The Promise of Tablets to Come

Categories: Apps, Gadgetry
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Published on: May 10, 2011

The real problem with jumping on board any tablet solution in a large deployment is committing to those tablets with so many new developments still in the pipeline.

Case in point: the much-rumored Amazon tablet.

With Amazon adopting its own Appstore, the competing Nook Color becoming more like a full-fledged tablet with every iteration, and Apple getting into the book business with the iBooks store, it makes sense Amazon could enter the tablet market. They could continue selling other Android devices — and Android apps — to their customers, but an Amazon-branded device more or less locks them in.

An Amazon tablet and dedicated Appstore could be a real boon for education, however. Barnes & Noble and Amazon would both be wise to get into the e-textbook business, but if Amazon could take it a step farther and set up app subscriptions and volume purchases for schools, and have those apps pushed out to end users (students) over the air, it could become a real advantage over both the Android Market and the iTunes Store’s Volume Purchase Plan.

It’s also possible Google will catch up. If Android tablets could be tied into the Google Apps for Ed accounts many of us have, it could make life a lot easier for school (and corporate) techs. Imagine making a volume app purchase, then enabling it for all students or a subset, such as a classroom, with just a few clicks. The students fire up their tablets and are notified of the new app installation.

Google already allows syncing of bookmarks, passwords, contacts, and calendars, and of course the whole Docs suite is readily available. Maybe it’s oversimplifying, but it seems to me a few extra hooks and extensions and a profile and settings could be pushed out to a device. It would go something like this:

  1. A tech configures the end user’s profile and it’s deposited in their Google Apps account.
  2. The end user (in this case a student) logs in to the device with their Apps account.
  3. The device logs the user, device serial number, and maybe make/model for the Google Apps domain administrator.
  4. The device pulls the profile information down, the device is configured automagically, and any apps, etc. associated with the user account are installed.
  5. The device is ready to rock and/or roll.

By the way, I’m speaking device management in broad terms here. This could be as simple as inventory and app installation, wireless access key distribution, or lockdowns like content filters and hardware controls. (I tend to be fairly open in what I’d want to manage, but that’s a topic for another post.) Maybe admins can toggle a setting out of the box to prep the device to receive the configuration before distributing them to end users, install a different firmware on-site, or even receive the tablets from the factory with a tweaked OS waiting for a Google Apps account.

I should also note this would be for a traditional 1:1 setup. A bring-your-own-device district, I’m assuming, would not have to worry about these things. (That, too, is probably beyond the scope of this post.)

That’s Android. Going back to the iPad and other iOS devices, we have OS X Lion coming this summer. Scroll to near the bottom for Lion Server, and you’ll find this tidbit about the Profile Manager feature:

Profile Manager delivers simple, profile-based setup and management for Mac OS X Lion, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices. It also integrates with your existing directory services and delivers automatic over-the-air profile updates using the Apple Push Notification service.

All that stuff I just said about how device management should work? I get the feeling Apple’s about to surprise us. It looks like they may even solve that pesky Wiki Server editing problem.

The race is on.

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