Acer announced today, April 23, 2015 a May release of a new tablet aimed at education. The Iconia Tab 10 will be offered at a starting price of $299. It seems Acer has offered a good price point, but likely this will be yet another “me too” entry into a crowded market.
Tablet and laptop brands continue to covet the education market. While Android tablets enjoy robust sales far exceeding iPad sales overall, there has been little Android penetration into the education market. Most Android devices have been adopted for personal use and entertainment. They are not viewed as productivity based devices, although Acer is attempting to change that perception with the newest offering.
The Iconia Tab 10 breaks a tiny bit of new ground, but not nearly enough to make this offering very compelling to students. Outside of the low price point, the features of the tablet do not align sufficiently with the needs of students. Price notwithstanding, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is the benchmark for a device aligned to the needs of students.
Android tablets depend on apps, much like the iPad. While apps can be useful, they do not offer students enough quality content. The apps are OK to support some teaching practice, such as sharing and collaboration, but the same goals can be also achieved with a Windows operating system. A mobile operating system, such as Android or iOS, suffers from the inability to load specific software that students often need. Although Android tablets can take advantage of the Google Education apps, there is a need for tablets to run software that can also be used on PC platforms.
There is really no evidence to support any specific app as a must have. Much of the noise about apps is anecdotal and limited in generalizability. Apps were born of low processing power and limited web browser functionality, making them attractive to portable devices, namely phones and tablets, with limited processing power and connection speeds. That has changed, and tablets such as the Microsoft Surface have demonstrated that a full version operating system is a reality; no compromise needed.
Students are not just consumers of information, but creators of content. Students need technology devices that support productivity, not simply consumption. The Iconia 10 has not addressed the technology limitations of most tablets, at least to sufficiently align with the productivity needs of students, particularly those in secondary and higher education.
Keyboarding is still a primary method of input for content creation. Touch is nice, and sometimes valuable, but it pales to the usefulness and necessity of typing. Hence, a device aligned to the needs of students must include an integrated keyboard. The Iconia 10 continues to rely of third party Bluetooth keyboards, which are generally not all that responsive or comfortable to work on for extended time periods. Android devices also do not support a mouse, which is sometimes necessary for the best user experience with many software applications.
Handwriting is essential for students when it comes to note taking, and annotating text. Note taking by hand has been found have higher learning value than typed notes. Handwriting is also important for annotating while reading. The study strategy is known as active reading, and is used by nearly all students when reading for information. The ability to highlight, underline, write in margins (marginalia), and use other written coding schema is essential for reading comprehensive text.
Acer has made the ability to write on the screen somewhat more natural with their Precision Plus technology, but is not equivalent with tablets that include an active digitizer. The active digitizer is what offers writing that is analogous to the efficiency of writing on paper; smooth, using a fine tipped instrument, and no lag. However, the most important part of the active digitizer is the palm rejection. Writing naturally requires resting ones palm on the surface. The Iconia 10 does not offer an active digitizer, or palm rejection technology. At least, there has been nothing in the literature to suggest palm rejection technology.
The limitations of the Android operating system, lack of an integrated keyboard, and absence of a real active digitizer puts this device far beyond the current level of technology that aligns to the needs of students. Yes, the price is attractive, and an important consideration for schools and students. But at the end of the day, the technology must first meet the needs of students, then be priced at a point that is feasible.
The Iconia 10 might have some good success in limited situations, but it offers precious little to make a dent in the education market. Acer needs to step up and more closely understand learning tenets that must be supported by a tablet technology. It’s not all about price.