On the occasion of Steve Jobs’ passing, I am republishing (below) a couple of articles I wrote in 2010 for SharpBrains regarding Apple’s tablet. I also have a related anecdote to tell about Steve Jobs and some comments about his impact (past, present and future) on all kinds of knowledge work.
I wrote the first article in January 2010, just before the iPad was announced; this I did in order to express requirements for the tablet. Just after the iPad was announced, I wrote another article —this one to assess the iPad in relation to the criteria that I had previously set forth.
This pair of blog articles led to an email exchange from February to May 2010 between Steve Jobs and myself. On a Saturday (Feb 13, 2010), Steve invited me to send him a white paper on the issues that I had brought to his attention. And so, over the following exhilarating 7 days, I wrote and emailed to Steve Jobs a 33-page white paper specifying Apple’s opportunity to enhance their product ecosystem by better addressing knowledge workers’ cognitive productivity requirements (while leveraging cognitive science). As I told Steve, I was honoured by him taking the time to engage with me. It shows something wonderful about his character that he engaged over email, albeit with his customary succinctness, with ordinary knowledge workers such as myself.
When I wrote the first article for SharpBrains in January 2010, I was very disappointed with existing e-readers (software and hardware). I had long suspected that Apple would release a tablet that would finally address many significant outstanding problems. I am in many respects pleased with the iPad — particularly in light of the very diverse and challenging requirements it addresses. However, there are major cognitive productivity requirements that still need to be addressed by the iPad and other devices in the Apple ecosystem. I’ve weighed competitors and also found them wanting in the balance. For example, ecosystem-wide fine-grained annotation is still not provided by any of the major vendors (e.g., to link strings in an arbitrary document, such as a received email, to a frame in a video on the Internet, and to write one’s comments in the tools of one’s choice, e.g., OmniOutliner). However, many of the tools developers need to build great cognitive productivity solutions are in our hands (or about to be, with iCloud). CogZest is working to leverage these tools to these ends — through simple but powerful software and workflows.
iCloud (if properly designed) has great potential to enhance cognitive productivity. Apple’s October 4, 2011 event disappointed many. We now understand the elegiac cloud hanging over Apple’s mind that day. One must realize, however, that IT is not just about hardware. In the words of the President of erstwhile Abatis Systems Corp., John Seminerio, in 1999, “It’s the services […]” Opinions about iCloud will change drastically, as they did with the iPad, after it is released. Consumers will yet again realize that they used to have major productivity problems which are now resolved. If you carefully watch the June 6, 2011, iCloud keynote address by Steve Jobs (starting 79 minutes into the presentation—footnote: one should be able to link directly to frames!) and think deeply about:
- what you need to be able to do with documents and data across the devices you use,
- why web applications like google docs are so drastically inferior to desktop apps,
- why services like DropBox, MobileMe and EverNote just don’t cut it, and
- some other related requirements and concepts
then you might start to get a sense of how revolutionary iCloud can be.
Before moving on to the articles, I’d like to mention a few things about Steve Jobs in relation to cognitive productivity, affect and knowledge work — which are what CogZest is all about.
Steve Jobs helped the world to celebrate ingenuity. Millions now recognize and appreciate great product development in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise. By the term ‘product’, I don’t just mean hardware or software. I mean all kinds of knowledge products: theories, principles, concepts, symbolisms, theorems, languages, courses, presentations, speeches, procedures, organizational and personal processes, organizational structures, policies, legislation, regulations, critiques, etc. All kinds of knowledge workers can take pride when they design solutions to properly address important requirements. So, in Steve Jobs’ name, let’s celebrate knowledge work in general.
Steve Jobs showed millions of young people, as well, that it can be cool to be smart, particularly if you apply your intellect and rationality with passion to understanding, characterizing and resolving problems in an honest, open-minded and rigorous manner. Steve Jobs, like great minds such as Winston Churchill, is a beacon at the apotheosis of cognition and passion. The cultural shift towards appreciating and cultivating ingenuity motivates large numbers of all ages to develop and apply their abilities to be great knowledge workers.
