Victorian high school deploys Android tablets

news Students and staff of years 9–12 at Brighton Grammar School, Victoria will each be provided with an Acer Iconia Tab A500, from this week onwards, Acer revealed in a statement yesterday. The move is part of what is being publicised as the first large Android program for an Australian school.

National Education Sales Manager of Acer Computer Australia, Derek Walker stated that the company plans to roll out around 600 Iconia Tabs to Brighton Grammar’s senior boys and teachers. “Everybody is learning how to use digital formats and we’re really trying to provide a comprehensive digital solution for Brighton Grammar in moving to a 21st Century learning environment,” Walker said.

The deployment of the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is a surprising move, considering that universities and schools across Australia have been rushing to trial Apple’s iPad tablet in educational programs. The positive results of an iPad trial by University of Melbourne’s residential Trinity College earlier this year – one of the first to roll out the popular tablet, as part of the ‘Step Forward’ project – had led to a recommendation that all students and staff be equipped with iPads.

With the Iconia Tab A500 and the school’s high-speed wireless Internet connection, students will have broad access to information quickly and easily, and more active engagement with their teachers. Teachers will be able to project information on to a larger screen via HDMI and to stream information to their students wirelessly.

The Deputy Head – Curriculum, Brighton Grammar School, Andrew Baylis said that the school was choosing the best devices for students’ current needs, keeping in mind rapidly changing technology. “We see tablets as adding to the teaching and learning experience with ‘instant on, quick connectivity’ that allows us to capture the moment of inspiration. Tablets are not intended to replace techniques such as handwriting, physical activity or face-to-face discussion, but rather to add extra dimensions to all our current teaching and learning practices,” Baylis elaborated.

Walker promised that the Iconia Tab A500 would help steer learning to a future where books and paper could not follow. He stated that the A500 is the perfect educational tool, with its instant access to a large number of apps and programs, email functions, note-taking capabilities and the World Wide Web.

The Iconia Tab A500 is portable and allows anytime/anywhere access. It uses a full-size USB port that enables connection with various peripheral devices, such as a full-sized keyboard, USB flash drive and mouse. The Acer Iconia Tab A500 is powered by the nVidia Tegra 2 CPU and runs on Google’s Android Honeycomb 3.2. A new Wireless LAN network currently being set up at Brighton Grammar would enable students to connect to the Internet.

Delimiter’s review of the Iconia Tab A500, published in May this year, stated:

“The Iconia Tab is neither a standout device like Apple’s iPad or Samsung’s 7″ Galaxy Tab, nor a tank of a product like Telstra’s T-Touch Tab. It’s a modern Honeycomb tablet which sits squarely in the middle of the spectrum. It’s got most of what you need, but it’s not svelte or beautiful, and it’s a bit jaggy and heavy.

However, it’s not currently priced in the middle of the spectrum. Starting at around $579 in Australia, which is precisely the starting price of the iPad 2, the Iconia Tab is too expensive at the moment. We’d like to, and no doubt we will, see this tablet come down in price to at least $300 before we could recommend it.

If you are going to spend close to $600, buy an iPad 2 instead of the Iconia Tab. To put it bluntly, if Acer is going to charge the same price as a low-end iPad for its Android tablet, it needs to give consumers a reason to believe that the device is at least as good, if not better, than Apple’s offering.

The Iconia Tab is good — and a year ago, it would have been great — but in mid-2011, the tablet is merely mediocre. I’m betting that in a few months, it will halve in price (let’s not forget the $700 price drop in a matter of months the 7″ Galaxy Tab went through this year) and you’ll be able to pick it up for a song. If you want a cheap, solid 10.1″ Android tablet, wait until that point and buy the Iconia Tab. At that lowered price point you won’t regret it.”

I’m betting that Acer has given this school a massive fat discount to roll out Iconia Tabs instead of iPads. To put it bluntly, I think the choice of an Android tablet instead of an iPad for students at this point is a foolish one. I don’t yet regard Google’s Android platform as being a mature operating system for tablets, with it needing at least another year to become fully baked into this form factor.

The immature O/S and the fact that current Android tablet hardware doesn’t offer anything over the iPad has kept the current generation of Android tablets to a minimum of market share in Australia, despite a number of manufacturers launching them locally over the past 12 months. With all this in mind, as we’ve seen with HP’s failed TouchPad and now with the Kindle Fire in the US, the only thing which will attract people to buying a rival tablet over Apple’s iPad is either steep price discounts, or the attachment of a large content ecosystem to the actual hardware device.

