Tablets in education raise a lot of questions. Amazon has an excellent answer

Technology is coming to the classroom. Tablets help kids learn. Tablets help teachers teach. Study and tests have consistently shown that when you deploy tablets in the classroom good things happen.

There are some technical and financial obstacles that are holding back these devices from massive adoption. As time moves on these obstacles are being overcome; in some cases they’re being shattered. The question of the day is whether it is Apple, or Amazon that can most effectively beat the competition and the impediments.

Financial

There are significant financial considerations for education to start adopting tablets. I’ve discussed with many teachers and tech admins how they plan to bring these devices into the classroom. Typically the budget simply doesn’t allow for a school-wide one-to-one iPad or even Kindle adoption. Instead, schools are planning to buy a few sets that can be rented by classrooms, or they plan to break the adoption out over time to purchase first one-to-one tablets for 5th and 6th grade classrooms (for example) and then slowly add sets for the younger grade classrooms over the following years.

Make no mistake: schools across the nation are going to invest heavily in this technology. They are going to start purchasing iPads or Kindles. The question is not if — it is when. The lowering costs will allow for a more swift adoption. A $169 Kindle is a very attractive offering compared to a $399 iPad 2. The cost of the iPad Mini may be much lower than the full size iPad, which will also help spur adoption in the classroom.

Technical

Consider the technical limitations: distribution of applications, wireless setup, and access restrictions/protection. Consider the management of bugs, breakage and troubleshooting devices with teachers and students.

Have you ever been in a classroom and seen the IT guy called in to set up a projector, or fix a computer. It’s not quick. Time is wasted. In the classroom, that time is precious.

Apple and Amazon both have answers to these problems. It seems, however, from the most recent announcement from Amazon, that Whispercast is a huge step in the right direction.

Whispercast

Whispercast allows Amazon to distribute content and applications to devices from the administrator. It allows administrators to set the Wi-Fi settings, and access restrictions without even picking up the Kindle.

The features of Whispercast are not technically all that impressive. They are, however, a step ahead of Apple’s solution set. For technology adoption in business and the classroom, that’s almost all you need to know.

The Microsoft Office Effect

In the 90s, business adoption of computers running Windows was driven heavily by the requirement for Microsoft Office. In order for co-workers to effectively collaborate on documents and files, they needed to use the same software. Apple didn’t have a good answer to Microsoft Office, and we all know how it turned out for them in that era.

Apple has turned their business around in a spectacular way. The iPad has a stronghold on marketshare for tablets. Amazon’s Kindle offering has been a beacon of hope for those who’d like to see tablets besides the iPad. The Kindle has yet to reach market-wide acceptance, but is Whispercast the new Microsoft Office?

Apple’s Move

You can put me down for an order of Claim Chowder on this: if Apple doesn’t respond to Whispercast, this could be the Microsoft Office of the tablet industry. Businesses and schools are going to eat up to Amazon’s new service. If Apple doesn’t have an equal response to make iPad management technical feasible in schools, it won’t matter that the iPad Mini costs the same as a Kindle Fire — the schools will buy the Kindle for Whispercast.

It’s an exciting time for technology in education. Competition is driving innovation. The outcome can only be good for students and teachers if Apple raises the iPad to the challenge.

Joshua Howland

Joshua is a mobile application developer, entrepreneur, and technology enthusiast. He is currently building a company that focuses on educational mobile applications: LearnStack. His favorite posts to write compare companies and products. He loves sports and start ups and talks about them (along with tech) on Twitter (@jkhowland) and his blog (jkhowland.me).

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