Take a peek at any college campus and pay close attention to the students strolling from class to class. For academic year 2011, you are more likely to see practical laptops under their arms than flashy new tablets, despite a push by manufacturers to put a tablet in every student’s hand.
Higher-education students have become a particular group of interest for tablet makers due to their unique demands. Granted, students will use slates to surf Facebook and update Twitter, just like any average consumer, but students can also exploit a tablet’s potential as digital textbooks, for note taking, and diverse education apps. According to Pearson Foundation, students know this, too. Sixty-nine percent of students surveyed think tablets will transform the way college students learn, and nearly three quarters prefer digital to print textbooks.
Despite their potential and student preference, students still are not buying tablets. The Pearson Foundation also found that only 7% of students surveyed owned a tablet, and only 15% planned to buy one in the next six months. So why the disconnect? According to the students TabletPCReview spoke with, laptops are still more practical and ultimately, better serve their academic needs.
Bang for Buck
“They may have a reputation for care-free spending, but cash-strapped students are more conservative with their cash when it comes to technology for school. When faced with a $500 tablet or a $1,000 laptop, students want to guarantee they are getting the most for their money. A laptop purchased today can conceivably last a student four years, and incremental upgrades can be made for a relatively low cost. Can a modern tablet like the iPad, which may only go one year between product refreshes, provide a student with fully functional computer experience for the school year? How about four school years?
“I think tablets are very useful, but still have a long way to go in terms of replacing the laptop and not just being an intermediary between the cell phone and the laptop,” says Carson Keller, a 20-year-old International Business major at Northeastern University. “I can do what I need on both my cell phone and my laptop at this point.”
Tablet Support Lacking
As the new kid on the block, the tablet doesn’t support some of the necessary applications to make it the tool of choice for students. Many classes require programs that might not work as efficiently on a tablet as on a standard notebook. Imagine a computer science major trying to bang out code for class on an underpowered iPad. Microsoft Office support on tablets is also limited to apps, which do not offer the robust features of the notebook/desktop version or its free alternatives. In addition, Media arts students will find the current crop of tablets lack a truly robust video editing suite, despite some relatively basic programs like iMovie for iOS.
This isn’t to suggest that tablets do not have a place in the classroom. The students we spoke with stressed that they appreciate the intimacy the portable device brings to their education.
“I had one teacher who would walk around the classroom with his iPad as he presented a PowerPoint to the class,” says 20-year-old Sarah Salzman, a Political Science and Economics major at Northeastern. “He was a much more friendly and outgoing teacher because he was always talking to you. It makes a huge difference when a teacher is looking at you versus when he is sitting behind a computer, clicking at slides and talking.”
While schools like The University of Southern Mississippi and Seton Hall University have begun adopting tablets into their programs, many colleges still have logistical hurdles to clear before becoming tablet friendly. Many classes now have an online component for assignments, discussions, and communications. How many of those sites are optimized for mobile browsers and touch? How many of those sites feature Flash components the iPad cannot display?
“You definitely need a more tablet-friendly environment,” says Tom Sheehan, a 20-year-old MIS (Management Information System) Business major at Northeastern. “Now that everything is set up for the computer and designed towards the operating systems that computers run, tablets are not as efficient.”
So is it just a matter of time before the tablet device becomes the new laptop? That’s what most students seem to think. According to them, we are still in the early years of development for the gadget and though the tablet’s reputation as a functional and efficient device has not yet caught up to its convenient status, the two will find a balance in the years to come.
“Tablets in about 10 years, everyone will have one,” says Sheehan. “There will be no more laptops, everybody will have tablets, but right now, they just are not ready yet.”
Tablet Spec Cheat Sheet
Pop quiz: what’s the difference between a tablet running Android Gingerbread 2.3 with Sense UI and Scribe technology and a tablet with Android Honeycomb 3.1 and TouchWiz?
Don’t know the answer? You will after consulting our tablet spec cheat sheet that will help students in the market for a tablet decipher the jargon and help them make a more informed decision.