The iPad amongst other things delivers on a vision to support reading. Diana Walker published a telling image of Steve Jobs at his desk. Do the disheveled shelves behind Jobs imply that, like most great minds, he was a passionate reader and learner in need of tools to help him learn even more efficiently and effectively?
Luc P. Beaudoin
Here’s the re-post of my first article on Apple’s then upcoming iPad, Jan 26, 2010:
Will the Apple Tablet Support or Hinder Users Cognitive Fitness? (First published JAN 26, 2010, on SharpBrains.com)
By: Luc P. Beaudoin
Rumor has it that Apple is going to announce a tablet computer, which may well become a revolutionary new way for users to read and experience all kinds of educational content.
Will it support or hinder our Cognitive Fitness?
In this article, I describe the criteria that a tablet computer and its technological ecosystem must meet in order for the solution to make users more knowledgeable and smarter. To achieve these lofty goals, the tablet must be much more than an reader. The offering must be an integrated learning environment with which users transform the information that they read, hear and view on the tablet into their own knowledge.
The key consideration in designing such a system is that productive reading is active reading. In other words, learning involves a lot of thinking, writing, drawing and communicating. Learning involves anticipating what the author will say, setting learning objectives, detecting knowledge gaps, writing comments on the document, drawing diagrams.
Unfortunately, today’s computers do not make this an easy task. Most browsers, for example, do not inherently allow you to annotate text (e.g., to make a note of what is important or you don’t understand). Annotating requires an add-on, and the annotations are usually just text or highlights that are trapped in software; they cannot be linked to other documents, email or diagrams.
In order to be a successful learning environment, the Apple tablet must match the incumbent (paper) and also address the criteria listed below.
Beat The Incumbent Competitor — Paper
First, Apple must take into account the major strengths of a tablet’s main competitor: paper. Despite its many drawbacks compared to computers, paper currently has many advantages. Spencer (2006), for example, has found that her distance education students find paper to be more dependable, flexible, and ergonomic. Spencer’s students preferred to print complex articles than to read them online.
Paper has a predictable structure and layout. It is easy to use and it has a definite start and end point. Most readers can very rapidly access any page of a book, use the table of contents, index to quickly navigate. Readers don’t have to wait for a page to load, they can turn it. Also, paper is less busy and less distracting: it does not beep while you are concentrating.
Moreover, users can write on their own paper to their heart’s content.
These features present challenges to reading and learning technology.
Checklist for a Tablet Computer to Make us Smarter
In this section I focus on some of the features that can make a tablet a useful learning environment. This goes beyond hardware, and deals with cognitive software and services.
- The tablet should have a personal task manager. People are most productive when they set goals for themselves that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely). Learning is an activity like any other, and would benefit from such a system so that when learners approach a chapter, for example, they can set their learning objectives.
- The tablet should have a detailed user-activity monitor. The system should be able to quantitatively monitor the amount of time the user spends on each learning resource (each book, each chapter, each page) and each type of activity. It should be able to report such facts as: how much time have I spent surfing the web as opposed to reading? How much time have I spent reading actively (taking notes, etc.) vs. reading passively (skimming)? How much time have I spent drawing diagrams vs. watching youtube? What is my reading rate? This can allow the user to set new goals to be more productive in how they learn and use their tablet.
- The tablet should have an extensive annotation system. This would enable active reading. Users should be able to make notes about all kinds of information: e.g., to select some text in the browser document and then make a comment about it. The notes should be attached to the content. Users should also be able to annotate PDFs, editor documents, dictionary definitions, diagrams basically anything. Wouldn’t it be useful to be able to pause a movie and make a note that is anchored to a specific frame or segment? One could then jump to the parts of the movie or podcast describing important material, and skip the rest. Or make a note in a specific part of a physics diagram to indicate what you don’t understand something that can be done on paper. Users should be able to tag not only entire web pages, but any item (such as part of a sentence), and they should be able to re-use common tags (e.g., Don’t understand, Important), and easily link items to new or existing tasks (Review this). Users should even be able to overlay their own links from existing content to existing content.
