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  • Andrew T Schwab 6:15 pm on December 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: iPad mini, technology   

    Apple Fan Boy – The Holy Wars Return 

    Apparently to some Android fanboys on Google+ I came off sounding like an Apple fan in my last post about the Nexus 7 and the iPad mini. Well, I have been running iOS devices since the iPhone 3 days so yes, I’m a bit entrenched in the iOS ecosystem. (And yes, I shouldn’t let a few posts get to me, but it was write this reply or work on virtual desktops, so here we go).

    I have not spent all of my past waking moments in iOS. I did run a rooted Nook Tablet with Cyanogen for several months and found Android to be hacker friendly but not as good as iOS at the things that were important to me at the time. While the hardware and the OS have much improved, I still feel pretty much the same way.

    As I noted in my device comparison, I’m vested in the Air Video Server app for playing my media library. If the Air Video Server app was made available for Android tomorrow, I’d still prefer watching video on the mini due to the better screen brightness and the more comfortable feel of the device when held in landscape mode. While watching YouTube on the Nexus 7 and then going back to the mini, I find the video looks better to me on the iPad, even without the retina display. And let’s not forget about the magic that is AirPlay Mirroring.

    The bottom line for me is that the iPad mini runs the apps I want (and have accumulated over the years), lasts on standby for days and generally feels better in daily use. And yes, it has a hardware button that works. I can’t say that has been the case with the Nexus’ soft buttons all the time. I also much prefer the 4:3 form factor of the mini to the 16:9 wide format of the nexus.

    Is the iPad mini for everyone? With a $139 price premium over the Nexus 7, the answer is a solid no. However, were I buying a 7″ class tablet for my Mom (not that I would) and thinking about those family tech support calls, the iPad mini would be my choice hands down. If I had a teenager, I’d think long and hard about a Nexus 7, although a 4.3″ Android smart phone would probably be preferable. I’m also very interested in Android’s multi-user mode as I think this would be a great feature for a “living room” tablet but as yet, I’ve not seen a 10″ android tablet I really like (hardware wise).

    All of this reminds me of the Windows vs. Mac holy war from days gone by. Now it seems, Android and iOS are similarly positioned. Android tablets may have reached the “good enough”and cheap enough status levels needed to break out with wide spread user adoption but the iPad still is what a “tablet” is in most people’s minds. All others are compared to iPad and Apple does still make some of the best hardware around. Of course Apple blew their chance to dominate once before. Who knows, maybe they’ll do it again.

  • Andrew T Schwab 9:10 am on December 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    mini V Nexus. And The Winner Is? 

    I’ve been alternating between the iPad mini and Nexus 7 tablet for over a month now and a clear winner has emerged. But first, a note about these two devices as applied to schools. That was the original genesis of my interest in both. Unfortunately, neither device meets the minimum requirements for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing. This takes both out of play for student use. Perhaps that might change in the future, but for now I don’t recommend purchasing large numbers of devices unless they can run the new state testing regime.

    As for teacher use, I came across on interesting discovery while testing iPads as Document Cameras the other day. Running an iPad3 as a doc camera using the rear facing camera works great. The image is clear and can be zoomed in without loss of quality. A critical feature when wanting to display text to a room full of 2nd graders. However, when I switched to the iPad Mini I found that zooming in on text produced pixelated and blurry images. Doing some research (ok, I googled “iPad mini camera”) I discovered that the camera on the mini isn’t so great. Since replacing $500 doc cams with iPads is a big selling point for me at the moment, the weak camera performance rules out the mini for teachers. The Nexus 7 with it’s lack of a rear facing camera doesn’t qualify for use as a doc cam at all and it’s lack of AirPlay Mirroring further limits it’s effectiveness as a teacher presentation tool in my opinion.

    So, bottom line, both the iPad mini and the nexus 7 aren’t a good fit for schools. But when it comes to personal use, it’s another story.

    In my month of daily use,  a clear winner has emerged for me personally. While the Nexus 7 is an excellent tablet and it’s the only android tablet I’m recommending to my budget conscious friends, my media lives in the apple echo system. As such, I’ve worked out a system for media access that works great for me. I use a product called Air Video Server to play all the DivX files I’ve accumulated over the years (you do remember DivX, don’t you? It was great for compressing all those DVDs). While I’m slowly converting to H.264, Air Video on the iPad Mini streams non-H.264 content to an iOS device like a champ. Paired with AirPlay Mirroring to the AppleTV on the big screen and I have a complete media streaming service that works across all of the iOS devices in the house. iPhones (3GS to 4S) and iPads (iPad2, iPad3 & iPad Mini). If only Apple would release Apps for AppleTV, I could cut out the middle man and stream direct from the Air Video Server to the AppleTV.

