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

The short answer? No. No it won't. And the ecosystem is to blame.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

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.

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