One of the most valued features for tablet use is the deployment of Apps. Apps were originally created to meet the limitations of mobile phones. Early mobile phones simply lacked the processing power to deliver an effective web browsing experience. The processors were not powerful enough to support extensive web browsing or access to full fledged web content. That is still somewhat true today, although less so.
The concept of Apps was adopted in tablets, beginning mainly with the iPad. Limited processing power created the need to focus more on apps and less on browsing for one’s own web based content. The lack of processing power was the key catalyst for apps, or was it? According to an article in USA Today, the corralling of users into the app market was at least partly accomplished by the disabling of browser functionality. While at first blush this seems like a unique opinion, there could be some merit to this argument. According to the author Hank Nothhaft, Jr., Apple may have deliberately limited the functionality of the Safari mobile browser as compared to the desktop version, thus encouraging the purchase of apps for a better user experience. Marked differences in versions does not always favor the desktop, where Nothhaft stated, “The iPad version is infinitely more interactive and tactile than the desktop version", in an analysis of Garage Band desktop and mobile versions.
Could the web browser design be a marketing tactic to drive app sales? This is likely a guarded corporate secret, but in all actuality, is not the central issue in education. The larger issue for teachers and students is that the browsing experience on tablets is not nearly as fluid, comprehensive, or as efficient as with a full-fledged computer. Part of this is because of the lack of raw processing power, and part of it is also the quality of the browser to deliver web content. Although focusing mainly on Apple because of market share, it seems that none of the tablet based browsers really enhances the web browsing experience beyond the desktop or laptop computer.
It is true about a lesser browsing experience on tablets when compared to desktops. If this is a key requirement in schools, then it requires educators to more deeply consider how tablets integrate into the classroom and curriculum. 21st century learning is rapidly becoming more student-centered. This approach puts the student at the center of constructing much of their own learning; hence, searching for information is major tenet of learning. Having an app serve up packaged content that a designer or editor of the app predetermines is counter to comprehensive exploration and the construction of knowledge. Apps might be limiting for many of the discovery tasks desired of students. If the reliance on apps is because of inefficient browsers, then educators must carefully consider this in the decision criteria of tablet adoption.
Many have heard that the world’s information is literally at ones fingertips via the World Wide Web. Limiting access in any way is likely not a good idea, whether purposeful or as a technological limitation.