    Now, before you lambast me with comments, yes, I am aware of alternative, non-apple solutions to my particular media problem. I’ve tried most of them at one point in time or another. XBMC, MythTV, Windows Media Center, Plex, etc… None has worked as seamlessly and effortlessly as Air Video Server. To the point that my Wife and my 7 year old can both now access our media library on their own iOS devices. Not that we spend every waking hour watching Thailand vacation videos or Notting Hill. But we could, if we wanted to. And quite easily too.

    But I’d be pretty shallow if my main reason for liking a device was how easily it can access media from a home server. I also find the reading and web surfing experience on the mini more user friendly. The mini is more responsive than the nexus in everyday use. Despite the goodness of Project Butter, there are still times I find myself waiting for the Nexus to respond to a touch command. I’m also severely bugged by the “soft” home button. Maybe I’m so used to the iOS devices and their physical home button that I’m programed for that experience now but for whatever reason, it really annoys me. I find I actually like the mini’s wider screen for reading on the web, although I do end up holding it in landscape view more often then portrait because of the width. I hold the Nexus in portrait mode more often than not. Mainly because the primary app I use on it, Flipboard, doesn’t give me the option to go into landscape mode (UPDATE – the latest version of Flipboard on the Nexus 7 does provide for landscape view, however I’m finding the narrow screen doesn’t lend itself to this view as well as it does on the wider iPad mini). Strange as it seems, I miss the “freedom” of iOS when using the Nexus 7. Also, the mini feels ligher. That might change when I put a case on it though. I do like the rubber non-slip back of the Nexus 7. I’ve been running the mini naked but it really does need some protection if it’s going to survive long term.

    To sum up, I don’t see either device being the perfect 1:1 solution for schools. Sometimes price isn’t everything. If Apple revs the camera in the next version, then maybe the mini will be a good fit for teachers. I think they’d appreciate hefting the lighter weight around all day. As for the Nexus, without a rear facing camera and AirPlay support, I just don’t see it as a teacher tablet device. Even in a Google Apps environment, which I haven’t really talked about, neither device really makes sense for edTech (yet). For personal use, the iPad mini is the clear winner for me. It’s light, responsive (my previous experience with performance issues was probably related to trying to install a dozen apps right out of the box) and it works in my media environment. The killer app for me is AirPlay Mirroring. When Android might support AirPlay natively, I don’t know but I hope they look to do it at some point. Even Plex, the awesome media server app, is baking in AirPlay support. It really is stupid simply and very powerful.

    Based on my environment, the iPad mini is the little tablet for me. Android just isn’t there for me yet (or maybe I’m so deep into iOS, I can’t see a way out). Wether or not I actually need a little tablet when I have an iPhone (two actually since my 3GS returned from the dead) and an iPad is a discussion for another day.

    • Chris Betcher 2:05 pm on December 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for the great summary Andrew. You’ve raised a number of really important points that I hadn’t given all that much thought to, but you’re right, they are quite important. I have both the Nexus 7 and the iPad mini (to name just a few – sigh!) and I like them both, but like you, I find myself using them in quite different ways.
      I will say that in general I prefer the screen format, size and weight of the mini, although the lack of Retina display is a real issue for me. It never used to bother me before I got an iPad 3, but that non-Retina display on the mini just looks really awful to me know, especially when I’m dealing with small text or fine detail. This is one area where the Nexus really wins over for me.

      Having no camera on the Nexus 7 is disappointing, as is the lack of AirPlay, as is the lack of ANY real way to get video output from the device. The fact that is can’t easily be plugged into a projector makes it a non-starter in a classroom, and although the addition of an AirPlay like service could redeem that, the fact that it doesn’t yet exist is a real nuisance. As a personal device, I like the Nexus 7 but as a classroom device, yep, it’s just not there yet.

      Thanks again for the excellent post.


  • Andrew T Schwab 10:24 am on December 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    The Future of EdTech Is Free (Mostly) 

    Without knowing it, I spent the last nine years preparing my previous district for the future. It was all very much by accident. We decided to embrace thin clients early on. The driver was primarily cost and had no real connection to instruction. We just wanted more computers in more classrooms. As a result of running thin clients and quadrupling our student computer count district wide, we started down a path that would position us to move to 1:1 computing when the opportunity presented itself.

