My iChristmas, Or Some Thoughts on the iPad Tablet

One of my former students, now the Technology Coordinator at Meadowbrook Elementary, was kind enough to lend me an iPad 2 over Christmas break. Her name is Megan Bowen, and she is also contributing to a book about first-year teaching that I am editing with my colleague Lindsay Ellis. Megan spent her first year in a basement computer lab in a GRPS. Suffice to say, her new job is a world away. Meadowbrook will soon be receiving new iPads for its students. And to get back to the main idea of this ramble, Megan lent me one to let me have some fun this break.

The curb appeal of the iPad 2 is amazing: it is so sleek and so light, you can barely resist picking it up. It has been a very popular item at our house, as my wife and my first-grader fight for screen time. I’ve also spent a few (ahem) hours or possibly days plugged into the iPad. I can’t see any student not being motivated, at least initially, to get his or her hands on this beautiful machine.

A few other observations–First, surfing the web is amazing, via either Safari or Google. What’s cool about the iPad is its portability. Set it on the counter, lean it up against the wall, or hold it with one hand. Everywhere you need the web, the iPad can go. And the quality of the browsing is amazing, every bit as good as with a laptop.

As a reading device, the iPad probably comes in second to the Kindle or Kindle Fire, since these have been designed to reduce eye strain. But still, you can get the Kindle App to make all of Amazon’s library accessible. Same with the Google Books Reader. iBooks, the built-in reader for the iPad, looks pretty good, though I have yet to download any books with it. THus far, I’ve stuck with the free Google Books.

As a writing device, well, you’ve just gotta get used to the virtual keyboard. It has a few surprising oversights–like the position of the apostrophe on the secondary number page–but overall, it does a decent job. You can also buy an accompanying keyboard, either via Apple or a cheaper vendor. These connect into the main port of the iPad, and make typing a whole lot easier.
There is no built-in word processor, and most in the App Store are not free, so I’ve been using Google Docs, which works nicely on the iPad format.

For media consumption and production, the iPad is nicely equipped with a built-in webcam that is capable of recording high-def video. There is no suite of software such as Garageband or iMovie, but there are a few freebies (VidEditorFree) that can help out. Still, it would be nice to have these included instead of having to pay $14.99 at the App store.

And that brings me to the next point: money. As much as I respect Steve Jobs, his real legacy may be the monetization of what was formerly available for free. Everything good in the App store costs money. This is a sharp contrast to the Android Market, where most apps are free. There are buy-ins for the free software, too: you want the next level of that game? Just purchase for $2.99 at the App store. This is a disappointment, but it is the Apple model. When you do purchase something, it works, which is more than I can say for the dozens of busted freebies I’ve downloaded from the Android Market.

A few favorites so far: Adobe Photoshop Express, Flipbook, G-Whiz Google Browser, and Pandora. My son likes the Niinjago game, Angry Birds, and Rainbow Draw.

I’m writing this from my Macbook, which is looking a little jealous these days.

About RR

Assistant Professor of English Education at Grand Valley State University.
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