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