The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

Summary: This isn't about hardware. It's about price, ecosystem, and some very exciting new web tech built into the Fire's browser.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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I've never been a big Kindle advocate in education. The lack of color and interactivity prevented it from ever being the tool of choice for textbooks that many initially hoped it would be. Amazon even had an ill-fated large-format Kindle DX that it marketed largely in the education space. Kindle apps on mobile devices and the web were definitely on the right track because the potential was there for next-gen electronic textbooks on converged devices that would resonate with students.

The much-anticipated, Android-based Kindle Fire, however, is finally the tablet for 1:1 use in schools. The price is clearly spot on. $199 is far easier to stomach for schools than anything else on the market, it's a full Android tablet (there's that convergence I was talking about), its 7" form factor means that it fits in any bag easily and small hands can hold it just as easily as high school- and college-sized hands, and, most importantly, the new Silk browser that Amazon introduced today has the potential to deliver an entirely new generation of web-based tablet applications.

Sure, the 7" form factor makes content creation a little tougher. This has been Intel's very valid reason for holding back on a true tablet and using their convertible netbooks to give students built-in access to a keyboard. Virtual keyboards on 7" screens don't exactly invite touch typing. They do invite touch, though, making visual content creation (especially with a dual-core processor like the ones featured on the Fire or Dell's Streak) an inviting prospect. Portability, though, at 7", is the key. These can move with students for field studies, micromobility, and truly ubiquitous access to the Internet at a price almost too cheap to pass up. Have you ever seen a 7-year old holding an iPad 2? It's a little scary.

It isn't so much the tablet that has me excited. The price is exciting, but the hardware is nothing new. Speedy tablets are now fairly commonplace. What really has me excited is the Silk browser that Amazon also announced this morning. Essentially, the Fire stays connected to Amazon's EC2 cloud computing infrastructure all the time:

Amazon EC2 is always connected to the backbone of the Internet where round-trip latency is 5 milliseconds or less to most web sites rather than the 100 milliseconds that’s typical over wireless connections. AWS also has peering relationships with major internet service providers, and many top sites are hosted on EC2. This means that many web requests will never leave the extended infrastructure of AWS, reducing transit times to only a few milliseconds.

And there's the rub. My own company hosts its virtual classroom application on EC2. So do countless other SaaS providers in the education space and beyond. Imagine the sorts of integrations and rich applications that can be delivered right to the Fire in ways that can't happen with other browsers. Here's a video from Amazon explaining how Silk works:

The traffic optimizations will also allow schools deploying hundreds of these devices to give students great performance on their Fires without drastic increases in bandwidth and infrastructure. Thus, when software companies want to deliver incredibly rich applications to a mobile browser (many of which would choke on most mobile devices now, requiring Apps for a decent experience), a partnership with Amazon means a high-speed, optimized experience right in the Fire's browser.

This sort of extended application beyond snappy web browsing hasn't been announced yet, but it's only a matter of time before, for example, a major publishing company sells textbooks through Amazon for use on the Fire and hooks in powerful interactive web applications for assessment, tutoring, or simulations, all on a little 7" device that fits in any students backback. As Amazon points out, the computing power of EC2 is nearly limitless, so what can it do to deliver previously impossible applications to a tablet (or to 900 tablets in a school)?

What could an LMS look like without bandwidth considerations or compatibility issues on a mobile browser? What about data aggregation and analysis from student assessments administered on Kindle fires, available in real time to instructors? Student collaboration applications? I can think of more than a few ways that partnerships between e-learning companies and Amazon could make for revolutionary uses of tablets in schools that just wouldn't be practical on any other tablet (or, for that matter, on a desktop browser)?

And, in case anyone hasn't noticed, Amazon has a pretty strong distribution channel. There is a new business model here for educational software companies and both cost savings and highly disruptive tools to be had for schools. I pre-ordered my Fire today. Talk back below and let your imaginations run wild: What novel applications would you like to see that EC2, the Fire, and its new browser might make possible?

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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20 comments
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  • Well, I've seen these promises before...

