Whether you love or hate them, you cannot avoid them: iPhones and iPads are everywhere. These devices are now the poster children for digital mobility, despite a small market share (but a huge profit margin) and a boatload of other equivalent products. Thanks to Apple’s PR work on these products, the web is now mobile, shiny, ubiquitous, and it even fits in your pocket. What’s not to love? And they even have great apps that make your life much easier. Seriously, who doesn’t need to play tic-tac-toe on a $500+ device?
Here are 4 reasons why you don’t want to spend the time and money building an iPhone or iPad app to help your users learn something.
Despite the obvious awesomeness of iPads and iPhones, I am really concerned by the underlying business models, especially the app ecosystem. Here are 4 reasons why building an educational applications for iPhones and iPads is probably not a good use of your time and money.
- iPhones and iPads are really expensive, and therefore building apps just for them increases the digital divide. Apple products are designed for a specific target market: hype, rich, and urban. Is that the only kind of people you want to teach? Most schools and universities can’t really afford to give one of these devices to their students. And even if they do, the kids already have them anyway, and the school’s money would be better spent on something else.
- iPhones and iPads are designed to be obsolete very fast.
And did I mention they are really expensive? If you decide to buy Apple devices for your students…well first of all please give me your gardener’s address, because you must have money-bearing trees in your backyard. Then, think about the real investment you are making. These products are not designed for sustainability: you can’t even change the batteries without paying Apple for goodness sake! Then, chances are in a few years your software will be obsolete, but you’ll have to buy new hardware to run the new software. Hardware and software upgrades are normal in eLearning and IT, but there might be cheaper and more convenient alternatives to Apple products that you should invest in. And, referring to item #1, it’s going to cost you a boatload of money. But maybe your gardener can take care of that. Lucky you.
- If you want to sell your app, you have to sell your soul to Apple first.
To create a commercial app, you have to buy the programming system from Apple, and learn objective C. Then you have to get your app approved by Apple so you can sell it on the iTunes store. It is illegal to sell it anywhere else. Think about it: if you spend money into building an app that gets rejected by a Apple for whatever reason, it’s all wasted, and you have no alternative.
If they suddenly decide that your app isn’t worth being on the store anymore, same thing: you have no control, no alternative distribution channel.
Even Microsoft doesn’t do that. Microsoft!
- You can (and should) build mobile-compatible web applications anyway.
You can eat your cake and have it too. If you or a team-mate know enough about HTML and CSS (these are basic components of the web. Right now, you’re looking at a page written in HTML-Hypertext Markup language -and styled in CSS-Cascading Style Sheet), you can optimise a web page to look nice on a mobile device (not just Apple-branded), and everyone benefits from it. Much more inclusive, sustainable, and less costly. Take advantage of one of the greatest feature of the iPhone: the awesome web browser. Besides, when you buy an iPhone you have to pay for a G3 subscription anyway, so your users will have access to the web virtually anywhere. Yay!
Why you might still consider developing an app
Despite all these problems with Apple’s mobile products, you might still consider it for several valid reasons. For instance, your target market really are just Apple-branded hipsters. Or maybe you have an idea that would only work on the iPhone (beware of advertisement-induced bias: today a wide range of great mobile devices can do many things an iPhone does and sometimes more. Ever heard of Android? They have an appstore as well, but because Android is open-source, you don’t have to depend on Google to sell them. There’s even an Amazon appstore).
It seems to me that the best situation would be to have a project that contains pre-existing content and data. In that case, the iPhone app is just one way to spread you content, for the lucky student who happen to own one of those technological marvels. Use all the technology you can if and when it makes sense, but for the love of God don’t build a software just because it’s the “next big thing”. Millions have already been wasted on useless projects that, in their time, were going to be the next big thing.
Mobile devices are no longer the future, they are the present. Should we consider them for our eLearning systems? Sure. But let’s be pragmatic and use the things that already work well elsewhere, such as good old HTML. The web is designed to be flexible, let’s use that flexibility to our advantage (and our student’s benefit) when it comes to mobile learning.
Do you have a super successful educational iPhone/iPad project you’d like to share? Or do you want to debate the arguments in this article? Please comment below!