Regular readers will know that I like Macs, but am no Apple fanboi. In general, for educational purposes, I struggle to rationalize the price points of their laptops and desktops and have seen too many iPad deployments go awry without firm pedagogical frameworks and limited understanding of how to manage an app model in the educational enterprise. However, my new MacBook Air is a pretty incredible computer. So incredible that I have to wonder, both personally and in education, where it leaves iPads? And, for that matter, the MacBook Pros that have attracted many users not willing to make the compromises associated with older MacBooks.
For some time now, white MacBooks have been the laptops of choice for schools looking at Mac deployments. While they are still available in Apple's Education Store, it's pretty hard to justify slower, heavier, less durable machines when $50 extra dollars buys a base Air. Sure, some settings will require an optical drive or longer battery life, but the 11" Air is remarkable in both its kid-friendly size, weight, and aluminum-case-flash-storage durability, and full-size keyboard that can accommodate even large-handed gym teachers.
This really isn't about the white MacBooks, though. Those Core 2 Duo-bearing workhorses will go by the wayside. What I wonder more about is whether, in many educational settings, the Air isn't a better choice than an iPad. There's little difference in weight, size, or time to boot, and the Air gives a full operating system with support for a variety of applications (instead of just apps). No matter how good the virtual keyboard on an iPad, it's hard to beat the backlit physical keyboard on the Air (in fact, the keyboard is competitive with anything else on the market, including the best from Lenovo's ThinkPad series. And, of course, they can access Flash web content as easily as they can run PowerPoint, neither of which can be said for the iPad.
At the same time, many people (including teachers and administrators) bought MacBook Pros to leverage faster processors, aluminum cases, and other peripheral options, even if they weren't the content production "pros" at which the line is targeted. Because the Air's new embedded graphics are far more capable than those on the old white MacBooks, many who upgraded to MBPs in the past won't need to the next time they buy a Mac. The Air, especially when combined with a larger external monitor or projector (as they often will be in classroom settings), has more than enough horsepower for even power user teachers.
So as I sit typing this on my Air, my iPad 2 and MacBook Pro are sitting on my desk next to me, looking at me with betrayal in their Facetime cameras. My Xoom tablet is also a bit sullen, although its Android OS at least gets it a bit more play from me (unlike a lot of reviewers, I'm a big fan of Honeycomb). The Air, though, has replaced both of my tablets as my constant computing companions (say that 10 times fast). Of course, I'm a writer and marketer by trade. I make my living by being able to write very quickly, whenever and wherever I need to. Student use cases are obviously different.
Next: And there's the answer to my question »
Which, at least partially, answers my questions. iPad deployments aren't going anywhere in schools for a couple of reasons, regardless of my own changed usage pattern for my tablets: