Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Selecting Electronic Tablet Devices: Questions To Ponder "

Introduction: There are many complex considerations to evaluate when purchasing the pricey tablet. 1) Purpose, 2) Operating System Platform Selection, 3) Cost, 4) Application Purchasing (Apps), and 5) Durability, Loss, and Replacement factors.

The very name of “tablet” denotes “simple reading and writing access”. This may be true, but there are many questions you should ask before investing in a tablet for yourself or your child.

To begin with, with the iPad – tablet craze, there are many versions out there for a variety of skill levels. It is becoming a tablet revolution as new operating systems emerge to compete with Apple’s commanding iOS, and now their new O X "Mountain Lion" operating system interface coming out soon.

The tablet device is now being purchased alongside other screen multiples that the average household contains: televisions, desktops, netbooks, laptops, and Smart Phones. To be more accurate, each individual, man, woman and child can each own, and divide their time, between several types of screens, in multiples. They are even being adapted into our automobiles. Even, Internet TV is here.

Tablets are a revolution touch learning device, as students can read and learn new material with the tap of a finger, as young as at the age of three. If you are an adult or teen who has been using a Smart Phone for years, transferring to the touch screen interface will be simple. Tablets seem like an outsized “Smart Phone”, with touch icons, and they give you the larger screen size. The various applications are understood, and where they take you for what you need to know.

There is a question as to how “heavy-duty” the tablet is for intensive business functional document usage, and making presentations, or whether it is best in classrooms or households. To compare the use of a desktop PC and a tablet: With the Windows PC you have to deal with start menus, mice opening and closing specified windows, boot-up time, and directories. It becomes a computer session.

With the tablet device, you launch an application, and you're using that app immediately. That's it. You don't have to teach computer or keyboarding use in order to use the Math or Reading application. And, it is small, highly portable. That is a big difference.

Screen Convergence: Apple, seeing the multiple screen inconvenience, has created a new operating system, OS X called “Mountain Lion”, with accompanying software to interface the iPhone, iPad, Mac desktop, and laptop to merge all screens interactively. They are working on the ability to view desktop apps as icons in an iPhone-like grid. The new Mac software will support a feature called “Air-Play Mirroring”, connecting images of the iPhone, iPad to the user’s television screen, through a $99 Apple TV device.

Subsequently, you will need to consider how you will divide your time between all of the multiple interactive screens you, and your family, own and operate both at home and away.

Five important key questions to consider when selecting a tablet and making a substantial investment:

First Question To Ask Yourself:

Decide on the purpose and skill level of the person using it. Will the tablet be for quick email communications, watching movies, listening to music, shopping the internet, or for classroom instruction? Can the household decision-makers agree on how time will be allocated between shopping and map surfing, presentations, watching movies and sporting events, social networking, conducting business operations, or for instructional usage?

Engaging heavily in any one interest or objective, as texting all day, is like living on potato chips; it is simply unhealthy and unproductive.

Skill Levels Vary Greatly in Dealing with Functions:

Everything from web and map searching, utilizing USB ports for backups, inserting head-phones, and microphones, downloading apps, and uploading to the clouds requires technical knowledge and performance skills.

Unfortunately, some tablets, like the current Apple iPad, do not have a USB ports to transfer data, or print, except to the clouds, or with a transfer cord to a laptop/desktop/printer. Be sure to check this important feature when you shop tablets.

Second Question:

Operating System Choices and Platform Considerations:

Decide, or have someone decide for you, which operating system (OS) you want to go with. You may want to bundle for better value. Although the Apple iOS now controls 90% of the market share, Android, Hewlett Packard’s Linux OS, and Windows 7 are fighting for positioning.

Be aware that multiple category screen interfaces are in the works for companies, but Apples new OS X "Mountain Lion" has a jump start coming out this year.

Onlive, Inc. has recently released an Apple OS free version of Microsoft Office (MS) – the productivity tools of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, called “On-Live Desktop”. There are still concerns with the mismatch of the touch interface as MS Office was designed for keyboard and mouse.

There has been criticism regarding the Windows 7 Operating System (OS) not doing well on tablets compared to the desktop.

Make sure you do research for your Learning Management System (LMS) instructional requirements and whether you need Adobe Flash Streaming capabilities.

The Google, Windows, and Blackberry Android OS may become favorites as they incorporate Adobe Flash Player. In April 2010, Hewlett Packard (HP) acquired Palm’s web Linux operating system called webOS. The HP TouchPad tablet offers webOS – including Adobe Flash features, and will be released July 1, 2012 at competitive iPad price points.

Although the iPad – iPhone Operating System has not supported Adobe Flash Player which many Learning Management Operating Systems (LMS) require, they have launched a new Media Streaming Server 4.5 for $995 at an Amsterdam trade show.

The Adobe Flash Media Interactive Server 4.5 is $4500.

