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The iPad - end of computing as we know it?

I am lifting this directly from our state's media/tech Ning. It's by Dennis Fazio, a long-time forward thinker in Minnesota technology circles. I know Minnesota AND forward thinker may sound oxymoronic. Anyway...

iPadding your (Technology) expense account, or where have all the PCs gone, long time gasping?

Apple introduced their iPad today and my observation is that we finally have the fourth player in the quartet of technology advances that will change our civilization. Personal computers, the Internet, ubiquitous wireless and now portable personal displays. We now have all of the world's information always at our fingertips and instant visual communication to anyone anywhere in the world at all times virtually where ever we are.

This device, and its many variations and imitations that will follow, I think, has made obsolete a whole trade show's load of technology in one sweep, especially in education. Netbooks, thin clients, many specialized classroom devices, even desktop computers have just seen the end of their days approaching not so far off anymore.

That's my engineer's technology trends view. I'd like to hear from those much more versed than me as to what potential these kind of devices have to disrupt the path we've been on these past couple of decades in education technology.

As a portable application and display platform, much less fragile and expensive than a PC, it seems this iPad can soon replace most of what we have in classrooms. With many now seeking ways to accommodate and incorporate buildings full of iPod Touches, what does it mean to have this super-duper iPod Touch? Certainly netbooks, whose only claim to fame was portability have become even more of a niche device. How about the future for things like smart boards and clickers? Do we really need labs, media centers or classrooms full of desktop computers to do most of the instructional work needed in the near future, or does this device work just as well or better? Is the ongoing debate between desktops and thin clients now a quaint historical discussion? Have the scattered one-to-one laptop initiatives been obsoleted, becoming the historical prelude to what really should be happening in classrooms?

This discussion could go in a lot of different directions since the potential is so wide-ranging, but if I were a district technology, media or curriculum director, I might soon be thinking twice before doing a large turnover of my PC inventory. But much depends on the ability of our educational system to adapt to the new potential, absorb the range of applications that may arrive and follow the different directions this may take us.

Did that seed enough thought for anyone?

This was my response to Dennis:

Hi Dennis,

Even before the iPad, we were moving to a personal computing platform model in education - netbooks, smartphones, etc. I think it will be interesting to see if the 9.7 screen is the sweet spot for personal computing devices or "neither fish nor fowl" with neither laptop functionality  nor cellphone size convenience.

We are making a deliberate move toward cloud-based computing in ISD77 with the adoption of GoogleApps; using ASPs for webhosting, datawarehousing and IEPs; and providing video via streaming. (I suspect our SIS, library catalog, and all instructional software will be next.) I look to see a webbrowser being the only software needed on most devices we use in schools within 5 years with the exception of a few powerful computers for graphics/video rendering in specialized labs.

The big monkey wrench right now is testing. Pearson can't or won't provide a cloud-based solution that runs in a browser. This inability may wind up costing schools millions if we need to maintain labs of desktop computers just for testing, testing, testing. I won't mention where I think our state DOE'shead is firmly lodged on this issue.

I am going to steal (with attribution) your post for MY blog. Let me know if that's a problem.



Whadda ya think? Is the iPad a game-changer? Or hype?

My shiny-gadget lust for the damn thing is greater than I anticipated. I think it has more to do with the unlimited 3G connectivity for $29.99 a month than the device, though.

Respond to Dennis in the link above too, if you would. (It's OK to copy-paste.)


Sunday, Jan 31: If you haven't seen this, read it! "Why Bigger Is Better: The iPad And The Arc of Computing"


(Credit: CC Mike McCaffrey/Flickr)

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Reader Comments (13)

Did you mean "moving to a personal computing platform model in education - netbooks, smartphones, etc" or "moving away from personal computing." The rest of the post seems to make it clear that you are moving away from "personal computers."

January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman

Hi Tom,

Maybe a better way to say it that I see us moving to device-independent computing with cloud-based apps and storage rather than workstation or district file-server apps and storage. This means inexpensive devices such a netbooks or smartphones either provided by the school or student him/herself can be used as the primary computing tool.

