Tablet Computers: Android vs iOS and Why iPads Are the “Value Buy”

I’ve replied many times to the question of purchasing a Mac vs Windows PC. I point out that value, not price, is the most important factor. The qualities of the Mac (and the shortcomings of Windows) frequently make the Mac the “value buy” in personal computers.

Joe Morelock is a fellow ADE (Apple Distinguished Educator) who leads one of the largest deployments of iOS devices in schools in the country. A recent message on our ADE listserv asked for help with an upcoming school purchase where Android tablets and iPads are being considered. Joe explains in his helpful reply why the iPad is the “value buy” among tablet computers. He was kind enough to let me reprint it here.
It looks like you are in the same place in which several school folks find themselves – at the crossroads of money versus what’s best for students and teachers. I’ve been working with some groups lately that have asked very similar questions, usually focusing upon the Kindle Fire or some other “light” tablet for no other reason than cost. Here are a few things that I remind them to consider before going down the Android path:

Flavor of the month syndrome
How long will the Android (or other OS) tablet be around in its current or similar configuration? Many tablets have come and gone from the scene in the last couple of years. You need to consider the longevity of the platform or device you choose. That doesn’t mean that Apple won’t change the iPad necessarily, but its primary form factor and iOS will more than likely continue on an upgrade path that allows backwards iOS compatibility (to a point).

The splinter factor
Trying to guess which Android tablet will have which OS version and when upgrades might appear is the new Survivor-meets-Fear Factor. With this splintering of the OS on Android, this also means that you’ll never know if an app available in the (now) myriad Android “app stores” will work on said tablet depending upon OS version and such. Developers know that, too. That’s why you’ll see them trending toward iOS (and the fact that more people actually purchase iOS apps than just use free ones – as the trend in Android currently shows)

The “who’s minding the store” problem
When we deploy devices (iOS, of course), we don’t have to worry about the apps that are installed on the device from the Apple iTunes App Store…meaning that they live in a curated store and have been tested as not to blow up or bring other badness to the iPad or iPod touch. Contrast that with the (myriad) “app stores” in which there are tales of malware, badware, and “underware” (sorry, had to) that bring pain and hassle to the Android platform. Since Android is “open” (and that’s “open” to debate), anything goes and that concerns me on the overall management and safety front.

The “how do we manage this thing” issue
You have to keep in mind how you’ll actually manage the devices once you have them. Who will do it? How will they do it? It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 or 2,000. Currently, you can simply use iTunes to do that. You can further graduate to Lion server and certificates if you want to or a full-blown MDM solution. We train our teachers to use iTunes to purchase content and manage devices, and since it’s something with which they are both familiar and comfortable, it’s easy to convince them to take control and manage the devices themselves. There are more complete solutions for that, but knowing that you have options- whether it’s IT who will do it or your own teachers- is a huge consideration.

Finally, lower cost doesn’t mean better value. You get what you pay for. Think about what you want to do with students and which device will do that for you.

About Andy Brovey

Dr. Andy Brovey, The Portable Prof, teaches about digital tools through his work, websites and social media. In 2007, Apple Inc. recognized his work and named him an Apple Distinguished Educator. He started this iPad Academy website shortly after the first iPad went on sale. On his Freelance Teaching site you'll find the resources you need to teach like a smart entrepreneur.