Two Years Later

Two years gone by, with two kids having moved through sixth grade, and the conclusion is the same.  iPads are awesome (especially the new iPad Pro models!).  But not as a with-you-always-instead-of-a-laptop device for electronic education in middle school.

Playing games, awesome.  Simple simulations, fun, but probably more appropriate for elementary school kids.  Drawing — now that the iPad Pro’s are out with the Apple Pencil — is amazing.  Video watching, very convenient.  eBook reading, wonderful.  Surfing the Internet, perfect. But, in fact, the video watching and social media are a huge distraction all day long.  So much so that our middle school had to issue a directive to ban social media apps.

But — writing an essay on an iPad is frustrating (even with a bluetooth keyboard), and it led to our kids trying to write less, and writing more simplistically.  Working on a spreadsheet with more than five numbers or with a complicated mathematical expression is an awful experience.  Using a finger to write answers on a PDF math worksheet is also an exercise in frustration (though that may improve with the new Pencil).

Bottom line:  Just use laptops. Really.


Today’s tech-addicted kids are stuck in a world of distraction | New York Post


Teachers in Maine say iPads ‘provide no educational function in the classroom’

According to Business Insider, a school committee in Maine recently presented a study that showed teachers and students in grades 7 through 12 overwhelmingly favor laptops over iPads.

Last week, a technology director for Auburn district schools presented a study that indicated that students and teachers in grades 7 through 12 overwhelmingly favor laptops over iPads, reports the Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal.

But the most surprising part of the study is how some of the teachers and students feel about iPads.

One teacher cited by the study said that the iPads “provide no educational function in the classroom. Students use them as toys,” adding that word processing is “near to impossible.”

One teacher even said “the iPads are a disaster.”

Students weren’t much more positive, according to the Sun Journal“WE NEED LAPTOPS!!!” one student reportedly wrote three times in the study. 

In fact, Maine schools districts will soon be offering a laptop for iPad replacement program.

As we’ve written many times before, iPads for middle (and high) schoolers are too limited for real word processing, programming, and spreadsheet usage, and end up being used primarily for social media and watching videos.  Laptops are a vastly superior choice for electronic education above elementary school.

One Year Later

Well, it’s about time to wrap up this blog.  One year has gone by, and we can summarize the experience of our 6th grader with a single direct quote:

“I’d rather have a laptop”

There you have it.  Over the past year, almost nothing in the 6th grade curriculum required a tablet interface, and lot of the curriculum could have benefited from a laptop.

For those entering 6h grade this year, here is some advice from our middle school iPad veteran:  “16GB is not enough memory, buy more.  You need to buy a bluetooth keyboard because the virtual keyboard is too small and typing on glass is hard.  Don’t bother with a stylus, it often doesn’t register. Your finger is actually better.  My Homework is easy to access on the web from a laptop.”

Finally, here’s a repost of some content from last Spring:

Our experience continues to be that the iPad is a very poor device for entering content.  Our 6th grader struggles to use word processing programs for anything beyond extremely rudimentary tasks.  Typing large amounts of text, copy-paste, adding graphics, or doing complicated formatting are all extremely tedious on the iPad (and any other touch tablet).  Spreadsheets and graphs are so simplified as to be nearly useless.  The smaller tablet screen adds to the problem, both visually and by exacerbating the limitations of the touch interface.  A laptop computer is a much better device for content generation, and manipulation of data on screen.

Second, the incredible growth in personal electronic devices means that many families already have smart phones and tablets, often with more powerful processors and greater memory than the school model.  In addition, upgrade cycles are now incredibly short, and many devices get replaced every two years.  After three years, a device is essentially obsolete for the most cutting edge applications.  Long gone are the days when computer equipment could be treated as a relatively long-lived capital asset.  Personal computing is now an ongoing expense.

Bottom line, the best device for real learning — even in 6th grade — is a laptop or laptop-tablet hybrid.  And the best way to run the program is to simply design the curriculum so that it is web-based and platform agnostic.  Nearly every useful tool we’ve seen to date is available as a laptop or web-based (platform agnostic) option.  Essentially no applications require a tablet interface.

