In a couple of weeks, I start a new job as a teacher, and my iPad mini will be one of my main tools for the job. I already used it during my teaching practice, and found that with the right knowledge of how to set up everything, it it ended up being an invaluable tool for the job. When it all comes down to it, however, what makes the iPad a great teaching tool is software, not hardware. In fact, when you look at the hardware of the iPad, you wouldn’t think the company behind it was focusing on education at all.
I tried all I could to make my now-sold Android tablet work for me during my teaching practice, but that experiment failed horribly. When looking at the apps I use on the iPad compared to what’s on Android, it would actually be easier for me to list the apps that there are in fact good equivalents for than to list the ones that there aren’t. It ranges from PDF viewers that are slow and unruly even on latest generation hardware to apps that there outright aren’t any equivalents to.
I’m not particularly happy about having to use an iPad because of this software issue, but what’s really starting to get to me is that it seems like both sides have agreed to let Apple have that market segment, and it has made both sides lazy. Apple simply seems to have taken the victory and decided that it’s proof that it’s doing everything right, and left it at that. There’s a lot that’s still very lacking on the iPad, and I’m afraid Apple has no incentive to fix it.
First off, there’s a handful of features that jailbroken iPads have that stock ones do not, but should. Mouse support is definitely one of them, as that’s the only feature missing to make iPads work beautifully with PC remote control software or with larger monitors. Another is USB host support, as I know that the inability to access a flash drive normally has been a huge issue for teachers who want to adopt the iPad. There will come a time when USB drives are no longer needed, but sadly, I don’t think we’re anywhere near that just yet.
The lack of a proper pen input device on the iPad is an issue that is starting to get rather embarrassing for Apple. Samsung has its entire Note series of devices with digitizer pens, and Sony is now introducing a device that can use any standard pencil. Those two are just two of many companies that make tablets with some sort of accurate pen input, but Apple is still very much absent from that club- despite it producing the tablet that arguable would have the most use for it. You can do a lot with a standard capacitive stylus on an iPad, especially thanks to clever software that gets around the inherent inaccurate nature of such input, but you can’t get around the fact that a proper solution would be better. In many ways, Apple is a paper manufacturer that only produces paper that requires you to use large permanent markers on it, and one that’s becoming the only supplier that matters in the industry. When you think of it like that, it really does sound ridiculous.
I’m also not all that impressed with Apple’s display connection systems. Compared to many other tablet manufacturers, the iPad’s support for VGA (via an adapter), HDMI, and the Apple TV is impressive. When you look at it from the perspective of someone trying to use it in the classroom, however, it’s much less so. What I would like is a version of the Apple TV that’s designed specifically to be a wireless display adapter, and be that under any circumstance. It should have VGA output in addition to HDMI, the ability to generate its own wireless network for the iPad to connect to, and the ability to pass through both cabled and wireless connections via its own wireless access point. Preferably, it should also have NFC, to allow devices to connect to it instantly. I want to come into a classroom, hold my iPad to that room’s receiver, and instantly be connected to it and the normal network at the same time. No TV menus, no manual connections, no network security requirements, just something that works straight away, all the time. Right now you’re stuck with a cabled dongle the size of the iPad mini itself for most situations, unless you’re lucky enough that you can actually use a TV accessory to make the connection. It shouldn’t be that way, not in 2013 when the only obstacle for making something like this is to put it together.
I could go on, but I think I’ve gotten my point across. The iPad is essentially a consumer device that happened to become good for education thanks to third party software, which Apple then took advantage of when it increased its own software focus on education a couple of years ago. It’s still unwilling to make drastic changes to the iPad for the sake of education, however, and that’s a problem. Other companies wouldn’t hesitate to build on this part of iPad sales with a dedicated model for education, but Apple isn’t a company that likes to fragment its products. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but in this case, not so much.