Will the new Kindles change the game for tablets in education?

Will the new Kindles change the game for tablets in education?

Summary: The short answer? No. No it won't. And the ecosystem is to blame.

TOPICS: Amazon

The pundits have spoken. Amazon hit a homerun with its new Kindles. 8.9" is just right. Performance is going to rock. Exchange support is top notch. And the pricing? It's a game-changer.

I've already had people asking me what I think of it for education. A fast, cheap tablet with easy access to more books than students can ever read, including a growing selection of electronic textbooks seems like a no-brainer, right? I wish. Unfortunately, Amazon's ecosystem (or lack thereof) outside the land of Amazon is going to get in the way.

In fairness, Amazon is getting closer, particularly in higher ed because the 8.9" Fire HD really is an awesome form factor to toss into a backpack or carry anywhere and Amazon has quite a large selection of college textbooks ported to the Kindle. Amazon also has a growing number of Kindle textbooks for rent and your notes are retained even after the rental period expires. Of course, if your instructor picks a textbook that Amazon doesn't carry, most likely, you're out of luck. There's no Android Play Store, after all, from which to download alternative textbook apps.

And there's the beginning of the Amazon's educational ecosystem problems. Obviously, Bezos, et al, have a vested interest in students buying their textbooks from Amazon. Jeff Bezos also made it clear that Amazon will make its money on content purchases, not from its loss-leading tablets. However, it's the rare professor or university department that chooses textbooks based on their availability on Amazon.

In K12, though, the situation is much worse. College students are accustomed to purchasing their own books but in K12, the model is very different and no one, least of all Amazon, has come up with a model for licensing e-textbooks that make sense in this market.

In the same way, aside from textbooks, the sheer volume of apps and external hardware available on iOS and Android make the Kindles a tougher sell in education. For Amazon, it's the Amazon App Store or nothing. Even Apple is slightly more open than this in terms of software for iOS, although its overwhelming lead in existing educational apps gives it one heck of a head start anyway.

Similarly, there is a reason that Intel chose Android for its Studybook reference tablet: the great educational apps and hardware that members of the Intel Learning Series Alliance have developed on the open platform exemplify the idea of ecosystem.

Amazon? Not so much. The Kindle Fire (HD or not, awesome consumer iPad fighter or not) is plagued by the same problems as the original Kindle in this respect. When the original Kindle first came on the scene, school administrators, school committee members, and other educational bureaucrats jumped on them as a way to revolution the textbook market and student access to books and texts. We've seen how far that went.

Imagine what Amazon could do if they partnered with major educational publishers and announced a new site-licensing model that provided the benefits of traditional textbooks in terms of re-use, sharing, and cost savings for K12 schools? Or partnered with Intel to deliver the innovative third-party hardware and software solutions coming out of the Learning Series Alliance? Then we could talk about changing the game in education.

Until then, Amazon has released a super-cool consumer device that college students should give thought to when they're looking at a tablet for back-to-school this month. It will take a revolutionary approach to keep Apple and, to a lesser extent, Android, at bay. John Martellaro summed it up nicely over at Mac Observer. I'm no Apple fanboi, but I think he hit the nail on the head:

Apple’s 7-inch entry is much more likely to not only meet those devices on their own terms, but also become much more favored in K-12 education where the price, retail store support, software and seriousness factor will be unbeatable.

Topic: Amazon

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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  • What we need is for the schools to set an open e-book standard

    so that any compliant reader on any platform can use it and any publisher can make the content available via any store, including putting up their own. There is absolutely zero value add buy amazon or apple or anyone else and no reason taxpayer money should be given to apple as a 30% cut for nothing. These e-books are laughably cheap to produce and distribute from the digital formats that already exist used to publish the paper form. Take out the cost of printing, warehousing, trucking, etc. and these e-books should be a couple bucks, including future corrections. Get on that and see which vendor produces the best conforming e-reader with the nicest features for underlining, notes, etc. I'll bet you'd have apple, ms, google, and falling all over themselves to produce the best one and include it for free just to get a cut of the hw/os sales. And pubs could eliminate the apples/amazons if they chose to host their own stores. There's great room to take great taxpayer cost out of the system and still have the authors, publishers, schools, and students all win. Spec the format, spec the licensing for legal transfer and or sale from student to student and school to school and let the winning for everyone begin.
    Johnny Vegas
    • There's nothing "open" about the current textbook business

