Apple’s shot across the bow.

Rene asked me to write a few thoughts on Apple’s announcement after our coverage on Thursday, along with a few other iMore writers. As a former educator, I have some strong feelings on how we’ve not served our children in the past, and some stronger feelings on going forward into the future. You can read my thoughts below, and see the other writers’ thoughts here.

Apple’s move to advance our shamefully archaic system was met with a lot of debate on Thursday morning. On one side, we heard from utopian education advocates (myself included to some degree), extolling the virtues of a centralized e-textbook platform, and Apple’s commitment to engaging our youth. On the other hand, I had a few spirited conversations with those who feel that by making great educational opportunities “expensive” (meaning only upper-class schools may even be able to apply these new techniques, leaving inner-city and less-privileged districts behind) Apple has driven a wedge between the haves and the have-nots, making education less democratized and less accessible to all. Personally I feel that both sides have points, but quite honestly, nothing is fair. Education has, in the past decades, grown more and more to be the bastard child of the federal budget, despite the headline-grabbing initiatives that get introduced to fanfare and few results. Kids are taught only to pass tests, so that funding can be applied to districts who have “earned” it. Kids are getting the short end of every stick they see in school, and nothing is changing. And what if Apple’s entire move here is not about changing the entire education system, which it most likely understands is irreparably flawed, but rather to disintermediate education the way it did carrier control with the mobile market? What if Apple’s ultimate play (with products like iBooks Author) is to put education back in the hands of students (and the actual individuals they interact with on a daily basis), obviating the need for a bloated, antiquated system in much the same way that it saw the carriers as a necessary evil in bringing iOS to the hands of users?

Certainly not every district is hopelessly broken, and not every kid’s education suffers at the hands of an ever-shrinking budget. Children who seek out learning will always learn, and those who do not will make their way in the world. It has happened for years and will always be the case, no matter what costs we apply. Apple’s attempt to shake up a system so mired in early 20th century standards is merely a shot across the bow of a huge vessel that’s been in motion for as long as any of us can remember. It will not be panacea to all the ills of our society, nor should people expect Apple to fix every problem. Apple is a business; they exist to make money and sell merchandise. Those who are decrying its attempts to make learning better are missing the bigger picture. Should we all shun this advance because only rich kids might get a chance to use it at first? Education needs disruption, and all it takes is a cursory look at the developing countries of the world to know that mobile computing is the future for our society. Not everyone will get an iPad or an iPhone, but at some point, everyone will be exposed to learning in a better, mobile capacity, and we’ll have Apple to thank for jumpstarting the efforts of those who would sit idly and let our children continue on the endless march to mediocrity.

Seth worked for five years as a computer instructor in a public middle school (grades 6-8), for six years with kids with autism, and was a member of district-wide technology planning committees.

Since that post was published, I’ve heard a lot of other great commentary regarding the fact that this is all just more of the same kind of whiz-bang, “look how fun we can make learning” that we’ve been seeing for decades. I think there’s a lot of truth to that sentiment. However, even if this is only a first step, it’s an interesting one. This is by no means a problem that’s easily solved.

Android’s baby steps.

A few days ago, Google released a design guide for Android, a much welcomed first step into unifying the platform visually and creating cohesive application interfaces. Android has, over time, come under a lot of fire from visually-centered users and designers for its wildly varying interfaces and disparity among device types and sizes.

But it’s only a first step. Developers need to embrace the new guidelines and conform their designs to the recommended paths. However, there are still lessons for Google to learn as well. We just got a Galaxy Nexus in the office and one of the first things I realized was that the “Menu” button has been removed and replaced with a few squares on the screen within apps like this:

Android 4.0 Dialer

Android 4.0 Gallery

It took me a second to realize that the tiny squares were there, and another to realize that I could tap them to invoke the menu options that in previous versions of Android were at the bottom of the phone with the Home, Back, and Search keys. But the problem for Google is not the size, nor the location of the squares. It’s that squares already mean something else:

ICS Android Devices

Those little squares are ways to get to your apps. So for an inexperienced user, performing an activity within an app, it may appear that you can tap those squares to get your app drawer opened. Granted, the fact that someone will only really confuse this approximately once is not lost on me. But it’s inconsistent. You can’t attempt to strongly coerce an already fractured design platform if the visual metaphors you choose to implement are murky. Would it have been so difficult to choose some other shape to either signify “apps” or “menu”?

That said, the very existence of the guidelines shows that Android is truly maturing as a platform. Some people won’t like it, because it means Google’s exercising more Apple-like control. Some users will welcome it because it means higher-quality experiences across devices. One thing’s for sure: we won’t be debating “open” for much longer if this keeps up, and that’s fine. It was a straw man from the start.