There are predictions that a larger version of the iPad is imminent. According to a report in techtimes.com on July 16, 2014, Apple appears to be working on an iPad device that will have a 12.9 inch display vs. the current 9.7 inch screen. The article in techtimes.com stated that “ Apple will reportedly market the larger iPad to the enterprise and education market and anyone that thinks the 9.7-inch iPad Air's display feels a little too small.” The alleged larger device is referred to as the iPad Pro, and will likely be release in the fall of 2014. Whether this is the actual product name from Apple is unknown, because Apple never releases information about its product road map.
The iPad is by far the most prevalent tablet in the K-12 market. In higher education, the rate of adoption for the iPad, or any other tablet, has been limited. A larger screen tablet could make the iPad more attractive to some would be users, but would not likely increase the overall value of the device without some other major enhancements. A larger screen alone would not significantly change the basic functionality of the device, nor address some of the shortcomings that impact adoption by schools and students.
One of the biggest challenges facing the iPad in education is how to move the device from a consumption oriented device, to one better suited to productivity. Many critics of the iPad contend that the iPad is not well suited to content creation. The use of applications such as the much touted iMovie does not make the iPad a great learning device overall. Students also need to create content primarily through the use of keyboard input. Whether we like it or not, keyboard input still remains the primary input method for computing and content creation. While the iPad can be mated with a Bluetooth keyboard, the input experience is not all that efficient when compared to a laptop with a built in keyboard, or even to the newest generation of Microsoft Surface 3 tablets. If the iPad Pro was to include a keyboard touch cover similar to the Microsoft offering, the productivity options could be enhanced.
However, just the keyboard cover alone would not in fully address the productivity issue. Part of the equation requires software. The iOS operating systems is a mobile platform and runs apps only. Users cannot install popular software they would also use with the OS X operating system found on Apple laptops and Macintosh desktops. While there are many great apps out there, as student learning needs increase during the secondary years, and into higher education, the need for full versions of software becomes more central. This is one of several areas where the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 really shines Students in higher education, and also at secondary levels of education, will likely prefer a device like the Surface Pro 3 because it can run full versions of software. Essentially, there is no divided between the software that can be run on a Windows tablet and on a PC/laptop.
Apple also needs to work on expanding options for peripheral devices. Some applications just work better with a keyboard and a mouse. The mouse has not been replaced by touch functionality, despite Apple’s desire to make the tablet experience all about touch input. If Mark Twain were alive today he might say that rumors concerning the death of the mouse have been greatly exaggerated.
In addition to a keyboard cover and support for mouse peripherals, there is one function that is so central to education that one has to wonder why this has not been included in any previous iPad version. Given the strong presence of Apple in the education market, a built in active digitizer should be a chief design element. An active digitizer is built into the screen technology, and enables very efficient and smooth handwriting with a stylus pen, analogous to writing on paper. The stylus pen is very fine tipped like a sharpened pencil; the complete opposite of the alternatively used capacitive stylus, which is like writing with a pencil eraser. Currently, writing on the capacitive iPad screen is slow and unnatural. It is suited for very limited writing tasks because of the cumbersome nature. Simply put, writing on the iPad screen is a miserable experience.
Apple has been reticent to depart from the touch-centric design of the iPad. After all, the iPad was never designed as an educational device; it was designed as an entertainment device. Schools adopted the iPad in record numbers far beyond any other tablet. However, with the new competition from Microsoft and the line of Surface Pro tablets, the game is changing where the needs of students are being more closely aligned with tablet functionality.
Perhaps the most important function for student tablet use is the ability to write. This includes taking notes and annotating text. The writing function is central to learning and the vendor that can offer a tablet that enables smooth, natural, and efficient writing is going to have a competitive advantage. The value of the device as a learning technology is increased significantly when students can write naturally. The Surface Pro 3 has addressed this issue quite effectively, and is the a benchmark for all other tablets.
We know that students take notes extensively, and typing notes is not always the best cognitive strategy. Recent research has suggested that student achievement is increased when notes are written rather than typed. Furthermore, it is well known that active reading, where students annotate text while trying to understand complex information, is a key learning strategy. As more textbooks become available in digital format, the need to active reading will not change. Tablets must effectively support this basic learning strategy.
A larger iPad screen will not increase the value of the iPad in education, and hopefully this is not the primary modification for a larger screen iPad. While a larger screen will make the experience more comfortable in some instances, that alone is not nearly enough. Apple needs to think about how students learn, and what tools are needed beyond what the iPad can offer today. An insistence on apps only, no support for a mouse, lack of active digitizer to support a pen stylus, and the lack of an integrated keyboard are all serious limitations for the iPad in education. Beyond elementary grades, students need more functionality that revolves around productivity. If Apple is dedicated to the education market in earnest, they should offer a tablet more closely aligned to the needs of students.