For educational environments, there is also one further factor to consider. Education software such as electronic textbooks and so on is speedily making its way onto tablets. But that software will always — always — make its way to the iPad first. By buying Android tablets, educational institutions are consigning their students to a waiting period for every single piece of educational content or software that they will want to use on their new devices. I don’t view that as a positive outcome.

Now, perhaps Brighton Grammar knows something that I don’t. I’m sure the school had their reasons for going Android instead of Apple. But from where I’m sitting, I’d question the long-term sense in doing so; and I don’t expect other organisations to follow them. 2011 is not the time to go non-standard when it comes to tablets. We just don’t understand the technology well enough yet. Fast-forward to a few years’ time, and I think it will be a different situation.

Image credit: Acer. Opinion/analysis by Renai LeMay


  1. A friend’s school was also looking at tablets for their classrooms. One thing that put him off the ipad was the lack of flash and, I think, java. It limited a lot of the free educational software options they would be trying to use. Which is, I guess, less of an issue for a secondary school audience, especially one as affluent as Brighton.

    • I have both an Apple iPad and a Kindle Fire, and I have to say, I have never missed or used Flash on either. Flash is largely irrelevant for mobile computing, IMHO.

  2. “But that software will always — always — make its way to the iPad first”

    Not too much of a generalisation there, Renai? With things like the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire running Android, developers will have widespread platforms to deploy onto, and the app development for those devices is basically identical to that of an original Android device – the main differences lie in the app store processes. There will always be an iOS version of course, but to assume there will “always” be a non-trivial time difference between that and the Android release is not really born out by any facts at this stage.

      • Yep Renai has a clear bias for the iPad …. but credit where credit is due, at least he ran the story

    • hey Jeff,

      I’m sorry, but it remains a fact that there are a stack of apps available for the iPad which are simply not available for Android tablets. Even some of the major software vendors and web 2.0 players haven’t had Android apps for some time.

      I’m not an iPad bigot; sure, I own one, but I’ve tested plenty of Android tablets and I just bought a Kindle Fire. What I am is a realist. The current crop of Android tablets have broadly failed to gain any market share in Australia and are being discounted significantly as a result to get rid of stock. These tablets are just not selling … and the developers are not focusing on them highly as a result.

      In 2012, the tablet market will be carved up between Apple and Amazon, in my opinion. I’m seeing a stack of demand for the Kindle Fire. But the existing Android tablets? Not so much. They’re finding it hard to give them away at this point.

      • Thanks Renai,

        My comment was not so much about the greatness or not of Android tablets as they stand – it’s more about the generalisation! I just think it’s akin to saying two years ago that “iOS will always be the dominant smartphone platform in this market”.

        Also, the way apps are made for Android tablets (and phones for that matter) changes pretty substantially with Honeycomb/ICS. The concept of app “fragments” being available or not based on a variable screen size will mean app devs will be able to make a single Android app that self-adjusts to the res of the device running it. I agree that while the Honeycomb tablets were mostly underwhelming, but the fact the new apps written for the phone will be instantly able to utilise the full breadth of a tablet screen makes a big difference to developers. No need to code seperate tablet/phone apps, or rely on dodgy pixel scaling.

        And as for market – well, if the other android makers start following acers lead here and swamp the education market with much cheaper tablets, then there is your market right there. Specialist education app developers are not looking at the general market penetration of a platfom – they want to know what their customers are using. If that is Android tablets, then that’s where the money is.

        • Heh no worries, I understand.

          Actually, even when the iPhone first launched in Australia, I was arguing (I remember a particular conversation with CNET reviewer Joe Hanlon about it) that Android would eventually win the smartphone battle. It was good enough at that point that you could see its potential, Nokia and RIM were doing nothing and Apple was just a single manufacturer, facing Samsung, HTC, Sony Ericsson, LG and so on.

          But the Android tablet market is different. Apple didn’t start from behind in that market, and have to cannibalise other manufacturers. It started as the only player and created a new market. It is now so far ahead in that market that other tablet wannabe manufacturers are going to have to do something dramatically different than Apple (as Amazon is with the Kindle) to get anywhere.

          What this has meant is something quite dramatic. Witnessing how great the iPad was, everyone and their dog immediately bought an iPad. There was no competition for the first year of the iPad’s life, so everyone by default just bought Apple.

          But the software maturity has not yet followed. There are still relatively few applications which really take advantage of the iPad’s larger screen size; most of what is available for the iPad is just rehashed iPhone apps.

