Kindle Fire: Edu holy grail or one more DRM-ridden toy?

Kindle Fire: Edu holy grail or one more DRM-ridden toy?

Summary: We're so close I can taste it. But the business models and content just aren't there yet.

TOPICS: Hardware

I can't think of too many techies who weren't excited to get their Kindle Fires this week. Amazon's vast library of books and Apps (a decent subset of those available on the Android App Store as well as many available only on Amazon which seem to exclude large swaths of junk apps through which we would otherwise need to wade) on a $199 device can't be a bad thing, right? In fact, at $199, one can't help but get fired up at the prospect of getting inexpensive devices optimized for reading and interactive content consumption. I certainly did when Amazon first unveiled the device.

So where's the catch? It's light, relatively rugged, small enough to work for students from Kindergarten to grad school (and large enough to be useful for those older students), and runs all sorts of educational apps. And it's $199! Unfortunately, I think Audrey Waters over at Hack Education is probably right:

Now, I have no doubt that Amazon’s tablet will be a wildly successful commercial device, don’t get me wrong. Hell, as someone who’s a fairly loyal Amazon customer, I’ll probably buy one myself. But do I think that this is the tablet device schools have been waiting for? No. Not remotely. The price point may sound appealing, but those who are looking for a tech bargain here should read some of the fine print.

I actually still believe my original position on the Kindle Fire is correct: The technology in its Silk browser (privacy concerns aside) that leverages cloud computing power, the price point (which will keep dropping), and the form factor can absolutely enable some big leaps forward in 1:1 computing. The technology is in place and the distribution channels for the right content exists in Amazon's toolkit. However, there is a lot missing.

As Ms. Waters points out, Amazon's approach to DRM is fairly Draconian and absolutely doesn't lend itself to a K12 model:

I have to wonder, if schools adopt the Kindle Fire, does that means they are required to make all textbook purchases from Amazon? I think so, unless, of course, Amazon allows other booksellers to put apps on the device. I guess that’s possible. It also means that schools are using devices that do not support the ePUB open standard (or at least, Kindles currently do not handle ePUB. It is possible too that the Kindle Fire will allow other apps to do this.)

Up to 5GB of content (various document types, other than EPUB) can be stored on the Kindle Fire and get to it via email. In theory, teachers or schools could blast documents as attachments to every student's Kindle. However, CK12's FlexBooks, for example, often run in the hundreds of megabytes, making email distribution impossible.

That, by the way, would be the other catch: content distribution and management. Lending models are only vaguely supported and there is currently no good way to manage a large deployment of devices. Amazon has some very cool cloud-based means of synchronizing purchased content across devices and web dashboards for managing those devices, but these must be associated with an email account, not an enterprise model. Apple, by the way, hasn't exactly perfected this either, but they are much closer in terms of being able to deal efficiently with 1:1 iPad initiatives.

The Kindle Fire represents an important step in the evolution of digital content and delivery and I predict a lot of students (young and old) will be getting Fires for the holidays. That's great and I hope they bring them to school and read, interact, tweet, and otherwise engage with them. However, they won't be seeing the sorts of interactive or open textbooks that they need and educational technologists will struggle, as with many devices, to integrate them into the learning experience. And textbook publishers? I don't see too many of them knocking on Amazon's door for distribution deals and partnerships either.

We're getting there, folks...but we're not there yet. Not until Amazon (or some other distributor) makes some very serious overtures to e-learning with their DRM and distribution models.

Topic: Hardware

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • RE: Kindle Fire: Edu holy grail or one more DRM-ridden toy?

    We have 30 iPads to share amongst classes at a small K - 6 school, and are dealing with the same problem, in terms of data/document storage. Any suggestions that do not involve emailing documents to a virtual acct. ? We will likely go with Dropbox or a wiki (my preference) in the meantime. Thanks.
    M Becker
    Toronto District School Board
    • RE: Kindle Fire: Edu holy grail or one more DRM-ridden toy?

      I would consider our business kind of like a school. We use Google Doc's and input hundreds of line items a day. Doc's will accept almost any type of doc. which makes it nice for our company since we deal with many different customers and vendors that use different programs for their invoices etc. Our employees / Your Students, are put on Doc's user list so they can view documents. Permissions can be adjusted for each person using Doc's, from view only to full access to alter documents. Another neat thing is if more than one person is online viewing doc's and makes a change the other person can see the change and respond to it almost immediately. Microsoft also has a neat program in their Microsoft Essenials package that might help. Hope that helps. Gods Speed... RAD-----------P/S: They do make an app for smartphones so you have your doc's on the go..
    • RE: Kindle Fire: Edu holy grail or one more DRM-ridden toy?

      @Marcebeck I agree with ypsurdy - although the native Google Docs App for iOS was recently pulled for bug fixes, the web interface is very good on the iPad. I would definitely give Google Docs a look. Mac OS X server also has some facilities for this that I'm investigating as we speak after some initial problems with Lion Server (testing now with a fresh install).

      The wiki is never a bad idea either (and is also supported by Lion Server if you go that route).

  • Sideloading apps

    I thought you could easily sideload Google Android Market apps to the Kindle Fire as long as you had 1) an Android device with which to download the apps and 2) could move said app to the SD card (not sure why THAT matters if...) 3) you use a file manager like ASTRO to copy the apps from the device to a computer, and then to the Kindle.
    • RE: Kindle Fire: Edu holy grail or one more DRM-ridden toy?

      Somebody did a proof-of-concept putting the B&N Nook Android app on the Kindle.
  • Check out the OLPC's logistics/software record and a proposed open tablet.

    I am thinking some of the issues you are looking at in terms of content, infrastructure and the logistics of school-system (as in whole countries) level deployments might benefit from One Laptop Per Child's experiences. Check out their wiki: <a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a><br>Pay particular attention to the "Projects" section in the left column.<br><br>For hardware platforms, there is an interesting contribution on today's Slashdot forum on the topic of "Best tablet for running a real GNU/Linux Distribution" ( <a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a> ). The contributor, identified as "lkcl" ( <a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a> ), writing from an outfit named "Rhombus Tech", describes their effort to bring to market what seems to be the tablet equivalent of the OLPC XO, but more openly accessible to individuals as well as larger groups such as district-level school systems per the focus here. <br><br>lkcl seems to be describing a project, EOMA (Embedded Open Modular Architecture/PCMCIA), to take the Arduino ( <a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a> ) and Raspberry Pi ( <a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a> ) projects to the next level in terms of openly developed, "finished" tablets at an extremely low cost (from $80-130, or so, depending on hardware options chosen, such as resistive - my preference - or capacitive touch screens). lkcl seems to have a very good grasp of the myriad issues involved in putting such a design into production.<br><br>Check the links above to see if the OLPC experience combined with an open tablet concept such as the proposed EOMA could offer the potential you are seeking. <br><br>Heck, there is already a viable hardware option in the Barnes & Noble Nook Color (not the "Tablet"), which is at the same price point as the Kindle Fire, with some better specs in terms of bluetooth, and a hugely useful micro SDHC slot, and the proven, open CyanogenMod Android package that can be run and/or installed from a SD card.

  • RE: Kindle Fire: Edu holy grail or one more DRM-ridden toy?

    Very informative post. I'm heading to grad school, and I honestly think the best part of the Kindle Fire (which I have decided to get, in favor of iPad) will be the best option. I will have my hands on great internet, literature and research materials, without the millions of apps to distract me and waste valuable study time. Thanks for all the info!!
    James Keenan