The Student Reader

In a month of big tech news, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made the biggest tech news on September 28th. Speculation about Amazon’s “iPad killer” tablet had been floating around for months, but what Bezos revealed was even bigger: a family of new Kindles with almost shockingly low prices. Leading the pack is the brand new Kindle Fire, and it’s like an e-reader on steroids: not only can Amazon customers read e-books in color, but they can buy and rent movies and TV shows, browse the web with a lightning-fast custom made browser, play games, communicate with friends via IM and e-mail, and much more.

Still, the “iPad killer” moniker doesn’t mean much when you look at each tablet’s specs, because the iPad 2 wins in almost every category. And when it comes to its uses in education, the iPad2 is the fastest, most comprehensive machine for the job. But the Kindle Fire and the iPad2 have two completely different roles: while the iPad2 is a tool, the Kindle Fire is a content delivery device. And that difference could at least cripple the iPad2 in the educational sector.

 

Form follows function

The iPad2’s success as an educational device has remained uncontested in part because of Apple’s history of catering to the educational market—from its inception, Apple has made an effort to offer quality hardware to teachers and students. iPad2’s are also popular in the classroom because they lend themselves to collaboration: with front- and rear-facing cameras, teachers and students enrolled in online education can communicate without a computer.

But for many consumers, including students, the cameras and other features are rarely used. A clear, bright screen, a wide-ranging selection of applications, and a size custom-made for portability are important factors for an educational device. The Kindle Fire’s screen is smaller, but its size makes it perfect for purses and small totes. If an electronic device is easier to hold and handle, it’s easier to use.

The price is right

The Fire is certainly impressive, but it’s simply not in the same category as the iPad2. And that’s why its price will give it an edge: even with a discount, schools are paying almost twice as much for iPad2’s as they will for Amazon Kindle Fires. For less than $200 per device, teachers and students will have access to thousands of free books, hundreds of thousands of reasonably-priced books and learning materials, and a whole collection of movies and videos that can be used for educational purposes.

Amazon’s Prime program is free for a month with new Fire purchases—an agreement Amazon is sure to modify for devices used in schools. But Amazon’s focus on content—not hardware—allows them to deliver a device that makes choosing and using content quick, easy and affordable. Until Apple makes content a top priority, they’ll be behind Amazon.

Teaching and learning in the cloud

Cloud computing has gotten mixed reviews, but as it improves and becomes more reliable, more people are using it for storage and easy access to data. Amazon’s Cloud Drive allows consumers to buy media and store it in the cloud—making a large hard drive superfluous. And since the Fire has a relatively small 8GB drive, users are encouraged to use the Amazon Cloud Drive for storage of large pieces of data. For teachers and students, storing assignments and projects in the cloud can make it easier to access them no matter where they are—a real benefit for students enrolled in online education. Apple’s iCloud purports to store data and push it to every Apple device—but it’s not up and running just yet. Amazon’s cloud drive isn’t as ambitious as Apple’s, but for regular consumers, teachers and students who use their tablets for basic schoolwork, it’s good enough.

Amazon’s new Kindle Fire is sure to be a blockbuster with consumers and schools. It won’t kill the iPad2, but that’s not the point; the Fire will serve as a basic, easy-to-use alternative to the iPad2. And until the Fire, an alternative like that didn’t exist. The Kindle Fire fills the void of an affordable tablet—and for millions of consumers, that’s the perfect alternative to an iPad2.

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