There is a lot of potential for tablets in the classroom.  I’m not ready to see them as full desktop replacements but that time is coming very quickly.  In a day school, where students have access to desktops in the classroom and at home, I see them as a very good fit.  But remember that the iPad is a brand of tablet.  The question should first be answered is whether a tablet the right fit for my classroom/school, then the question should be which brand fits my needs the best.

Tablet Advantages

  • Small, Portable
  • Textbooks in an easy to access format
  • Lots of features and apps

Tablet Disadvantages

  • No keyboard (you can add a bluetooth keyboard but it’s and additional cost and takes up more space)
  • Under powered compared to a laptop or desktop. You can do many basic things (video and photo editing for example) but you can’t use the full powered programs like Photoshop, inDesign, Premier, or CAD.
  • Poor support for system wide security, shared drives, shared printers, and limiting access.  Doing these things usually takes additional software and often doesn’t go smoothly.
If you don’t need the power then tablets are great tools.  But if you need more that and screen viewer and basic editor then laptops should still be a consideration.  They are larger but for the cost different they give you many more capabilities.
There are many brand options out there for tablets and those options will be growing exponentially in the coming months.
  • The iPad has been the buzz of the town as Apple has led the way with some high quality hardware.
  • The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a clear contender with the Android platform.  Samsung is giving the iPhone a run for its money with the Galaxy S III (in-depth review) launching this month and has proven themselves to be produce a quality product.  The Android platform has also matured and built a strong user base.
  • Windows 8.  I’ll talk about the significance of this later.  For now there are two strong player emerging for hardware (there will be more): Lenovo ThinkPad and Asus.

There are two industry moves that are significant indicators of the future.  First is Windows 8.  Already there are a lot of strong opinions about the new Windows 8 Metro UI (User Interface) but what is most important to understand is that Microsoft has looked to the future of technology and realized that the tablet and touch user interface wave is just getting started.  It is very significant that a company the size of Microsoft would make that deep of a change to it’s flagship product based on that vision of the future. The second move may have been less noticed.  Google just bought QuickOffice Pro.  This, along with rumors of Microsoft Office versions for the iOS and Android markets, tells us how important office applications will be to the tablet phone market.

While the iPad has led the industry and dominated the new cycles, it is important to remember that the tablet market is still very young and the options are just now beginning to be seen.  There is very big competition war brewing between Google (Android), Apple (iOS), and Microsoft (Windows 8). The winners of this war will be the consumer.

If you are looking at the iPad for your classroom I would recommend two options.

  • Don’t rush into it.  In a year from now the tablet market will be very different with a lot more options for the educator.  This isn’t the time to rush into the tablet market.
  • Be flexible.  If (or when) you do move forward, keep your options open for the future. What may be the right choice for you now, may not be the same in 2-3 years when you are ready to replace your tablet fleet.  Learn to use the iPad or tablet of our choice in ways that are not platform dependent. Your ability to adapt to various systems (iOS, Android, or Windows) will allow you to have the best tools to impact your students.

Footnote:  Here’s a list of mobile device management (MDM) tools. No mater what platform you choose, being able to manage will be very important to your success.