The iPad and Apple’s Motives in Education?

This month, I was at a conference where an Apple representative talked about their commitment to improving education, and their involvement with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. There is much that I commend about this partnership. They do provide much food for thought about what is needed in order to best prepare students for life and learning in the 21st century landscape. As much as I appreciated the presentation from the Apple representative, I was compelled to play the devil’s advocate.

I noted that some are critical of the corporate interests within the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. I asked if Apple was truly interested in improving education, or if sales and cultivating a next generation of clients was their primary motive for being involved with such initiatives. This wasn’t an accusation. I truly wanted to hear what the representative had to say. The response was reasonable. He admitted the obvious, that Apple is a for-profit organization and that Apple obviously wants to sell their products. He continued by explaining that this doesn’t mean that they are not also interested in improving education and helping prepare the next generation for life in our ever-changing world. It was a reasonable response and I left the meeting open to giving Apple the benefit of the doubt, granted that their product decisions support such claims.

Jump to yesterday, with the official announcement of Apple’s new iPad, or what I like to call the Texan iPod Touch. It is an impressive innovation, one that immediately caught my interests because of the educational implications. However, my skepticism about Apple’s true commitment to education emerged again when I saw that picture indicating that this product might not support Flash applications. That single omission does much to hint at what may or may not be Apple’s true intentions. Think about where we see some of the most exciting interactive applications emerging in education over the last few years…interactive whiteboards like the Smart Board and Promethean Board. Now consider that a ton of the educational applications that work so wonderfully with these boards are Flash applications. So, it seems to me that, if Apple really wants to create an iPad that has the needs (and not just the wallets) of students and educators in mind, then it would support Flash applications. I’m open to a reasonable explanation from Apple or others. Is there a genuine educational benefit to the iPad not supporting the plug-in that would allow us to run the thousands of free and inexpensive applications that are already being used in classrooms? Or, have I missed something? Will the iPad support Flash applications?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.