          Developers in general in all sectors are still trying to work out what to do with this vast bulk of iPad hardware which is out there. And I think it will take another 2-3 years before we really get anywhere with this. I think it’s one of the main reasons Steve Jobs was rumoured to be so fixed on a single resolution for the iPhone, and I think it’s the same thing with the iPad. The software ecosystem had to catch up.

          When that software ecosystem does catch up, I think we’re going to see many people simply ditch their laptops for iPads, as it becomes apparent that they can do everything they want to do on their iPad. I already know many people who have started to take this approach where they can. I’m one of them.

          The situation for Android tablets in this area is even harder … when software as a whole hasn’t been worked out for the dominant iPad platform, the Android guys are going to suffer even worse. I think we’re going to see most of the manufacturers exit the tablet race shortly (we’ve already seen HP exit, and I think we’re about to see RIM as well, probably followed by Motorola) and go back to the drawing board, as they attempt to work out how to actually compete with the iPad.

          This is the issue at the moment. It’s not a platform war. It’s a paradigm change that developers are trying to grapple with right now. The iPad is a big enough challenge in itself. I don’t think there is enough development resource out there to go through a paradigm change while trying to understand two platforms.

          I hope this makes sense. I’m planning to write a commentary on this when I get time :)

          • I can see where you are going, but I can’t see why this means that a single platform must be the outcome. There is plenty of cross development happening in the phone space right now, and I’m not sure why that should be any different in the tablet space. You’re right in saying that there is a shift in thinking, but is that a shift to thinking about tablets or thinking about iPads? If the former, then there is space aplenty for Android tablets. If the latter, then it’s an iOS world, and regardless of your like or dislike of Apple, this is not ideal for schools as it breeds a sole supplier scenario.

  3. I think I have to disagree with your implication that Android is too immature to be useful – It’s not any more. I’ve had honeycomb running on my Toshiba tablet for around 4 weeks and it’s actually quite good. There are still a few things here and there that could be improved, but overall I like it.
    One thing I think you have overlooked about the education market is the ability for Android tablets to easily accept USB sticks/memory cards/HDMI output – I’ve used that soo many times now I’m actually glad that I didn’t buy an iPad.
    But overall I think any tablet for educational use is so much better than nothing it nearly doesn’t matter which one you get.

    • I agree re the USB access to the Android tablets — that’s something I sorely want on my iPad.

      As for Honeycomb … I have played with it quite a bit on quite a few tablets, and while it’s usable, it’s far from being easy to use; even for a technically adept user such as myself. When I’ve gotten non-technical friends to play with it, they’ve been bamboozled by it. The iPad? Not so much. This has also shown up in our professional reviews of the tablets (I don’t write these, they’re written by our reviewer Jenneth).

  4. Three words: “Apple lock in”.
    That’s enough.

    Just bought a Samsung Tab for a partner’s Birthday present. She asked me if I could just move her music out of iTunes… Queue sad face…

  5. Clearly an Apple fanatic using terms that mean nothing like “half baked”, the schools should always be buying open system technology so they can shop around upgrades. This school can just as easily upgrade to later Android devices from Sony, Toshiba, Motorola, Samsung, LG, etc. If they had chosen the Apple product they lock themselves into a single manufacturer for all future upgrades which is hardly a fair tendering process. I don’t believe our taxes should be used by our educational institutions to lock Australian students into one choice of device manufacturer that also controls the software. The Ipad has less flexibility that its Google counterparts and for the purposes of browsing and email is better. Loaded with app choices and easily integrate into cloud based software.

    • I’m hardly an Apple fanatic … in fact, if I was to say I was anything, over the years I have been primarily a Linux (Debian, then Ubuntu) fanatic ;)

      At home I primarily use a Windows 7 desktop, I have a MacBook Pro (for the battery life), an iPad, an iPhone, but also a Kindle Fire, a normal Kindle 3G, and I’ve played with just about every Android tablet under the sun.

      I wholeheartedly agree with you about schools buying open systems whenever they can, and I normally argue this. But the fact remains that tablets are immature technology which we don’t understand well at the moment. In this context, to deviate outside the mainstream for a major investment is not a good idea. The current crop of Android tablets have been shown in reviews to be immature in terms of their software, and they don’t offer anything over the iPad in terms of hardware. When you consider Apple’s market share in tablets in Australia is probably something north of 90% … to buy Android right now for a school is just silly.