Note that full-powered laptops can now be purchased for $450 or less, and Chromebooks are available for under $300 — significantly less expensive and yet more capable than iPads.  Mandating iPads for middle school was a mistake.

What’s happening to iPads?

Apple Device Interest

Sales of Apple’s iPads have begun to decline, with double digit drops in unit sales year over year.  Interest in the devices as judged by Google searches has noticeably dropped (red line).   If the historical record for the iPod (blue line) is any guide, iPads may be about to enter a long term decline.   This week, in fact, iPod devices were quietly relegated to the accessory shelves in the back of Apple stores, a sign that they aren’t worth the cost of prime table space any more.  Their complete disappearance may not be far off.  Will iPads follow a similar drop in sales, possibly in the context of tablets becoming a commodity item?     Will a touch screen come to the Macbook lineup?

In contrast, iPhone unit sales and interest (yellow line) remain high.  For many people around the globe, an iPhone (or other smart phone) has become their only computing device.  In fact, both iPhone (+35%) and Mac computer (+8%) sales are up while iPads are down about 20% year over year for the last three quarters.  iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+ can handle a lot of computing, gaming, and media consumption, and you still need a real laptop for serious content generation  —  leading one to wonder what is the future role of the iPad in the Apple ecosystem?

Meanwhile, Apple’s watch has only just launched (green line) and has a long way to go before it generates significant revenue.

(cross posted from

Tablets Lose Their Luster at This Year’s Computex Trade Show

New Phablet at Computex

Photo credit: Aries Poon/The Wall Street Journal

From the Wall Street Journal:

Tablets, once hailed as a savior of the struggling personal-computer industry, were further sidelined at this year’s largest computer trade show in Asia.

At Computex this week,  PC makers Acer Inc. and Asustek Computer Inc. showcased more large-screen smartphones known as phablets and 2-in-1 hybrid laptops with a detachable display that can turn into a tablet.

Consumers are flocking to phablets — a crossover between a smartphone and tablet–with screens measuring between 5.5 inches and 7 inches. Many standalone tablets, such as Microsoft’s Surface, are connected to the Internet via only Wi-Fi or bluetooth, rendering them stay-at-home devices and not truly mobile compared to smartphones. IDC predicts that between 2014 and 2019, global shipment of phablets will quadruple to more than 600 million units. That will overshadow an expected 51% growth expected between 2014-2019 of smartphone shipments and 17% for tablets and hybrid laptops combined, IDC said.

The rise of 2-in-1 laptops and cheaper notebook computers have also undercut tablet growth, especially among business and education users.

“Tablets are… evolving into phablets and two-in-ones,” said ST Liew, an Acer president overseeing smartphone, tablet and smart-device businesses.

Read the whole article.  Tablet growth has stalled, as consumers go for true mobility phones/phablets or heavy duty content-generation laptop/desktops.  It remains to be seen if 2-in-1 hybrids will gain much traction among the general population.

Needham Town Meeting Approves iPad Purchasing Plan

Needham Town Meeting officially approved the plan for the School District to purchase iPads for incoming sixth graders.  More details at the Needham Times.

L.A. School District Terminates iPad Program and Seeks Refund from Apple

 As reported by, the L.A. Unified school district iPad program is DONE.  After a series of program missteps and technical glitches, not to mention some conflict of interest issues, the district is completely abandoning its iPad program.

Not only that, but the school board is considering litigation against Apple and the curriculum designer, according to the LA Times.

You can read more at Slate, or get complete coverage at the LA Times.

Needham school board approves purchase option for iPads

As reported in the Needham Times, the Needham School Committee has approved a budget request that includes a plan to purchase iPads, thus relieving middle school parents of the obligation to personally fund the program.  Final approval of the budget is scheduled to occur at Town Meeting, coming up next month.

Google, Microsoft battle drives down prices for PCs, tablets

Cheaper Computers

New lower Microsoft Surface prices are coming, and Google Chromebook laptops are now down to $149, according to the Associated Press.