    Much as I love the idea of seeing the Kindle being used for education, I've seen similar promises before for different pieces of technology. Quite frankly, tech from a few years ago could have brought education much, much higher, but until attitudes and budgets change, I don't think the Fire will make waves.
    But, I could be wrong. If Amazon markets it to schools, perhaps some educators will catch on, and soon others begin following their examples. There's really just no telling.
    Jourdy288
    • RE: The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

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  • The Fire is about selling content

    If Amazon can't make money selling content through the Fire there will be no reason for them to subsidize the price. Selling a boat load to schools, who then make their own content, doesn't sound like a big win for Amazon.
    GoPower
    • RE: The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

      @GoPower
      Schools buy books. If they now buy them from Amazon for reading on the Fire than that is a win for Amazon.
      dsousa@...
  • Wait would you actually let your students browse using the silk cloud?

    No school should adopt these if that's not disabled at a system policy level. Amazon has no business tracking minors.
    Johnny Vegas
    • RE: The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

      @Johnny Vegas
      +1
      Ram U
    • RE: The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

      @Johnny Vegas Cause none of those universities are using gmail or other cloud services...
      tbuck@...
  • RE: The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

    check this out to see an amazing example of an app for the new Kindle Fire

    weboffices.com/nightorday1
    literactivity
    • Amazing? I think you mean &quot;amazingly boring&quot;?

      @literactivity. Your "amazing" app is slow loading, hard to follow, excessively preachy and has a look-and-feel that you must have lifted from the early 1990's. <br><br>Also, have you actually tried reading your "amazing example" on a 1024 x 600 pixel screen? TBH, it's only use would be to teach students how to use scroll bars!<br><br>So, next time you feel the urge to indulge in forum spam, please try to find something a bit more interesting to spam it with! ;-)
      mrgoose
  • RE: The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

    As a District Tech Director, I am anxious to get my hands on one of these to see what it can do in a school environment. I decided that I could not justify a $500 Ipad when I could get a netbook for $300 which fufilled more needs. However a tablet for $200 may be worthwhile depending on it's limitations. I am concerned that it might be too geared to just buying Amazon content however and not educational needs.
    dsousa@...
    • Agreed

      @dsousa@... yes, if we can't have the school systems controlling the content, then it won't work. This has to be a "schoolwork only" device or it's just another Nintendo-like distraction. I would love to know what you end up thinking about the Kindle Fire. Please see my post below in reply to Isocrates (apx 2-3 posts below yours) because I am extremely serious about taking this forward in a robust way.
      macadi63
  • RE: The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

    I posted about this yesterday on G+. I think that the education market is sorely lacking. Districts are purchasing expensive smartboards, ipod touches/ipads, netbook/laptop mobile labs and even kindles for textbooks. This is one inexpensive device that could easily take the place of them all. The key is that Amazon needs to use this form factor and make some modifications to market it to school districts. In the past, many of the ed apps have been Apple. We need to see a huge jump in the availability of apps. Textbooks need to be readily available. The parental controls need to be simple and extremely secure so the devices are easy to lockdown. They need bluetooth and the ability to connect to both HD tv and digital projectors. (I haven't looked at their stats re output). It would be incredibly simple to make a few small modifications and market this to schools, and really even to parents. The big thing I think is the ability to lock it down. Sharing books is another part of it-- the library needs to be able to lend books to students via the device. This is absolutely the right price point and form factor for elementary students though.
    herc0923
    • RE: The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

      @herc0923
      Yes, there is definetely a need to lock down some features for school use. If the school owns the device I don't want students able to purchase and download videos to it.
      dsousa@...
    • G+

      @herc0923 can you tell me how to get to your posting on G+? And, please see my reply to Isocrates (look 2 postings below your posting here on ZDNet). I want to collaborate on this topic --- very serious about moving it forward.
      macadi63
  • RE: The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

    Please can authors expand their acronyms (AWS, LMS) for those of us who speak english. Thank you.
    Mi_kef
  • RE: The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

    Like you, I was more 'impressed' with Amazon Silk for its ability to support EXISTING Web 2.0 services on behalf of education. I had NO idea about SaaS-based learning services in the cloud so WHERE can we learn more about what is possible TODAY so we can join you in dreaming about tomorrow?
    tom@...
  • RE: The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

    I've seen students doing great things with 3" screens on smart phones and iTouches. I believe that the main draw-back of the Kindle Fire for 1:1 education will be the lack of microphone and camera.
    KaestnerR
  • @Chris - Sneaky way to get uncompensated product ideas