      I’m sorry, but I’m not bigoted, and I am informed. I know what I am talking about, and I’ll stand by my opinion ;)

      • ” are immature technology which we don’t understand well at the moment. ”
        Maybe it is you that doesn’t understand ;)
        I have had an iphone, iPad and now use an HTC Desire and Asus transformer…. I will never go back to an apple product now I have compared and used the two. Guess its down to apples and um ice Cream Sandwich’s.

        • Apples and ice cream sandwiches, perhaps with some blackberry and mango added in? I’m getting hungry.

          I for one am glad to see a school choose to use an open system. Some schools in the US are *requiring* students to purchase an iPad, which seems ridiculous. Makes me wonder how much of my taxpayer $$$ are going to Apple.

          I would actually like to see schools give students the choice – iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows 8. Of course that would be much more work to support. But it would be nice to have the choice. There’s nothing unique about the iPad hardware that works better in a school environment. In fact, a cheap laptop would probably work fine as well – it’d be better for typing at least.

  6. Flash is slipping away. HTML5 and Java will rule the web. End of story there… ;)

    iPad, or a Android tablet…. they both do the same thing really. More and more support for android is popping about so I for one am glad they aren’t looking at iPads, Apple really don’t need any more money.

    There might be a lot more developers for iOS but Android is making leaps and bounds, Vic high schools pouring money into these devices might even boost educational apps. Its just a pity that these two platforms don’t share the same platform language.

    Iconia probably;y not the best device to get…. I opted for a transformer as the screen is a bit glaring on the a500

  7. I had both an android and an ipad.

    Ipads are nice but I find many things I can’t do which the Android does like plug a HDD with movies and stream to my TV via HDMI, customize the screen, load other ROMs, use different themes, have active content on different pages, overclock the CPU, use different launchers, etc.
    Sure the AppStore might have more apps, for now, but I wanted to stream a mkv format movie via UPNP and I managed to find all the software required for free in Android but had to pay in Apple AppStore.
    I’ve also encountered numerous websites with the ipad lacking the flash ability which became so frustrating I ended up giving my ipad to my 10 year old nephew.
    There are also a few things the ipad does better then android tablets which we can’t deny.

    BUT we need to stop comparing so much… these devices need to be seperated into each person’s requirements and that’s it.

    If they want portable internet and like the iPad then buy one… if you also need USB and anything else Android provides then you get an Android tablet… if you want Windows compatibility then get a Windows 7 tablet.

    @Renai – There’s no need to be yet another tablet user putting one or the other down.
    It’s great news to see that a school has allowed this technology in regardless of your opinion about which is better.

  8. If I was going to buy a tablet I would probably be looking at the new Samsung ones. I mean hell even Apple thinks they are better than their ipads ;)

  9. Renai LeMay has absolutely no idea what working in a school environment is really like. Many school’s are still very heavily reliant on flash websites and using USB. Honeycomb was also “mature” enough to offer OTA updates well before Apple did along with many other features that finally arrived in iOS5

    Apple is a bully tactics company and should not be supported in a school environment for their excessive monopolistic views. Android is open source, more user friendly and much more adapt to change.

    • It’s true; I don’t have as much insight into school IT environments as I would like. And you’re right about OTA updates.

      However, if I know anything, I know that delivering content through Flash is not the future of tablets in education. Ever actually tried to use a Flash app on an Android tablet? Yeah. Not that great.

      • Renai, most of the educational flash websites work just fine on the A500 and there are alot of them that are still used on a daily basis. The flash app’s you might be referring to are probably alot higher in graphic capabilities.. I can supply you with a list if you like.

        Further, your earlier argument of “stack of apps available for the iPad which are simply not available for Android tablets” is flawed in this discussion. I dont know of one single iPad app for education that doesnt have an equivalent for android. Perhaps you can elaborate further on this? Maybe for business it is a different story but this is all about using devices in education.

        Education is also driven alot by cost factor and when the Android tablets in 2012 will be half the price of the ipads but still of similar hardware specifications it is pretty obvious which one most schools will choose.

        As for things coming out first on iPads the recent new Netflix look came out first on Android and it wont stop there. There are far more Android phones than there are iPhones, and soon there will be far more Android tablets than iPads.

