It's rumoured Apple is to launch its internet tablet: The great device we've all been waiting for. Mobile access to the web with a decent sized display. Something that you will enjoy watching movies on in bed. And yes, that kind of movie too.
But there is a greater opportunity and it has a lot more value because it ticks a lot of boxes. It provides for an unmet need. It has a business model as an end to end service and it doesn't compete with other areas.
It's the tablet as a teaching device.
While Windows tablets have failed to find any great acceptance they are loved in the classroom. They allow students from elementary to PhD to work collaboratively. To read papers and make margin notes, and then share those notes. Devices can be attached to the classroom projector so others can see some great work. IWay more portable than a satchel of textbooks. In one experiment the eight year old kids loved their tablets so much they made special bags for them. The teachers felt very guilty when they had to ask the pupils for the devices back at the end of the project.
It's not a Kindle. It's far more interactive and suits the mobile comms model very well. Like any good tool it can remove drudgery and let everyone concentrate on work. Handing in homework, automating the collation of marks.
This touches at the holy grail of the modern mobile device. The end-to-end service. Represented by iTunes, Blackberry mail and Kindle. It fits with a world trend to take education from being government sponsored to being privately paid for. Taking a degree as a hobby, re-training for a better job or particularly learning a language. in many parts of the world learning English makes a major difference to your career prospects.
The service provides an additional revenue stream – selling a skill not just communications – with benefits for subscriber acquisition and retention. Even the magic parents guit “buy this to make your kid smarter”.
Where networks have a choice between being providers of end to end services or bit pipes they are ideally suited to bring together the worlds of commercial education and device manufacture. Indeed it’s only the networks who are ideally placed for this. They have the financial clout with the hardware manufacturers and the relationship with the consumers.
History however, has shown us networks are slow at picking up on such things. In the UK the BBC has done a lot more with mobile comms and education than any of the networks. Which is why Apple is the great hope. Of course all this is true of a notebook and Apple has been there before with their Newton based notebook, but there is something special about a slate. Apple was great at getting computers into schools. Let’s hope they don’t see their tablet as only being the thing for watching movies in bed.
Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com you can read the column the previous Friday by subscribing here. Follow me on Twitter here.
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