    We moved from client/server applications to web based hosted solutions to improve performance. To provide students the opportunity to use tools we would not otherwise have been able to afford we moved them to open source apps like OpenOffice and the odd sounding but very good Adobe replacements; Scribus, Inkscape and The Gimp. Teachers resisted but students didn’t miss a beat. When we realized even free apps required installation, management and support, we pivoted to free cloud based solutions like Google Apps, Aviary and Animoto. On the server side, we traded paid services for free when we setup an open source Moodle Learning Management server and hosted our District web site on our own WordPress server. We used free virtualization tools from VMWare to consolidate Servers and reduce our expensive server hardware footprint.

    When the rise of multimedia in the classroom clashed with thin client performance we pivoted again to netbooks running the open source Ubermix (http://ubermix.org) from Jim Klein at Saugus Union School District and desktop labs running the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP). We were able to seamlessly switch operating systems because we had embraced the cloud early on. Only the teachers really noticed, but again, the students kept right on moving forward with us.

    We did struggle with teacher adoption of technology until we realized we were asking teachers to use outdated tools (Office 2003 anyone?) on old, slow computers running outdated Operating Systems (Windows XP). We experimented with teachers running Ubermix but ended up going a different route when the iPad appeared on the scene. We counted up our teachers, did the math and made the decision to lease everyone a new iPad and MacBook. We finally decided to build up to date teacher technology into the cost of educating 21st Century Students. Just like everyone else, we had no money but what money we did have we deliberately chose to start spending as close to the classroom as possible.

    In doing so we made some non-traditional decisions along the way. We did not buy expensive web filtering software (Open Source software does meet CIPA compliance, didn’t you know?) or email filtering (Google Apps includes it for free). We didn’t buy enterprise class network hardware from the number one manufacturer. Instead we bought branch office grade from the number three and got free next day hardware replacement and software updates for life. We did not buy into the network security FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) being bantered about by the sales reps. We were a school district, not a bank. Instead of buying expensive annual support contracts for devices that were locked away in closets, we bought teachers the best hardware available to help make their jobs easier.

    We installed mounted LCD projectors in every classroom to provide digital presentation capabilities for all teachers. We increased our bandwidth to the Internet significantly and paid the additional cost. After all, the web made free possible. Cloud Services, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and 1:1 student computing all had significant bandwidth and wireless access requirements and we were ready for the opportunities when they arrived because we invested in bandwidth early. We replaced wireless networks three times, finally settling on a solution that was robust, inexpensive and so easy to manage a teacher could do it and did (much like Google Apps, our Open Source Web Filter and the Ubermix netbooks).

    Once teachers were mobile, running on modern hardware, able to project the web to the class and had access to web 2.0 tools, instruction started to change and collaboration along with it. Teachers could take their technology with them to collaboration meetings. They could sit with their laptops working on data, reviewing student work and accessing subject area content in real time. We opened up access to tools like Dropbox for file storage, YouTube for hosting video and Google Apps for collaboration workflows. We sent staff to conferences and they started bringing back resources, experimenting with ideas and sharing with their colleagues in the district. Our teachers started to become active learners. In short, we invested dollars in empowering teachers with modern technology and they started driving the instructional revolution in their classrooms. All it took was a shift in how we looked at technology.

    We shifted from a server room and computer lab paradigm to a mobile, classroom and student centered paradigm. We realized we could do a lot with free and open source but only if Teachers and Students had access to modern computers with reliable wireless network access and fast Internet. Most importantly, we locked in a hardware refresh cycle to ensure that teachers would always have a common and up-to-date platform from which to deliver instruction and collaborate with one another. And that is the first step to unlocking the future.

    My previous district is two years into a three year plan to go 1:1 District wide. They deployed iPads to 9th through 11th graders this year. I’d like to say we had a crystal ball handy when we made the decisions that we did but the reality is we were just trying to provide the best services possible with (almost) no money. Web 2.0, free and open source software, cloud services and shifting the technology focus to opening up access to the web and empowering individual teachers and students is the future. It can be a mostly free future if you spend wisely and embrace it.

    This is the way of Small School Big Tech.

    • Ken 11:04 am on December 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply


      This is fantastic!! A must read for most in Ed Tech and Tech Directors for School Districts.


      • Andrew Schwab 1:40 pm on December 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply


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