        Im curious to know what research did you base your assumption that the 2012 market will be carved up by apple and amazon? Have you even seen the new look of the Google apps store? Did Google buying into Motorolla not mean anything to you? Google having extremely close working relationship with Samsung and HTC mean nothing? Apple suing Samsung who makes alot of the stuff that makes the iPhone good, well a wise person once said “you don’t bite the hand that feeds you”

        Something that I guess is not so well known yet is that in 2012 a major Australian educational publishing company (called Pearson’s) will be releasing secondary school textbooks for the A500’s.

        It seems slot of schools and journalists just jumping on the apple bandwagon when they havent done the proper research for educational use. Your comment “the choice of an Android tablet instead of an iPad for students at this point is a foolish one.” is a perfect example of this. The A500 does work better in a school environment and I have extensively tested both the A500 and the iPad2 and continue to support both at the school I work in.


  10. Hello ,

    Man it is interesting to hear all these different opinions ! I whole heartedly agree with Mikeymike on this one . Android wins in my book ! Open source ! You don’t have to by android accesories,software, etc .Nor does Google make it an up hill snow storm to connect and sync things. I’m not talking about just apples music which was a real bum deal until recently .but I’m talking about capability …ya iPad has great display but it doesn’t have the essentials that a person would need to drop the CPU and move to a tablet device . People want to be connected 24/7 with there files and information . They don’t want to pay for everything and they for darn sure don’t want to be given an error anytime the manufacturer doesn’t want you to do something. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about take ur precious iPhone/pad and try to change your firmware . I have been on both sides and I love the sweets ….apples not so much !

  11. I’ve never been a fan of purchasing a product which is available from only one vendor. It doesn’t encourage innovation, competition, or choice. It’s true the iPad has the apps right now. But really. Apps are just software, that’s all. There’s nothing magical there and anything of significance will be ported across.

    In the meantime this school has probably saved 10’s of thousands that they can put to use in other places with only minor compromises in functionality which they’re unlikely to miss – while picking up some cool features they may find useful (HDMI output by itself is worth ditching the iPad to get).

  12. Its great to see people are catching onto the many pitfalls single vendor lock-in provides. A tablet is just a tablet is just a tablet. The Apple tablet offers a close eco system whilst others don’t. Hopefully journalists can move on from comparing and asking why not an Apple everytime anybody announces buying products that aren’t Apple, or everytime a new device is released insisting on reviewing against an Apple product. It perpetuates the myth that Apple retains leadership and is incumbent l, the logical consumer choice, I have a single Windows notebook and in my home neteork the rest is a sea of linux, ps3, tivo, motorola, panasonic, android, ebetc.

  13. Its great to see people are catching onto the many pitfalls single vendor lock-in provides. A tablet is just a tablet is just a tablet. The Apple tablet offers a close eco system whilst others don’t. Hopefully journalists can move on from comparing and asking why not an Apple everytime anybody announces buying products that aren’t Apple, or everytime a new device is released insisting on reviewing against an Apple product. It perpetuates the myth that Apple retains leadership and is incumbent. I’m confident Apple right now isn’t the best phone, tablet or PC vendor unless perhaps your in graphic design. Even then I believe their legacy advantage is negated if you know what your doing on windows

  14. Have to agree the Acer is too big and expensive at 488 at JB, 388 would better. Android is not as appealing as the IOS on the iPad however we need completion. I think the Galaxy Tab may help that. However, Apple’s attitude is unacceptable when it comes to competition and their philosophy of our way or the hi way.

  15. Most people here should look at history and how things tend to go in circles. The Apple of today may be called the Microsoft of old. Then in a few years the Android of tomorrow may be the new Apple of today and the Microsoft of old. People will have preferences and things may work for some and not for others. There are tweakers who love putting their own PCs together. There are those who just want to turn on their PCs or tablets and get on with work. Software has become bloatware and has turned a lot of people off because there’s a button for every unthinkable procedure that 99% of users will never use. So Apple came up with a tablet that is for the rest of us, then Android did much similarly but people being people want to repeat history and make things complicated again.
    The point of all this is that in real life a person will get a job and never touch a computer and others will be part of the IT industry or get a job where ICT is essential but will always be specific. They may end up using an old scraggy PC or a new Mac or a new Android tablet or an iPad or who knows what. The idea is that kids are exposed to the technology and learn to use the technology for the good of humanity not to destroy, hack or bully.
    Preferences aside, I’m a Mac user who works in a Windows only school, owns a few Macs, an iPhone and a Tablet. I have used every Windows OS since 3.11 and still prefer the simplicity of Mac OS. Each has it’s own problems but it goes with what you’re really trying to achieve.
    To end it all, it doesn’t really matter what you use.

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