Scratching the Surface

Categories: Gadgetry
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Published on: June 19, 2012

So Microsoft unveiled the Surface yesterday:

Unfortunately, the actual presentation was not a whole lot more informative than this dubstep video. ARM and Intel processors, fancy keyboard and display, Windows RT and Windows 8. Great!

Price? Availability?

No and no.

want Microsoft to put out a good product. I may be an Apple fan at the moment, but that’s because—at the moment—I feel Apple puts out a better product. I want to see more competition. I want to see prices start coming down.

I’m not sure the Surface is going to do it.

This seems more pitched toward competing with ultrabooks than tablets, and prices are being speculated as high as $1000. Jason Perlow at ZDNet speculates on why this is a questionable move for a number of reasons. Personally, I wonder if it’s going to be split into a consumer product (ARM/Windows RT version) and a business/power user product (Intel/Windows 8 version).

I’m not seeing a lot to get excited about from a consumer and educator perspective, either. The big deal with tablets right now? Apps. What do you have Microsoft? Do we know, yet? ARM means Microsoft is now asking developers—who, by the way, have already established markets in iOS and Android—to port software to a whole new platform. Did MS not learn a lesson from RIM last year?

Then there’s price. If this makes for a killer notebook, and it’s over $1000, then it’s twice as out of reach as the $500 iPads I couldn’t afford to buy my students. If I’m going to spend my own money on it, iPad still has the advantage for being a known quantity and having a plethora of apps.

Now let’s look at the device itself. The Touch Cover keyboard is a great idea on the surface (see what I did there?). However, I’m anxious to find out if it feels any better than just using an on-screen keyboard. If the biggest complaint is the tactile feel, is the flat, fuzzy keyboard really a big step up from a glossy screen?

Speaking of the keyboard, how do you keep it clean? It’s easy to clean a glass screen. Something fuzzy? Not so much. Now the keys you just mucked up with your greasy fingers, or spilled your Starbucks on, or dropped crumbs onto, is going to press up against the glass and muck it up, too. Now add student carelessness to the mix. Ack.

The Touch Cover is magnetic, just like Apple’s Smart Cover. What’s the chief complaint with the Smart Cover? It doesn’t hold well enough.

It also appears users will be stuck with a keyboard. The built-in prop only goes for one angle, so I’m assuming there’s no on-screen keyboard to use at a shallower angle. I suspect this will be a good opportunity for keyboard and case manufacturers, but now it’s something else the user will have to carry along and making it less tablet and more notebook.

Between the filth and a forced keyboard, casual or student usage is getting less and less convenient.

Finally, let’s talk about that hinge/prop again. A liveblog of the event quoted something about the hinge having the feel of a car door. I hope it’s as sturdy, because it will get a workout. I’m not crazy about the angle because it looks like it could tip easily (at least without the weight of the magnetic keyboard to hold it down). I also see that prop space and hinge as just another place to collect dust and muck.

I do want to get my hands on one of these, hopefully sooner rather than later. But all this big event has done is through further caution onto my cautious optimism that Microsoft could put out a decent tablet.

The Future of Books

Categories: Media
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Published on: June 1, 2012

I camped out in a Barnes & Noble Café this afternoon to get some work done, and a woman, her mother, and her two young children sat down nearby. The children, a boy and a girl, were flipping through some magazines they had picked up off the racks.

The little girl, no older than four, tossed her book on the table and proclaimed “This book is so lame! All you can do is color it!”

After the parent in me finished laughing at the girl’s choice of words, I got to thinking about her statement. What’s going to happen with a girl like this when she enters kindergarten?

My own daughter just finished kindergarten. She did a lot of the traditional worksheets, but she also enjoys using learning apps on my iPad and she was one of the kids who helped teach her friends how to use the school’s iPads when they went into the kindergarten classroom. She enjoys coloring books, but she prefers using coloring apps on my iPad and her mom’s iPod touch because she can change the colors and erase the screen at will. Does my daughter think the worksheets in class are lame, too?

I would argue e-books have already made the shift from accepted to embraced. Traditional publishing is starting to understand this, even if not all of the textbook manufacturers have gotten the memo. If my daughter and this little girl are any indication, we may be looking at a future where e-books will become preferred over print media.

Let’s think about this: print books, on the whole, have only one function. Unless we’re talking about an activity book of some kind, there is no real interactivity. Print is one-and-done. An e-book, however, can be updated, manipulated, or interacted with in a number of ways. When the child is done reading, one is simply archived or deleted while the other collects dust on a shelf or lands in a recycling bin or a landfill.

While many in our generation have a love or nostalgia for print books, what reason do our children have to feel this way? My ten-year-old son is a big reader, and he has a lot of print books in his room. Yet he was perfectly content to read A Princess of Mars on my iPod’s Kindle app for free rather than having me buy him a print copy.

In fact, he enjoyed it more because the backlit screen allowed him to read in the car at night. Now he wants his own iPod and Kindle app.

Yet here we are with teachers who say they don’t want these devices in their classrooms because they’re too distracting. To the kids, this is going to be a conflicting message. We may as well be telling them they’re not allowed to read their favorite books.

And if the kids aren’t going to convince us we need to start embracing change, maybe the parents will. Coming back to the family behind me, I overheard them discussing alternatives to the local public schools for the kids, ranging from a Montessori program in Peoria to what must have been some kind of charter school (she talked about testing and acceptance) to just doing home schooling.

Technology may not be the reason parents are seeking alternatives, but by embracing it and demonstrating how we can adapt to change, maybe we can make these parents less compelled to pull their kids from our schools.

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