How Amazon Is Slaying Apple In The Classroom

On a freezing, cloudless day last January in New York, Apple presented to the world its vision for the future of education. It was a clear-eyed argument for bringing tablets into classrooms, a blueprint for fusing cutting-edge technology with advanced learning techniques.

But the future doesn't get built on no-bid contracts. And slowly, steadily -- especially after its announcement of Whispercast today (which is available to Australians) -- Amazon has put together a offering that undercuts Apple so dramatically that it might not just beat iPads to the classroom. They should probably be there already.

The problem with Apple's iPad education vision was never one of quality. It was accessibility, affordability, the insane presumption that $500 tablets were a reasonable investment for all but a handful of affluent communities. It was clear even in January that what we were looking at was a someday-proposition, weighed down by caveats and cost. As I wrote then:

Let's be clear; this is indisputably the future. What we saw today is what our classrooms will look like once iPads are far cheaper, once digital textbooks can be handed down as easily as physical ones, once teachers of every subject have several educational material options to choose among. For now though, it's important to remember that "new" and "different" always come at a premium. One that the vast majority of us can't afford.

That's as true today of Apple as it was 10 months ago. But look at how Amazon's offerings have grown since then. A backpack-friendly 7-inch tablet for $US160 (and E-ink technology has progressed enough that you could probably make due with a $US70 entry-level model). A Kindle eTextbook service that's ballooned to over 200,000 titles, with generous return policies and cash-saving rental options. And a platform ubiquity that ensures no kid gets left out, regardless of what device he or she owns.

Amazon had already addressed the affordability and immediacy problems in a way that Apple has yet to. But today's announcement of its Whispercast technology seems to solve problems Apple hadn't even thought of.

Whispercast is a free service that serves as an umbrella for many, many Kindle management features, but most of all it provides the kind of centralised control over devices that are a luxury for businesses and a necessity for schools. Content distribution, social media and purchase blockades, password protection, document sharing; there couldn't be a more teacher-friendly checklist.

Handing out Kindle Fires to every kid in a district still doesn't come cheap. But it's certainly cheaper than iPad -- or even the rumoured iPad Mini -- and comes with plenty more perks.

There are still challenges to Kindle classrooms of course, just like there will be for any tablet. It's a secondary device, which means you'll still need a computer at home to write term papers on. And while the textbook selection is better -- and cheaper -- than you'll find on iOS, you still won't find everything you need.

But where Amazon is today in the classroom looks a lot like where Apple wants to be a few years from now. And isn't education all about getting a good head start?



    Whispercast is the Amazon equivalent of Apple Configurator, and it has been there for enterprises since the iPhone3 was released. The only point where Amazon can beat Apple is the Price range on the devices. However having said that, a 7" $160 tablet (Kindle Fire) that complains of out of memory as soon as you install apps up to 800MB (of the 8GB available) and the crappy battery life and touch screen, yes. That's an edge...

    If I were to pay for the kids to have a device, I'd be happy to pay for an iPad than for a crappy tablet. If Apple reduces the prices, that would be really nice.

      I spotted your apple fanboy butthurt a mile away, look at the kindle touch, sub $100 price point, one month battery life, and as for apps i think your missing the point, this is for textbooks not angry birds

        Why is it just about textbooks? Do you really think kids only need textbooks? Besides, with the Kindle app, the Nook App, iBooks and dozens of other ebook stores and apps available on the iPad, there is far more choice in textbooks than the Kindle which doesn't support any competing ebook stores.

        Of course the bigger picture is educational apps and more general personal computing. With hundreds of thousands of educational apps, features like AirPlay to do wireless screen sharing from any kids iPad or the teacher's to the big screen, full colour display, microphone, video cameras, accelerometer, no malware, bluetooth keyboards, far more choice in third party hardware peripherals and accessories, etc, the iPad is a far more competent computer replacement.

        The Kindle range is far too much of a one trick pony to fulfill nearly as many needs as the iPad satisfies.

        Last edited 20/10/12 4:29 pm

        The Kindle fire does NOT have 1 Month's battery life!

        Last edited 20/10/12 4:28 pm

    Also you may think $500 is a resonable amount to pay but its glass screen and children being the users it will eventually break, $500 every time my kid puts his bag down to hard id rather not have to fork that out when he could have 5 decent tablets for the same price

      We've had far more problems with the fragility of cheap plastic clamshell Netbooks and notebooks which still cost $500 themselves for anything remotely usable.

      Ps. The iPad 2 is $399 and the iPad Mini will be even cheaper.

    No matter the quality the kids will break it so cost is a major factor. When it comes down to it kids are learning more than when I went through school and well anything to make it easier and more efficient.

      The iPad is far more durable than any cheap plastic laptop or netbook and there are plenty of cases available to increase the protection factor.

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