Archive for January, 2012

Can tablets be a laptop or PC ‘replacement’?

Source: blog.nothingbutsoftware.com

A few weeks back, we bemoaned the slow or non-existent pace at which tablets (such as the iPad or Galaxy Tab) were making their way into classrooms around the world. We’re big proponents of tablet use in educational settings, and as we pointed out, one tablet device for a child could replace all their textbooks, their calculator, and even the need to have a netbook (which many schools, particularly in Australia, already utilise).

But what about outside of education? In the business sector, iPads and other tablet devices are slowly making their presence felt. In an article published today by itnews.com.au, IT and business professionals in Australia are only using tablets conservatively, and persisting with the use of laptops as their primary technological tool to get them through each day. Other countries seem to be leaps and bounds ahead on this front, and rightly so, as the business potential of tablet devices is enormous. In our own office, we use our iPads to check mail, crunch visitor and app download statistics, manage our social media presence and much more. More and more each day, we’re finding that our laptops are being pushed out of the way in favour of the more portable and practical tablet option.

For many, thought, that’s simply not an option. With our programmers, they simply cannot ‘code’ using a tablet, as the screen doesn’t provide enough ‘real estate’, the keyboard is impractical for long sessions of typing, and more often than not the underlying OS of the tablet isn’t powerful enough, both in speed and processing capacity, for their requirements.

But while business may not be leaning toward full tablet integration, in the home you can see the obvious potential. In a few years, the netbook is most likely going to be a thing of the past, due to the fact that its main purpose (being a low cost tool for accessing the Internet) can easily be achieved with a more comfortable, intuitive and portable tablet. More and more, my own laptop barely gets used over a weekend or at night after work hours; I’m checking my Twitter, sharing on Facebook, viewing videos, streaming television shows, composing emails and checking sports scores all from my iPad.

So, can tablets replace the laptop? Well, yes and no. As demonstrated in Samsung’s promotional advertisement for their Galaxy Tab, the direction of tablet computing is multi faceted; useful for education, in business and in the home. Tablets can definitely replace the need for laptops or PCs at home, but the sticking point is going to be the practicality and power of the tablet in a business environment, particularly in professional or IT based businesses. For that, tablet computing is just not quite there – yet!

In-app purchasing and kids

Source: iphonegametutorials.com

One issue that seems to be cropping up all over the web is the issue of in-app purchasing (let’s call it IAP for brevity’s sake) in apps aimed and marketed at children. For those who don’t know, IAP is a system in iOS that allows a user to purchase small add-ons for an app without leaving the confines of the app itself. Those add-ons may be a bonus level in a game, a new section in a news app, or a new inventory item in an adventure game. In my case, I make use of IAP for purchasing new editions of my favourite magazines through Newsstand on my iPad.

The issue is in the way that the IAP system is setup and operates currently. At the moment, when you want to make an in-app purchase, iOS asks you for your password, you enter it in, touch the OK button, and the purchase is processed. Pretty simple, right? Well, yes, it is – and that is also it’s main drawback. It’s too simple. After you enter your password to make a purchase through the App Store or an in-app purchase, your iPhone or iPad won’t ask you to re-enter your password for any other purchases you make in the next 15 minutes. The problem here is that if you have purchased an app for your kids to use, and then handed them your device, they have 15 minutes in which to ‘go nuts’ (and it’s well documented that they will).

Now, there are ways to stop this from happening. In the General section of the Settings on your iPhone or iPad, you can setup ‘Restrictions’ so that apps can’t be downloaded, deleted and purchased by a child with ‘fast fingers’, and you can also make your device ask you for your password every time you make a purchase, bypassing the 15 minute standard. But there are drawbacks to this way of thinking:

  1. Having to go into the Settings and enabling restrictions each time your kids want to play with your phone or tablet, and then turning them back off when you finally get your device back, is a huge hassle. And who’s to say you’re going to remember to do it every time!
  2. For a large majority of iPhone and iPad users, if you told them about the ‘restriction control’ aspect of their device, they probably would have no idea how to activate it. Even Robert Scoble, a well renowned tech journalist, couldn’t easily find where these controls were!

So, what’s the solution? Well, putting aside any ethical issues of having IAP in kids apps (as explored by Comedy Central’s The Daily Show late last year), there should be a rethink on just how to restrict kids’ use of certain aspects of the iOS system. A password-controlled ‘quick change’ multi-user system would be a great step forward, where parents could set their kids up with a¬†separate¬†account on their device that only shows the apps they are allowed to access, and has all purchasing rights disabled unless a password is entered by the parent. This option could sit up in the Notifications drawer, making it simple and easy for parents to switch between users. The added bonus is:

  1. The parent could have a home screen on their device that isn’t cluttered up by storybook, fingerpainting and Dr Seuss apps. This would be both great for their use of the device, and make it impossible for them to forget to switch to their kids account when handing the device over to their child – as the apps the child wants to play with will only visible in their own account.
  2. Their kids would have no ability to make phone calls, send messages, delete apps, download apps, make IAPs, change settings and generally cause havoc.

So, hopefully, in the next iteration of iOS there is a rethink on the merits of the current parental controls and restrictions system. Whether Apple adopt a multi-user approach, or simply improve on the existing ‘Restrictions’ idea, something needs to happen. Because as it stands, and with more and more young children being exposed to smartphones and tablet devices, it’s far from ideal.

Update: If your smartphone is Android powered, we recommend you give the Famigo Sandbox a try. It’s a free tool that allows you to block ads, purchases, certain apps, messaging and more. Find it at www.famigo.com/sandbox/

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