by Terry Heick
iPad sales are giving up some ground to Android-powered tablets.
According to market research[i], Apple’s market share of the tablet market was down 14% in the 3Q of 2012, with 55% of tablets shipped during that quarter sporting an Apple on them somewhere, and 44% of them a little green robot.
But big picture, let’s not kid ourselves–Apple owns the tablet market any way you can spin it–and perhaps as a consequence, Apple owns the classroom, too.
For a variety of reasons (which we’ll get to shortly), the iPad is the pre-dominant technology form in K-12 environments. They dominate blog headlines, promote incredible user loyalty (you could say cultish, but you said it, not me), and make adults drool like teething infants. Walk by any Apple store and through their wide glass storefront you’ll see otherwise rational human beings swoon and fawn, listening intently as Apple experts explain how a slideshow works, how to use iCloud, or how to sync their iPhone with their iPad. School districts buy them, teachers buy them, and parents even send their students to school with them on occasion.
So it makes sense that this kind of popularity would carry over to the classroom. Educators have officially had their curiosity piqued. They want to know how to integrate it into activities, lessons, and curriculum in general, and judging by our traffic patterns here on TeachThought, they come bearing questions.
Which apps are best?
How can I use this for Project-Based Learning?
How do they fit into a larger instructional design process?
What am I not doing with this thing that I should be?
We can assume then that they have these same questions for Androids, smartphones, iPods, and Kindles, right?
They actually don’t.
While we have an increasingly vocal base of educators clamoring for Google content, it’s only a fraction of folks pounding on the doors for Apple stuff. That’s not to say that there is no attention at all given to non-iPad products. There is, but comparing the gravity between iPad and non-iPad products is—well, it’s just different. No matter their actual function or potential, try showing up to class with an armful of Nexus 7 tablets or Kindle Fires–it’s almost like showing up to a cookout with Big K soft drink instead of Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Just kind of awkward.
They’re cool–they’re interactive digital tablets tablets, not scrolls, posterboard, or textbooks, but they’re not iPads.
How did we get to this point? Where did this technology elitism come from?
And perhaps more importantly, is it justified?
Trends Make Trends
The iPad was the first tablet to make a significant splash in the consumer market. Its popularity is the reason we now have an Android tablet, much less versions featuring operating systems by Microsoft, BlackBerry, and even good-guy, open-source Linux.
Just as snow begets snow, trends beget trends. And iPad adoption—in the classroom and in culture at large–is very much a trend.
As more people purchase the device, it receives more attention from everywhere–major news media, social media, face-to-face conversations, etc. This in turn creates even more buzz. More are sold, and now to satisfy the demand for additional coverage it’s discussed in more detail—not simply in terms of sales and cost, but its design, its peripherals, its integration, and so on. It’s labeled an inspiration and literally changes what we, as consumers, expect from a product.
This demand spawns an entire cottage industry not just of blogs, #ipad hashtags, storage logistics, and Apple stores, but of apps, websites, and supporting software. Web browsers have to be redesigned for the iPad. Adobe Flash dies a slow death. Website themes are “liquid” to scale more naturally to devices of different screen sizes. Brick-and-mortar business must have not just mobile-friendly sites, but a mobile-centered presence.
All of this, in large part, is because of the Apple gang.
And we haven’t mentioned the apps yet. My word, the apps.
The start-up industry itself has not simply been invigorated by the popularity of mobile devices, but very much made possible by it. In education, companies ranging from Classroom Dojo to ClassMarker depend on the ability of the teacher to move around the classroom, and for students to access a screen at any time—two things enabled by the iPad.
Interdependence between the user of a mobile device and every partner in a project, every research platform they need to access, and every method of curating performance and product depends on the device itself. This means that as iPads are adopted and apps gain traction in niches (classroom management, assessment, publishing, etc.), it becomes more difficult to break away from that ecology of apps, devices, and even peripherals. It’s not easy to swap back and forth between an Android tablet and an iPod Touch unless the environment is accustomed to a BYOD approach.
Now that the iPad has developed momentum (and what tremendous momentum it has), technology from Google, Microsoft, Linux, and even upstart PC gaming platform Steam are going to have to develop ecologies—and momentum—of their own, perhaps in new directions the iPad hasn’t yet traveled.
If a new device simply “does iPad,” why not buy the real thing?
So the question remains, is the iPad-centrism of education in 2013 justified? Probably not.
But that’s a fundamentally different question than it is explainable, is it logical, and will it continue? It is, it is, and it probably will.
For education to truly embrace technology rather than simply giving Apple a great big and profitable hug, there will have to be a perhaps forced acceptance of competing technology forms by teachers, and a realization from technology makers that the iPad has perfected the iPad already. The iPad’s success is proof that it has simply solved a problem. For new technology to be successful, it only needs to elegantly solve other problems–perhaps new problems caused by the iPad.
Teachers are busy, under tremendous pressure, and even when technology-proficient, aren’t IT geeks. Beyond sheer personal preference, it takes something exceptional to force them to take a less traveled, and more fatiguing, road. Something that is versatile, transcendent, and above all compelling in its function.
They need a real reason to move out of old habits, find new apps, design new workflows, and purchase new hardware, and right now, beyond some energy from BYOD programs, there’s really very little innovation in #edtech that’s not driven by development in apps and API.
This necessarily limits the innovation in education technology to the mobile devices that host them, and right now that’s the iPad.
For more more substantive evolution of learning technology–where the iPad is a supplement rather than the bottleneck–mobile learning needs some imagination, a new coat of paint, and a bit of branding. What’s possible when we untether students from desks and embed them in authentic local and digital communities, and how can technology serve that potential?
A clear answer to that question may give teachers a reason to try something new.
[i] http://www.abiresearch.com/press/apple-maintains-lead-in-tablets-but-market-share-d; Image attribution flicker user flickeringbrad and simplyzesty.com; this article is a revised version of an original written by Terry Heick for Edudemic Magazine.