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Larger iPad rumors swirl, but won’t help education or students unless..

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Rumors abound about the potential introduction of a larger iPad tablet. On August 26, 2014, Bloomberg and Businessweek were among the major news outlets speculating about the Apple strategy. Apple is notoriously closed-lipped about product development and future product releases, so it is impossible to confirm or deny the rumors. However, with the introduction of the 12 inch Microsoft Surface Pro 3, it does seem likely that Apple could also introduce a 12 inch tablet. With sales of iPads declining, this could increase product demand. The key question for education is whether a larger screen could increase the learning value of the device. The short answer is no, it will not, unless combined with other features aligned to the learning needs of students.

Working on smaller screens can be challenging, tiresome, and sometimes very distracting. It cannot be discounted that more screen real estate makes working on a computer device better suited longer periods of use. In this age of large screen everything; phones, televisions, laptops, and computer monitors, given the choice, most people would prefer working on a larger screen. However, that is concomitant with the issue of portability. How much is too big for portability? That’s a personal preference, and not easily answered. Suffice to say, a 12 inch tablet would not significantly reduce the ease of portability, but would make the user experience much more enjoyable, and better suited to extended use.

If Apple decides to offer a larger iPad, the productivity issues remain, unless there are other functionality enhancements. The macro level criticism of the iPad is that it is much more of a consumption oriented device rather than one suited to productivity. To put a finer point on this idea, the iPad is not as well aligned to students’ productivity needs as is a laptop or the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. While the iPad offers many opportunities for younger students and as an assistive learning device, productivity issues become much more impactful at secondary and higher education levels. The rush to adopt iPads is slowing as many schools realize that productivity is often better addressed with laptops, Chromebooks, or other tablets such as the Surface Pro 3.

Based on Apple’s initial design of the iPad as an entertainment device for consumption based activities, it does seem like a distant wish that Apple will significantly depart from the intended purpose of the device. However, in addition to a larger screen, there are several features that would help to more closely align the iPad with the basic learning needs of students.

The primary method of user input remains the keyboard, and sometimes a mouse. There is no value to ignoring the obvious. Touch screens are great for some apps, but pales compared to the utility of the keyboard. The LAUSD had to recognize the need for keyboard input following the failed iPad roll out. Keyboard input was just too important to sacrifice; therefore teachers have now been offered other competing devices that support keyboard input as a necessary productivity function.

Many schools are moving to devices such as Chromebooks and Surface Pro 3 tablets that offer a much better integration of keyboard and device. Apple would be well advised to design a touch type cover similar to that of the Surface Pro 3. Additionally, put in a port for occasional mouse support.

Writing is another cornerstone of learning. Students write incessantly while taking notes and annotating text. Writing on the iPad, or any other tablet with a capacitive touch screen that lacks an active digitizer, is unworkable. The writing is inaccurate, slow, and unnatural. Writing on a tablet must mimic the efficiency of paper. This requires an active digitizer to support a stylus pen. Apple has been committed to the idea of finger touch, which is great for consumption and entertainment based activities, but is a big fail when it comes to writing. As an example of a smooth, natural, and paper like writing experience, one would only have to try the Surface Pro 3 to understand the issue. There are other tablets too, that have a built in active digitizer to support natural writing. This feature is a must have for any tablet in education.

One could quibble about software options for the iPad, but the app selection is generally the standard bearer. The issue is that iOS is a mobile operating system, and does not allow users to install any software other than apps. Students sometimes, and sometimes often, need to install software for which there is no app equivalent. The closed nature of the OS is limiting. While more and more software is available through the cloud, we are not there yet where the need to install software has been fully replaced. Installing software would greatly enhance the value to students, particularly in high school and college levels.

The larger screen would indeed be a very attractive option for students, but the active digitizer, keyboard type cover, and more software options would make the device much bt. The larger screen alone doesn't change anything with respect to the efficacy of the device as an educational tool. It is time for Apple to get with the program.