Access becomes "personal" when each person has his/her own device rather than needing to go to a shared device in a lab. Not the use of Personal Computer as traditionally used, I agree.

Clear as mud?


January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Doug,

I know what you mean but as an Influential Educational Technology Pundit, one point that I think you should try to make is that the end of the era of school computing as "managed personal computers" will and must end. Taking hundreds of devices that were meant to be administered individually and layering complex tools on top to both prevent that from happening and clean up the messes when it inevitably does has just been a rolling disaster, and since it is more or less the only way we've done it, people have little perspective on it.

January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman

Hi Tom,

I am not sure I agree with the "rolling disaster" assessment (we've done what we can with the tools we have, provided some good experiences for kids, and have come up with workable management strategies of imaging, etc.), but I definitely agree that this model is ending. I want teachers to be able to devise lessons knowing that each child will have a device always available to him/her with a good web browser. And if the kid forgets it or breaks it, one can be checked-out from the library for the day that needs no customization.

The role of the computer "tech" will be morphing here too!

All the best,


January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I wouldn't get too excited yet, but it's definitely a leap forward with the lovely touch screen. Yet it doesn't support Flash? It doesn't have a camera? It can't run more than one app at a time? Any netbook beats it in those catagories. I can see checking emails and quick notes, but I'd rather have a dedicated keyboard in a classroom setting for note taking and paper writing. Yes, you can add that on an iPad (terrible name!) but why would you want to lug that all around at school rather than snap shut a durable netbook. (Not that I'm completely sold on netbooks!)

This seems more for someone who already has a computer at home, but wants to curl up on the couch with something a bit more than a Kindle.

And how does he know it's less fragile than a PC if it isn't even out yet? A full-glass screen jammed in a backpack? Hmmmm. Think I'll take a wait and see on this one.

Don't get me wrong, it looks fun. But it'll be nice to see what the 3rd or 5th generation iPad has going for it! I love my 7th generation iPod...


January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

One important component that needs to be a part of this conversation is the status of funding for public education. I am fairly certain that Minnesota looks a bit like my state (Wisconsin), and Doug might be thinking the same thing I am - that I cannot continue on the same path and plane of how we deliver technology-based services.

What is being constructed is a serious conversation around the value of everything in education as resources dwindle. Do we keep "this" or "that"? Unfortunately the restrictions are getting to the point where it is no longer this or that, it is less of both.

The move to uncouple services from applications and subsequently the OS and eventually the hardware is becoming more of a survivalist strategy - and quite frankly, I think we all have to strongly consider it.

If some portion of the future involves enabling individuals (students and teachers) to use some of the tools they may already own, then the idea of uniform accessibility across multiple hardware / applications becomes increasingly important.

I understand what Jim is saying about not liking the alternatives as much, but the model of providing the the desktop or full blown laptop to employees is becoming more and more like mission impossible in my district. I don't think I will be able to in 5 years.

January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoel VerDuin

Responding to Jim Randolph's comments:

Jim, all good points, and similar to many I've seen out on the net from others. But I think the skeptics with those kinds of comments are looking at this device the wrong way. It is not a replacement for a laptop nor an iPod Touch. It's a whole new kind of device with whole new capabilities. We need to avoid looking at it in the shadows of our experiences with PCs and smartphones. We need to let our minds wander more creatively and free of existing practices and methods with current technology. I think it will do 95% of what is needed in the *classroom of the future* with a handful of PCs to take care of the rest. This device isn't for the classroom of the present. I'm not that well versed in this subject, and I can already think of many things this can do that will be integral with future classroom practices and that are not really possible or practical with laptops or netbooks.

I have no concern for its durability; the tempered and coated glass they use on these things now is pretty tough and there are no keyboards and hinges to get gunked up or crack. It may get a camera later for videoconferencing, but it will never support Flash. It doesn't have to and it would only reduce its reliability and performance. Besides, all of those critiques are concentrating on the hardware implementation. That's only a small percentage of what it is. You need to think of it as part of a larger system with local and remote applications and a whole different way of interfacing with digital information.

It's not the iPad as a hardware device on its own that will change things radically, it's the whole set of new methods, practices, applications and supporting network-based technologies it catalyzes. Laptops and netbooks do no such thing.