    ??? Online, real-time direct connect between students' Kindles and their teacher's / instructor's dashboard located on school server
    ??? Online, real-time lectures
    ??? Online, real-time interactive teaching using Kindles for questions and answers, feedback, etc.
    ??? Presentations / interactive presentations / real-time interactive presentations fed to each Kindle in-classroom and remotely as well as through online coursework
    ??? Discussion boards / interactive in-class and remote real-time discussions (?? la "texting")
    ??? Real-time testing and instant grading for T/F and M-Choice questions
    ??? Course texts and course-specific additional reading materials feeds
    ??? Online, real-time student evaluations
    ??? Online, real-time student grade books
    ??? Online, real-time student-specific tutoring / coaching

    Those ten are more than enough free ideas for you. (Attribution would be nice.)
    Isocrates
  • @Chris - Sneaky way to get uncompensated product ideas

    &#149; Online, real-time direct connect between students' Kindle Fires and their teacher's / instructor's dashboard located on school server
    &#149; Online, real-time lectures
    &#149; Online, real-time interactive teaching using Kindles for questions and answers, feedback, etc.
    &#149; Presentations / interactive presentations / real-time interactive presentations fed to each Kindle Fire in-classroom and remotely as well as through online coursework
    &#149; Discussion boards / interactive in-class and remote real-time discussions (a la "texting")
    &#149; Real-time testing and instant grading for T/F and M-Choice questions
    &#149; Course texts and course-specific additional reading materials feeds
    &#149; Online, real-time student evaluations
    &#149; Online, real-time student grade books
    &#149; Online, real-time student-specific tutoring / coaching

    Those 10 are more than enough free ideas for you. (Attribution would be nice.)
    Isocrates
    • RE: The Kindle Fire will enable the next generation of 1:1 education apps

      @Isocrates Gosh, this is EXACTLY what I was hoping to do with zero clients as a start-up business --- to service homes and/or schools. I have been drawing up the business plan for a mere 8 weeks as I finish up my MBA here (undergrad work in Computer Science, 20+ years industry experience in IT).

      I actually said to someone 2 weeks ago that I was "worried" that the Kindle would beat me to it. Do you or ANYONE have any spiffy ideas on how I can get ahead of this curve and/or work with the book companies and/or Kindle to take this forward? I'm an entrepreneur and would love to help out our local public school system here. I'm a big believer in public education (and trying to save it for the sake of our country's future).

      Where I live, we are going through a merger of 2 huge school systems and the cost savings of trashing the old IT systems and going with the new/innovative would probably justify buying every child one of these Kindle Fires --- provided the Kindle could be converted to a "schoolwork ONLY" device --- with no way to hack the thing --- and I mean NO way to hack it. My genius son has driven me crazy in finding ways to hack his PC (proxy servers, flash drives, you name it) and, quite frankly, I'm sick of it and the PC viruses (and I'm technically savvy, so I know the other parents must be pulling out their hair).

      I know we can even have online document mgmt so parents/teachers/students can view the workstream of homework, have online post-it notes for comments from teachers, etc. This isn't hard, people!! We just have to DO it. And, p.s. we really do need to have artificial intelligence around the "parental controls" (or "school controls", as it may be) so it truly is a "schoolwork only" device.

      Anyone who likes these ideas from Isocrates, me, others ---- please shoot me an email at mdischler at live dot com and let's work together to save public education.

      Again, I have been an IT software consultant for years for Fortune 100's and just want to help out the public schools now (or the parents who send their kids to them) and/or, at least, my own kids! We are very close to making this a reality --- online textbooks, indeed, are key.

      I don't want to waste my time on this business idea if Kindle is just going to trump me. So, someone give me a clue if I'm wasting my time and they are 1000 feet ahead of me. I just want it done and I would love it if I could be a part of it and make a modest return on it --- not looking to get rich on this one. It is what we need to do to bring this generation forward to compete with China, India, etc. I firmly feel that we are losing a grip globally in the math, science sectors in particular. This sort of innovation, designed properly, can propel us back into the forefront like we had back during the early days of Apollo moon missions.
      macadi63