iPad vs Chromebook: Different Devices, Different Uses

Questions and comparisons around Chromebooks and iPads continue to grab the attention of educators as schools look to make decisions around the purchase of new classroom technology.  In this blog post, we take a closer look at the inherent strengths of both the iPad and the Chromebook in order to better appreciate how each can support learning in the classroom.  Each device also presents its own unique set of traits that may impact its viability in a school or classroom.  Let’s take a look…

The iPad and iPad Mini

iStop Motion iOS app

The iPad has access to a rich library of applications that have been designed with a touch interface in mind.

Apps designed for touch

Since the iPad was released back in 2010, app developers have been exploring the use of touch as a viable (and in some cases, preferred) alternative to the keyboard and mouse.  As a result, the iPad has access to a wealth of applications that are optimized for a touch interface and in many ways provide a user experience that benefits from unique and instinctive gestures.  This experience ultimately lends to the overall appeal of this device with users both young and old.  For the classroom, the touch interface helps to improve access to technology for our younger students (and students with special needs) who may struggle with the keyboard and mouse.  Doing away with the keyboard and mouse also helps to make the tablet an extremely portable form factor where the device can be used and operated in the hands of the user while sitting, standing and moving.

iPad accessories

When it comes to iPads there is no shortage of accessories that can extend the use of the tablet.

Creation apps

Apple’s recent move to market the iPad as a tool in the creative space draws attention to applications that focus on producing and creating media.  Apple’s own iLife (iMovie, iPhoto and GarageBand) suite of applications help to illustrate the creative potential of the iPad.  Recording, editing and sharing media from one portable device is a very compelling strength of the iPad.  This helps to advance the integration of technology in the classroom towards learning tasks that are about synthesizing and applying new learning.

3rd party accessories

The popularity and consistent design of Apple’s iPad (and iPad Mini) lines have generated a wealth of 3rd party accessories for these tablets.  There are no shortage of cases, keyboards, stands and docks that will support the iPad in a variety of different learning environments.  Ultimately, these accessories allow one to best outfit an iPad for a primary classroom, a science lab or a gym class (to name just a few).

The Chromebook

Supports Multiple User Accounts

The Chromebook supports multiple accounts as users can login using their own Google accounts.  As a result, users will have access to their own Gmail, Google Drive and any other applications that they have applied to their Chrome browser.  Logging into to a Chromebook with personal Google accounts provides a multiple user experience that is not yet available on the iPad where there is nothing to distinguish one user from another user accessing the same iPad.  For the classroom, the use of individual accounts helps to maintain a secure learning space for each student where their work and media are not accessible to other students.

Samsung Chromebook

If you are familiar with the Chrome browser and already have a Google account, then you are already well on your way in using a Chromebook.

Google Drive, Chrome applications and extensions

With access to Google’s cloud-based productivity tools and the ability to add applications and extensions to the Chrome browser, the functionality of the Chromebook now extends beyond the use of a simple web-browser.  This now allows the user to connect to some of their favourite 3rd party services and applications using the Chromebook.  Evernote, DropBox, Snagit and Prezi are but a few of the thousands of Chrome applications that you can install to your browser.  Extensions are smaller programs that add more functionality to your browsing experience in Chrome.  Some extensions may add some additional security to your web browsing while others may add helpful tools to capture, view and share content.

Keyboard and Track Pad

Touchscreens are great but sometimes I find the best interface is the old keyboard and trackpad.  For extended periods of typing and word-processing, a laptop form factor may still be the most appropriate tool for the job.  The attached keyboard and trackpad ultimately impacts the portability of the Chromebook when compared to a tablet but this again signifies the inherent differences in how these devices are used.  Where the iPad lends itself to be held and operated in the user’s hands, the Chromebook is best used when resting upon a table or desk.

Other considerations

Management

The management of iPads and Chromebooks also presents some important points of difference between the two platforms.  Chromebooks are managed through Google’s Management Console while iPads (and iOS devices) are managed through Apple’s Configurator.  Each platform will have its own take on the deployment of devices, the purchase of applications and the creation of user accounts that may impact the model of IT support within a school or across a school district.  Although the details around the management of iPads and Chromebooks cannot be explained within a short blog post, it would be wise to become acquainted with the management mechanisms behind these devices.

Chromebook ports

With most Chromebooks sporting at least one USB port and SD card slot, it does provide the opportunity to quickly add certain peripherals and easily add additional storage.

Internet Connectivity

User experience on both the iPad and Chromebook is optimized when these devices are connected to the internet.  Arguably, even with the ability to do some offline work on the Chromebook, Google’s laptop is much more reliant upon the internet for access to cloud services and applications.  Consequently, the iPad (and other iOS devices) offers access to many applications that do not require internet connectivity.  In classrooms that only provide wired internet connectivity, the Chromebook does offer the option to connect to the internet via ethernet port or USB adapter.  With the limited number of port options on Apple’s tablet, the iPad does not have the ability to connect to the internet through a wired connection.

Price

With the iPad Mini providing the most affordable iPad option at $299 US ($319 CDN), it still marks a gap with the entry-level chromebooks that tend to come in at around $199 US (Acer C720).  With that said, schools should be wary of opting for the cheapest alternative without first considering the ultimate purpose and intent behind the purchase of a technology for the classroom.  Even with the starting point of $199, Chromebooks start to increase in cost as you start to look for increased processing power and the addition of a touch screen.

Now what?

My apologies to those looking for a straightforward answer around the decision to purchase either a Chromebook or iPad.  Ultimately, we want to purchase technology that supports the learning needs and tasks within our respective classrooms and schools.  Both the iPad and Chromebook provide unique and compelling features that may set one above the other but there are other factors that may also serve to influence our decision.  In the end, educators will have to decide for themselves how all these factors rank and prioritize themselves against the need to best support student learning and achievement.

– Kenji Takahashi

Author: K. Takahashi

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