January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDennis Fazio

I think the iPad is great for schools that want to teach students to become consumers rather than producers. Consumption is sort of America's thing right now, so I suspect the iPad will be a big hit.

January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

I think this is a theme that will only become stronger as the device is used and tested. I don't see this as an example of the next big thing distracting us from what can happen in classrooms, I see this as a genuine platform device, something that will, if not change classrooms entirely, at least begin to solve some cost and convenience issues that have long been headaches in the ed/tech scene. For more on that, check out my full reaction to the iPad:

January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Hi Jim,

I tend to agree with you. My question is: What will this replace? I do NOT want one more thing to carry with me. A laptop, a cellphone, an iPod Touch, and a Kindle PLUS an iPad?

Now if I could use it when I travel to give presentations! That would be cool.


Hi Joel,

Good observations. You wrote:

The move to uncouple services from applications and subsequently the OS and eventually the hardware is becoming more of a survivalist strategy

I would say it is more than survivalist - it is also convenience, easy of use, and just plain good economics.


Hi Dennis,

Thanks for the reply to Jim.

For me, the most serious complaint leveled is that is a device designed to consume media - not produce it. If we are moving to a more constructivist approach to education, this may be the device's biggest drawback - can kids create with it? Personally, I a curious to know how it does with GoogleDocs, Zoho, VoiceThread, Animoto, etc.

Thanks for starting this discussion. REALLY interesting.


Hi Peter,

I certainly agree that in watching the promo videos for the iPad, it is being marketed as a viewer/reader. I am really curious about how it will handle online productivity tools like GoogleDocs, Animoto, etc. And I find people tend to use devices to meet their own needs, not necessarily what they were designed for.

This will be an interesting product to watch. I'm not making ANY predictions!


Hi Greg,

One of the more thoughtful posts I’ve read on this topic. Thank you. I share your excitement and will be following the use of this carefully.


January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

On Jan 30, 2010, at 9:27 AM, Doug Johnson wrote:

"For me, the most serious complaint leveled is that is a device designed to consume media - not produce it. If we are moving to a more constructivist approach to education, this may be the device's biggest drawback - can kids create with it? Personally, I a curious to know how it does with GoogleDocs, Zoho, VoiceThread, Animoto, etc."


I think it depends upon what you want to create. It won't be hard to write native apps that will permit a lot of creativity. (e.g. the iPhone's Brushes for artwork). The ability to put graphic documents together by dragging and dropping pictures, text blocks, etc.——in other words, page layout document creation——shouldn't be a problem. You will need a desktop to run a serious movie-making application and to work with HD firewire/USB cameras and studio equipment. But I'll bet 80% of the content creation kids will need to do in the classroom or at home could be done on this.

I think the iPad is a perfect example of the 80/20 rule. 80% (or probably more eventually) of what you need to do with laptops/desktops can be done on an iPad with only 20% of the effort. Trying to do the remaining 20% would be too hard, and really beyond the intended design capabilities of the device and its supporting systems. That's why we'll need iphones for our primary communications needs and a much more limited number of desktops/laptops for doing what they're best for.

It may seem that the iPad is primarily to consume media (and indeed that's what we mostly do anyway), but the ability to use/consume *interactive* media is a key strength. I suspect most of the media content (at least any of the better media content) of the future will be interactive. Does that not relieve the criticism of it as solely a media consumption device?

As for GoogleDocs and the like, that is nothing more than working with multimedia documents, except they are stored on the Internet (or run portions of the executable on the webserver). If Pages, Keynote and Numbers can be made to work on the iPad, so can they.

January 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDennis Fazio

Fascinating discussion. For something that is "only" a tool, it certainly impacts many overlapping areas: productivity, communication, tech support, tech funding, cloud computing, etc.

What did Bill Gates say? We overestimate the short-term impact and underestimate the long-term? It will be curious to look back in 5 years and see the path that iPad users have taken the device.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Dyer

Hi John,

I think this will be a fun one to watch. For us, the iPad's ability to play well with GoogleDocs will be the make it or break it feature.

And the Gates quote is well worth remembering!


February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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