      It's a system entirely ruled by graft and politics. An open standard and lower cost of entry would immediately threaten the stranglehold that a handful of publishers have on the textbook market. No cost benefit is going to make up for that loss of control, so there is no "win-win" solution for them unless their de facto monopoly is codified in law to prevent anybody else from entering the market using the "open" standard.
      terry flores
    • There is a bigger issue . . .

      . . . and that is uncontrolled advertising on Kindle Fires that cannot be disabled or removed. That alone should be enough to stop Kindle Fires being used by schools!

  • Different hardware platforms required platform specific software - why

    would e-books prove differently? (An example - for the longest time Autodesk's AutoCAD was only available on the Window's platform. If you wished to use AutoCAD, you needed a MS compatible PC.)

    Until standardization takes place in the educational markets, different platform tablet hardware will be required for different ebooks.

    Yes - I'm aware of the cost factors involved and public school systems will need to make a platform choice for their students that, in all probability, would dictate the choice of a single hardware/software platform.

    However, for higher education or private school systems, there is the "brute force" solution available.

    Fortunately, if it was required, a student attending higher educational institutions "could" store a Kindle Fire HD, A Kindle Paperwhite (really, the Paperwhite at 119 dollars is the going cost of an average single University textbook) and an iPad or an iPad Mini easily in a backpack.

    Yes, once again, I'm aware of the cost! But the tablet hardware cost over four years supporting multiple tablet platforms could be financed for less than the cost of traditional textbooks over that same four year period.

    It's not a perfect solution. The only advantage it offers is unparalleled access to a world wide software app and ebook database.
    • Not a good example in that

      AutoCad is a poor example as that is a complex program, and requires major work developing to run on a platform, so Autodesk choose the most popular one.

      Yet it can import DXF files from programs running on different systems.

      So it is not hard to develop ebook files that will run on different software programs on different hardware platforms.

      You just need the desire to do so, as ebook software has no reason to be a study in complex programming.
      John Zern
  • There is a standard already...

    Adobe PDF. There are readers and devices for virtually every platform, and this gets around having a specific eReader, tablet, smartphone, or PC/Mac. The eBook idea @ College textbook level is not going to get cheaper due to the margin protection from McGraw-Hill, John Wiley, Pearson, et cetera.
    • Re: There is a standard already...

      Adobe PDF doesn’t reflow to different screen sizes. That’s why e-book formst like EPUB were invented.
      • Textbooks are not

        Novels. Layout is an important part of presenting the information. Textbooks require large screens.
  • Textbooks with ads you can't shut off.

    What do they teach kids? To become copious consumers.
  • Tablets are just another toy that schools dont need

    but will purchase anyways, and then pass the bill on to the taxpayers.
  • What kind of ecosystem are you talking about?

    The author said "I'm no Apple fanboi, but I think he hit the nail on the head:

    Apple’s 7-inch entry is much more likely to not only meet those devices on their own terms, but also become much more favored in K-12 education where the price, retail store support, software and seriousness factor will be unbeatable.

    Now that comes off as what an Apple fanboi would (and actually might) like believe.

    But do people really want to limit themselves to a crippled Apple ecosystem, which locks you in?

    Where the only meager offerings are "there's an app for that".

    Whereas, with Amazon, you've got millions of offerings, that do NOT lock you in. Amazon was in business well before Apple came up with the single General Store in town.

    So what 'ecosystem' are you talking about Apple fanboi?

