Jumping the Good Ship Android

A brief summary of our 1:1 project so far. In August 2012 we rolled out 140 Toshiba AT-100 Android devices to our entire S1 cohort as part of a pilot 1:1 tablet program for Edinburgh Council. The project has been very successful and we have seen some fantastic ways in which learning has changed for this year group. For more detail on the initial stages of the project, see the blog posts summarising each of the 4 phases: Planning, Preparation, Implementation and Review. There have also been very positive media articles via STV online and Edinburgh Evening News. Hull University have been evaluating the project on behalf of the authority and their interim report has also been exceptionally positive.

Given this positive impact, we have now started the planning process for a second phase with a view to rolling out 1:1 mobile devices to a further year group. I have spent the past 3 months trying to decide what the best platform for this next roll out should be listening to the views of staff, students and various online discussions on Twitter. I have always said that it is important when planning any 1:1 project to identify the most suitable platform at the time of roll-out, and to be prepared to change path in subsequent phases if necessary. After all, so much can happen in the mobile technology market in the space of 12 months.

When we were planning the first phase of our 1:1 program, there were only three realistic options for us to consider: iPad, Android tablets or Netbooks. A year on, the Netbook has all but died away but we now have four potential platforms to choose from: iPad, Android tablets, Windows tablet PCs and Chromebooks. I personally don’t think either Windows or Chromebooks offer a solution yet. Windows mobile solution is still playing catch up and Chromebooks lack the richness of apps that are available for iOS/Android.

When we initially evaluated the mobile platforms early in 2012, the word was that Glow 2 was going to be built around Google Apps. It seemed to me at the time that Android / Google Apps integration would be a sensible way to go forward. Of course, as it turned out Google pulled the plug on their Glow bid at the 11th hour and we are now awaiting a solution based on MS365. It’s not a critical problem, but it was one of the advantages that Android had going for it at the time, and it’s not one it has now. However Android has become a serious contender to iOS in my opinion, and it’s certainly a viable mobile OS for the classroom. Google Play meets our needs and it’s easy enough to download and install apps. The question is, does Android and Android hardware give us the best solution?

As things stand right now, I think that the answer is no, and that after much consideration iPad / iOS is the platform which best meets the needs of our secondary learners. There are two fundamental reasons why I believe we need to change from Android tablets to iPads this year:

1.  Availability of rich learning content

All too regularly I come across a fantastic app only to discover that it’s available only for iOS and not Android. I don’t have an exact figure, but I would guess that maybe one third of the educational apps are designed for iOS only (some great examples are GarageBand, Explain Everything, Foldify, KeyNote, Puppet Pals, Brushes, Geoboard to name but a few). Of course that might change in the future as Android continues to catch up, but as things stand this is a problem.

2. Device (and company) robustness

As I highlighted in my previous 1:1 posts, Toshiba (note: Toshiba and not Android) have let us down. Badly. The project this year has been hampered by a return to base warranty issue which has meant that at times we were without 20% of all devices and the time to repair was on average a completely unacceptable 4-5 weeks. This was down to a manufacturing / build fault, but despite numerous requests for support Toshiba spent 6 months saying there was nothing they could do. Would Apple have sat back if one fifth of their devices rolled out to a school were faulty? I doubt it, and I doubt Apple would allow such build faults to get past their quality control processes. (I should point out that 7 months into the project Toshiba finally visited our school to review all devices, but in my opinion this was too little too late). Would other Android companies such as Asus or Samsung be any different to Toshiba? Possibly, but I don’t know.

Just to be absolutely clear, I am neither an Apple or Android promoter, I just want to ensure we are providing the best educational tech tools to meet the needs of our learners. Currently, in my opinion the iPad is the tablet device which best meets our needs. And next year? Well, who knows…

(I will, however, be sticking with my Samsung Galaxy S3 phone however, as it is way better than an iPhone!).