Apple iPad Versus OLPC XO Laptop

   
   
   
   
   

Anyone interested in technology world-wide would have become aware of the announcement of the iPad tablet device this week. Coverage of it has been hard to ignore, and I know many many educators including myself have of course been very interested in its implications for education because of the success many have had in adapting the iPod touch for use in schools.

But in this post I'd like to reflect a little on the other great mobile education movement of the last three years - that of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) 'children's machine'. While even the latest version 1.5 of the XO laptop they build and supply has tech that is getting a little behind, it does have at least three distinct advantages over the iPod/iPhone/iPad platform:

1. Designed for children - yep, rather than being a consumer or business device that crafty educators are able to integrate into educational settings, the XO was designed ground-up to be in students hands. I mean its bright green! When a student first sees one, they know already this is for them - and that means their use of it for learning starts at a unique place. This is a factor not to be underestimated.

2. Automatic collaboration - while there are a growing number of iPod touch apps that can use wifi or bluetooth to do some basic screen-sharing or sending of files etc, another of the distinguishing features of the XO laptop is that sharing and collaboration is built in automatically to practically every activity, even the camera. Its not something students even have to think - 'oh can I work on this with someone?' (or two, or four etc), but is simply a matter of switching to the dedicated 'friends' screen and sending the invitation.

3. Dual screen modes - the announcement of the iPad means that one of the XO's advantages (larger screen) will shortly be neutered, but the ability of the screen to work as a regular colour LCD indoors, and a black and white screen outdoors with full readability in direct sunlight gives the XO a big advantage over the glossy iPad as far as true mobile learning goes.

4. Flash support. Ok I know I said three - but this one is not one of mine. I don't use flash hardly at all, but I know alot of educators that do rely on it for hundreds of interactive learning objects that are totally unavailable in the Apple mobile world. How long it takes for these to eventually be ported over to Java/HTML5 or turned into the mobile apps (via Adobe conversion software) that are becoming more of the standard for such software I don't know, but until then, educators are great hoarders, and so Flash support remains an issue.

Of course there are downsides to the XO laptop also (such as the aforementioned aging hardware, and the fact that a more natural touch-based version may be more than two years away). As a final note to this comparison, I don't know how many of the 140,000 iPod touch apps are educational, but a developer in that space recently mentioned a figure of 3-4000 to me. Anyone reading out there know how many XO activities (the OLPC name for apps) there are?

Jonathan Nalder writes uLearning Blog as a teacher in Australia

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5 Comments

How often (percent of time) do students, or anyone for that matter, work on computers in direct sunlight?

Hi Becky, thats a good question about the use in direct sunlight. In most schools I guess technology doesn't get used outside because it can't be, but the students at my school do take the XO down to the oval to record sports performance, and sometimes just like to sit and work outside - because they can. Ta.

I'm not sure this is a meaningful comparison since, even the cheapest iPad model is 2.5 times as expensive as an XO, but, since you started the discussion, I'll had a few more points:

(1) Keyboard on the XO is a big advantage for writing and content production

(2) But touchpad on the iPad is a big advantage for children's natural and intuitive interaction to access and interact with computer-based and online content

(3) Some of the XO advantages listed might not be so important in practice. Do the automatic collaboration tools on the XO work as well in practice as they do in theory? And is it really that valuable that it's green?

Hi Mark - does the 'sharing' work as well in practice as in theory? In my experience no it doesn't sadly - but I still have a lot to learn. Maybe the 1.5 will improve this? Anyone got a 1.5 can testify?

Well that's pretty interesting comparison and points. I have never think to compare OLPC with any other device or gadget the reason is I personally feel that OLPC is a device which is intentionally made for kids for educative prospect while all other devices including iPad/iPhone and so on are made for the purpose of earning money and kind of entertainment. So there is no comparison or I can so point to compare.

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