Earlier this week, Acer and Google announced a totally new type of device that can only be described as a mixture of Chromebook and iPad. I was lucky enough to play around with a prototype back in January, so here's my attempt to explain what the Chromebook Tab 10 is, and why it's an important development.
But first, some background...
Imagine walking into a primary school in Wales a couple of years ago. You would see plenty of PCs, probably a laptop trolley and, almost certaintly, a collection of iPads. Apple ruled the classrooms, and iPads were seen as the device of the future. Fast forward to today and those iPads are still there, but they have now been joined in many schools by a collection of Chromebooks. Chromebooks make up about 60% of educational devices sold in the US, and whilst I have no figures for the Wales there's no doubt that their growth has exploded in the last year or two. Chromebooks are much better for productive work, especially when it includes typing. They have long lasting batteries, boot up in 12 seconds and are much tougher to help them survive a primary classroom. However, when I'm asked "Should we buy Chromebooks and iPads?" (the most common question I face when I visit schools), my honest answer has always been, well, both.
Because for all the difficulties in running a set of iPads (more on that later), the ease with which they can be carried around, the simplicity of taking photos and videos and using them within apps, and the huge collection of educational apps means they are better suited for some task than a Chromebook. I love iPads and I think all primaries need tablet devices alongside their Chromebooks.
The problem however, is that keeping a batch of iPads organised and up to date is an absolute nightmare. I dread to count the number of hours I've spent updating iPads, adding apps to iPads, deleting videos to free up memory, sorting out locked iPads and sending iPad screens off to be fixed. There's also the problem of students not being able to log in to iPads, so everyone's work is available to everyone and you need the exact same. Many schools pay companies to deal with all this for them, increasing the amount of money they cost during their lifetime.
Enter the Chromebook Tab 10
So, what is this new device? Just to make it clear, this is not an Android tablet. What I mean by that is thsat whilst an iPad runs the same software as an iPhone, this Chromebook Tab 10 does not run Android, the software you'll recognise from Google or Samsung's phones. This tablet runs Chrome OS, that's the same software as on a Chromebook. So, if you've ever used a Chromebook, you'll know exactly what to expect (a device you can log into and have immediate access to all your work on Google Drive.)
But what about the apps? A tablet would be pointless without apps, right? Well, many teachers won't have realised yet, but Google Play apps (the ones that you use on your Samsung or Pixel phone) now work on most Chromebooks, which means they also work on the Chromebook Tab 10. Of course, it's still true that there are some apps, especially in education, that are available on iOS but not on Google Play. The reason for that has been that there has been pretty much no schools using devices that can run Google Play apps, so there was no reason for developers to create educational apps. Now that apps work on Chromebooks and on this new tablet, there's suddenly a huge amount of schools capable of using them, and therefore plenty of incentive for developers to make Google Play versions. This means that the problem of some apps being iPad only is likely to be negligable in the near future. (In fact, you can already see the difference, just one year after apps became available on Chromebooks).
Back in January, I spent a week at the BETT show, where companies come to show the very best of their educational technologies. I was lucky enough to get to represent Google on their stand, explaining to visitors how I used Chromebooks in our school. On one of the days, Google held a gathering for their Certified Trainers and Innovators where they introduced us to a prototype of the Chromebook Tab 10. I got a few minutes to play around with it, and, although it was only a quick taste, I must say I was impressed. As I'll discuss below, the Chromebook Tab 10 comes with a simple, inexpensive stylus (all the technology is in the screen, not the pen). I brought out my iPad Pro with its expensive Apple Pencil and did a quick comparison - they Chromeboom Tab and its simple stylus worked just as smoothly and accurately.
So, why should we consider using the Chromebook Tab 10?
As I made clear earlier, I do like using iPads in schools, and I'm not here to write them off just yet, especially with Apple announcing a slightly cheaper model to schools the day after Google launched the Chromebook Tab 10. As discussed above, the iPad continues to have one advantage over the Chromebook Tab (and the many other similar devices that will surely appear over the next year or two), it does, at least right now, have a better catalogue of educational apps. But a tablet running Chrome OS does have a few clear advantages over an iPad:
1 - Pupils can log in.
iPads were made to be personal devices, which means that when you share them in schools, children can see, edit and delete the work of other pupils. Whilst Apple has created a system for schools to allow pupils to have 'accounts', I've never seen a school actually use it.
2 . Familiar
With Chromebooks being the most popular devices in most schools, pupils and teachers know how to use Chrome OS. It means they don't have to learn about, or keep up to date with, two different operating systems.
3. So easy to manage
This is the key one, and the one I hinted to earlier. Managing a collection of Chrome devices is MUCH, MUCH easier than managing a collection of iPads. We bought 50 Chromebooks for our school two years ago, and I have spent less than 1 hour in the admin panel. They update automatically, I can push extensions, apps and websites to them with the click of a button and I've never had to spend a lesson deleting videos and photos from them one by one. Sadly, many schools I visit have expensive iPads, so full of potential, that are barely used because nobody is sure how to install new apps, or nobody had time to make some space in their memory.
4. Integration with G Suite
For schools who use G Suite (and from later this year, with G Suite coming to Hwb, all schools in Wales will be able to use it) the integration between Google Drive and Chromebooks is fantastic. Log into the Chromebook and all of your work is right there. Take a photo or video on a Chromebook and it saves to your drive, not to the device. This means you can find your work on any Chromebook, not just on the same one you previously used.
I've owned an iPad Pro for two years, and I love it. I've also owned an Apple pencil for two years...and I've barely used it. Not that there's anything wrong with it, it is a stunning piece of tech. It flows smoothly on the screen and it's super-responsive. The reason it's never used is because it's always either lost or out of battery! The stylus on the Chromebook Tab 10 is very different. All the technology is in the screen, not in the pen. This means that there's no need to charge the stylus itself. There's also a slot on the Tab to hold the pen, so it won't get lost so easily. Finally, and importantly for schools, since all the tech is in the screen, if you do lose or break the stylus, it's cheap to replace.
So to finish off this article, let me explain where we currently stand. Whilst this exact device, the Chromebook Tab 10, is yet to be released and therefore I can't comment on how good it is (other than my 2 minutes play around in January) the idea of a Chrome OS tablet is a huge development. It could be the move that breaks, or at least dents, the iPad's total dominance of the primary school tablet market. I doubt many schools in Wales will rush to buy a set of them the day they come out, and they're unlikely to reach Chromebook level of dominance until a few more companies release their own versions with different styles and price levels. But when our school's current crop of iPads reach the end of their life in 12-18 months, we will definitely be taking a look at Chrome OS tablets, and so should you.