a touch screen which I think will make it more intuitive and easier to use based on how I’ve seen people try to initially use the PRS-505.  The Kindle is reported to be the ‘most wished for’ Christmas present (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/dec/02/technology-gadgets-for-christmas), we might be seeing students coming back with e-readers after the holidays ready for University produced e-books?
  • Universal Solar Phone Charger
    I’m forever running out of battery on my phone and on my iPod, very annoying when you’re expecting a phone call, listening to music on a long car journey, or tweeting during a conference.  This handy little gadget will enable me (hopefully) to keep my technology charged, or at least until I can get back home.  With our culture seemingly becoming more dependent on technology this means we never have to face the panic of being without.
  • Microsoft Surface
    Because a girl can dream that she can afford these things! Microsoft Surface lets you touch the surface of a screen which is on a horizontal surface to move files, edit video, even ripple water!  If you can afford it, this could revolutionise the way you interact and collaborate in education and business.  
  • High Definition Eyes
    This might not be on my Christmas list quite yet (I still have 20-20 vision), but I’ve included it to show the advances in technology and that advances will always be made.  This news story is about an ‘artificial lens’ made from light sensitive silicone which can be fine tuned to each individuals prescription.  Reading a brief history of cataract surgery (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cataract_surgery#History) people have always been curious and felt the need to advance, and it makes me wonder what will be next? 
  • Etre Touchy Gloves
    Why are these on the list?  Basically because they’re fun! These are gloves with the tip of the thumb and index finger missing to enable you to keep your hands warm in winter while still being able to press the buttons on your mp3 player, phone or whatever device you are using.

Hopefully you’ve seen something that you like and can see how some of these gifts would be used for education, I’ve given a brief reason how and why I think they can be used.  I used the Guardians Christmas Gift Guide for inspiration: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/gallery/2009/nov/27/christmas-gift-guide-gadgets?picture=356240049 and I hope that you all get everything you want for Christmas (if you’ve been good that is)!

One last thing to add to the list that will improve your New Year: Registration to our Learning Futures Festival Online – registration closes the 23rd December.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

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