Celebrity Smackdown: iPad vs. Laptop
by Richard White
It’s a simple question, really. You’re a forward-thinking guy or gal, and you’re thinking about updating the hardware at your school, or perhaps even getting into a 1-to-1 program, or a Bring Your Down Device agreement with your student body.
What do you do: go with iPads, or laptops?
Before we break this down, let me give you my qualifications, in case you were worried. I have a tendency to favor Apple-based solutions for many situations, both for the high-build quality of their hardware and the relative stability, reliability, and ease-of-use of their software. I have a MacBook Pro that I run OS X on, although I’ve also run Windows 7 on that machine as well. I have a PC desktop at home running Ubuntu, and a Lenovo netbook (x100e, no CD/DVD drive) that I run Windows 7 and Ubuntu on. My cellphone is an iPhone 4, and I waited in line for the original iPad, and purchased the “iPad 3” when it came out.
Another point of reference: I work at a school that officially supports both Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X machines. That same school currently uses classroom carts of machines–PCs, Macs, and iPads–to give students access to computers on an as-needed basis.
I’ve been accused of being an Apple fan-boy, and am somewhat guilty as charged. But what about this iPad vs. laptops showdown? If you only had one device to buy, which would it be?
|Time to wake from sleep||~ 1 second||3-10 seconds|
|Battery life||~ 10 hours||1 – 4 hours|
|Availability of applications||Many, most modified to run on the iPad. Available only through iTunes.||Many, with availability of certain titles dependent on operating system|
|Interface usability||Touch interface, not suitable for extended typing. External keyboards available.||Keyboard and trackpad, with usability dependent on keyboard size, manufacturer.|
|File management||No access to file system. Apps may have some ability to share files, but third-party solutions (Dropbox, Air Sharing, etc.) necessary to move files around.||Organizing and moving files done with operating system.|
|Cost||Base model: $499||Varies depending on manufacturer, model. (Lenovo G570, 15.6″ screen, i5 processor, 8G RAM, 750G HDD, Windows 7 Home Premium = $569 sale price)|
|Security||Applications heavily policed by Apple, Inc and sandboxed. No user access to filesystem.||OS X relatively safe, Windows typically requires running anti-virus software.|
|Strengths||Near instantaneous wake from sleep and outstanding battery life. Listening to music, surfing the Internet, reading PDFs, are all dead easy straight out of the box.||Does everything, conforms to current paradigm of computing. Easily customizable. Runs Flash and Java applications.|
|Weaknesses||No “real” keyboard. Programs limited in availability (Microsoft Office suite not currently available) or function (Photoshop Touch doesn’t have full feature set). Doesn’t allow access to file system. Can’t display Flash files or run Java applications.||Relatively limited battery life. Use requires knowing how to navigate the operating system, manage files.|
Does that clear things up? At my school, for some teachers the iPads have literally transformed the way they conduct their classes, with students reading course handouts on them, writing papers on them, uploading them to the instructor via Dropbox, and the instructor annotating their work and returning it to them via email.
For other teachers, the iPad is a non-starter. The Physics classes are unable to run Java-based animations, and the programming class is unable to launch a Terminal or write Python programs.
My recommendation for teachers is that use cases be examined very carefully. For all the talk of a “post-PC world” with “cloud-based storage,” we’re not there yet. As an educator who, in addition to teaching subject-area content is also helping students master the technological tools that they’ll use in college and in business, I strongly feel that there’s so much more to technology than pointing and tapping. Students who are unable to right-click, or “Save As…”, or create a new folder for organizing their files, haven’t been well served.
iPads satisfy some needs for some teachers, it’s clear, and may be part of the educational technology equation for some schools. For an institution with limited resources, however, money will be better spent on laptops. And for schools considering a “one device to one child” program, committing to the iPad–the device du jour–is, in my opinion, short-sighted.