Third Question:

Price Point and Monthly Fees. When purchasing a tablet, there are many price points from under one hundred bucks up to one thousand dollars. Also, consider service providers’ policies and bundling with your Smart phone. Don’t forget to compare monthly costs for tablet operation. Monthly data fees range from $20 to $80 per month.

With planned obsolescence, you will want to change tablets for ones with newer features. Be aware that your service provider may lock you in for the life of the tablet. When dealing with obsolescence – who will trade them in, and when?

Fourth Question:

Application (APP) Purchase: For home use, who will be the decision maker in buying applications, and what research tools will they use? For classroom learning, who will decide on what apps to buy – where will the budget come from? For educational purposes, will it be a unanimous budget decision by the school building administrators or teachers, or by grades with appointed team-units?

Subsequently, how will the apps be downloaded and launched by younger students? In a classroom environment will all students launch them simultaneously, during break periods, or by the teacher – how? Will the steps and procedures be reviewed to save time and frustration?

Now, with Android and SMS apps, you can both send and receive text messages and calls with Skype and Google voice on some tablets. Check this feature when buying.

Fifth Question:

Durability, Loss and Replacement Cost. Research durability features and how the tablet device is designed. Electronics can be an expensive investment for any age, but particularly for young children who are not certain how to use them effectively, and are known to drop and break things easily. Durability selection will be an important choice.

I known those who left their tablet device on an airplane seat to find it disappeared. Decide if you can afford to replace it, if necessary. How will breakage and repair be handled? Replace the tablet with a new one, or rush to the repair store?

Instructional Usage:

The highly portable, light tablet can be used in all sectors of instruction: primary, secondary, college, or workplace learning. Costing less than textbooks, tablet sales into schoolrooms are expected to escalate over the next year. Subsequently, parents are wondering whether to invest in them for their youngsters’ usage at home.

On the tablet, learning becomes integrated with sound and text. Reading is now interactive and dynamic. Visualized actions are now replaced by stories that come alive with animations and sounds on the color touch screen. Does this activate their brain-room for their own imagination to grow? This question is answered in that it will depend. There is a big difference in the personalities, attention spans, and capabilities between children and the environments in which they live.

Yet, this learning must be directed, as attention spans for most children are short. Students can play fast games, but when applying tablets for instructional use with reading, math, and spelling, lessons must be parent supervised and managed. Questions must be carefully thought out and answered through automated tracking systems.

Tablets are ideal for displaying a variety of content to learners to explain concepts. This allows for differentiated learning, as pacing and timing are critical. Instructors can carry the tablet and move around learning areas to monitor student’s progress and make important adjustments to work.

Written Instruction Interfaces.

It is also to be determined how tapping out individual letters on a weak touch keyboard contributes to solid written expression capability. Will fast sequencing ability and thought flow be as productive as working on a desktop, netbook, or laptop? Or, should they be used together in tandem as screens converge interactively?

Written drafts may have to be printed out of the clouds, unless the tablet has a USB port for a connected printer. Pen and ink may become an alien concept; cursive writing is also nearly non-existent. How will we add our signature when we open a bank account or sign legal documents? Will we sign our names with an “X”, tapping with a stylus, or resort to rubber stamps?

Written communication instruction will still remain paramount, and will need to be taught, with or without paper, moving to keyboards and screens, embracing tablet domination.

Here's a short list of kid-friendly tablet devices in a broad range of prices that you can find online:

Touch Screen Tablet Alternatives for Kids:

When you don’t want your kid to break your iPad and suddenly turn it into a $600 paper weight, there are less costly alternatives. With the younger child, with more limited interactive sequencing skills, a touch screen can be simple, yet you might consider tablet interfaces created specifically for this age group in mind – like V-Tech’s V-Reader or Learning Innotab with a small 5” screen, designed for learning how to download applications (apps) for ages 4-9, $79.

The Korean Nabi, $200 tablet offers apps for three Select Age Groups, (3-5, 6-8, 9-11). It is a nice alternative for the more expensive iPad, as it has a camera, 7” screen, an SD slot for games, an audio jack, with built in speakers and microphone. This tablet features lots of free apps, a Netflix app is built in, and there is a Nabi store.

As a $200 alternative for all ages, the Kindle Fire tablet offers books, music and Netflix movies on a 7” screen; 3.5 mm stereo audio jack, top-mounted stereo speakers and a USB port.

Finally, Personal Well-Being: Isometric Finger Tension Considerations:

For daily student classroom usage, spending hours hovering over a tablet raises questions regarding back, finger, and eye-strain tensions.

Tapping too hard isn’t the only concern, research studies warn that simply holding fingers rigidly over the surface in anticipation of touches causes “isometric tension,” which presents even more problems for your finger muscles and tendons. The study also points out the double-edged sword of high-resolution screens, which might make for clearer images, but also cause smaller fonts that strain the eyes.

Recommendations are to avoid bending at the neck or back to use a tablet device and, if possible, connect it to a physical keyboard.

The jury is out on many of these tablet device questions, technology is moving forward rapidly, but they are something to be considered, and to think about now, as you select your purchase.

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