    I wish that so-called technical journalism would improve its abysmal level of technical competence, and cater towards unbiased and informative reports, instead of catering to advertising cash-flow.
  • Textbooks In The US Seem To Be Big Scam

    I hear stories about new "editions" being brought out year to year, just different enough to stop students reusing secondhand copies. Combine this with the usual e-book restrictions on lending and sharing' availability across different markets, high prices compared to paper versions etc, and I don't see this working out well for the students at all.
  • Tablets, Smart Phones, Laptops, Lectures and Learning

    Technology (content delivery tools) are becoming more sophisticated and smaller.

    If individual long term learning of critical must know information is your educational priority;

    Where individual, long term, critical must know learning, = Appropriate, Professionally Facilitated: initial understanding, ongoing reinforcement, fluency/mastery, recall (eliminating forgetting), application, stick/behavior change, adaptive reasoning skills, in the most effective and most efficient way possible

    The traditional one to many teaching pedagogy must be replaced with instructor facilitated, truly personalized learning pedagogy, individually reinforced over time, in a blended learning environment (F2F & online)

    Why? Because the learning research is solid that's how individuals learn.

    The technology will not be the medium that advances individual learning outcomes. Schools are finding this out the hard way. It's the change in learning methodologies implemented and delivered over technology that will advance individual learning outcomes.

    This distinction is not commonly understood and will make all the difference between advanced individual learning outcomes and faster delivery of ineffective teaching methodologies
  • A good piece, Chris!

    Open standards would go a long way in this market but the problem with open standards is that every vendor wants to distinguish themselves from every other and they do so by "breaking" the very open standards you wish to preserve. Factor in that publishers are even more protective of their intellectual property (which is more expensive to develop than the hardware), and that publishing remains very "old-school" in its approach (sorry about the pun) and there isn't much room to maneuver. In Higher-Ed for instance, forward-thinking publishers are working directly with universities to push e-texts through their own proprietary tools.

    Your point about the new 8.9" form-factor is spot-on. An 8.5x11 sheet of paper typically has a printed area of 6" x 9" and a diagonal of 11". Making 8.9" about as small as you can go and still display many textbooks in a readable font. Smaller devices are just too small for displaying textbooks a full page at a time! This is why I do not thing the "iPad mini" will actually materialize at 7" or less. Perhaps Apple will release such a device with a more reasonable aspect ratio than 3x4 but the overall size cannot be as small as 7" and still serve the needs of most high school and college textbooks.
    M Wagner
    • Give me two readable pages side-by-side

      An open book is a fabulous device, one that device builders would be wise to simulate. Two open pages of a good text allows enough space to present information in multiple ways that can connect several thoughts at a time, with diagrams, photos, or active media embedded within. Anything less would make a digital device much less useful than a real book.
      Elwood Diverse
  • No one is talking to teachers

    As a 37 year teacher who has had over 5,500 students and taught over 30,000 classes here is what I would like. Let me manage from a master dashboard my students' devices as a class, a group, and as an individual. Let me upload my own PDFs and other material which is no longer under copyright protection. Let me through my dashboard send specific documents to specific students. Don't dumb the device so it just becomes a delivery system for book sellers. See tsm's "Tablets, Smart Phones, laptops, Lectures and Learning" comment. Let me "personalize" and "individually reinforce" "appropriate" "fluency/mastery" lessons.
  • Publishers losing control of textbook market as states develop own content

    Some states are jumping ahead to develop their own text content, which will probably not include delivery from Amazon. Instead of relying on traditional publishers to produce books for them to buy, they are contracting to develop texts to which the state itself owns the rights and can distribute in the most efficient manner, whether that be books or digital devices. Imagine if Texas and California did not have to buy new textbooks each year at exorbitant prices, but could deliver them to any digital device over the net. A good history, math or physics book is good for decades, so why are we changing these expensive books so often? It's the publishing model. So get a new model. Once produced, these new state-developed books could also be printed at local printers, enhancing the small business climate instead of sending the money out-of-state. I love that idea.
    Elwood Diverse
  • Online Readers

    Great article! Online readers can be a great way for college students to access the information they need while on a budget - It saves a lot of money on college textbooks. I found an interesting infographic http://bit.ly/TsbiX4 showing how it can save students a lot of money, thought I would share with everyone.