- The tablet should contain a rich graphic organizer, so that users can create concepts maps, doodles or structured drawings. This will allow users to leverage their visual motor capabilities as they learn. The reader could summarize a page with a drawing linked to that page.
- The tablet should contain a powerful outliner. An outliner allows users to organize their thoughts in a hierarchical fashion. Users can collapse, promote, demote and move entire sections of a document very easily. An outliner supports thinking, writing and creating summaries of lectures, books and videos. The annotation system should also embed the outliner, and allow outlines to be linked to any content.
- The tablet should contain a spaced learning (self-testing) system. We remember much better when we practice recalling from memory. Beyond rote recall, questions can require comprehension. Users (and content providers) should be able to associate questions with each chapter (or page). And users should be able to gauge for each resource what their degree of learning is as measured by the space learning system (combined with the other monitors mentioned above). Questions should be linkable to exactly where the answers are found in text, multimedia, etc. And why not allow users to directly add dictionary entries to their self-testing database, so that they never have to look up the same word twice? After creating questions, users should be able to enter a review mode to interact with their questions and link back to the appropriate content when desired.
- The tablet should be part of a larger system beyond the tablet. Apple should provide syncing services to allow users to move back and forth between the tablet, an iPod and a notebook or desktop. Neither the content one purchases nor the annotations and content one creates should be trapped on the tablet. The digital rights management should allow for the same book purchase (license) to be available on a number (e.g., 3) of different devices. If one’s tablet is lost or broken, one can still prepare for that presentation or exam by switching to another machine, without losing a beat. Similarly, the status of the tasks one sets on the tablet should be updated when one moves back to one’s traditional computer. This could leverage MobileMe and iTunes.
- The larger system should also support collaboration. For example, users should be able to share their annotations and other content they develop, so that they can review documents and other resources together and learn from each other.
- Content should be very affordable, easy to obtain, and served with an intelligent rating system so that quality content can distinguish itself from the rest.
- There needs to be a mute function, so that with one action, all distracting notifications can be silenced, allowing one to concentrate on one’s current task.
The importance of a complete solution cannot be overstated. It is essential that users should be able to seamlessly move from their tablets to their laptops with all their content intact. This way they will be able to flexibly leverage the strengths of each platform.
I believe such an integrated learning environment can ultimately make users smarter and more cognitively productive. Once Apple releases more information on its new tablet, I will evaluate it according to these criteria to help answer the key question, Will the Apple Tablet Support or Hinder Users Cognitive Fitness?
Adler, M. J. (1927) How to read a book. New York: Touchstone.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman.
Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 1–26. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.1
Beaudoin, L., & Winne, P. (2009). nStudy: An Internet tool to support learning, collaboration and researching learning strategies. Presented at the CELC-2009 Canadian e-Learning Conference, Vancouver, BC.
Ericsson, K., & Kintsch, W. (1995). Long-term working memory, 102(2), 211–245.
Nesbit, J. C., & Adesope, O. O. (2006). Learning with concept and knowledge maps: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 76(3), 413–448. doi: 10.3102/00346543076003413
Nisbett, R. E. (2009). Intelligence and how to get it: Why schools and cultures count. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Perkins, D. (1995). Outsmarting IQ: The emerging science of learnable intelligence. New York, NY: Free Press.
Renear, A., DeRose, S., Mylonas, E., & van Dam, A. (1999). An outline for a functional taxonomy of annotation (p. 30). Providence, RI: Brown University Scholarly Technology Group.
Roediger III, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(3), 181–210.
Simpson, M. L., & Nist, S. L. (1990). Textbook annotation: An effective and efficient study strategy for college students. Journal of Reading, 34(2), 122–129.
Spencer, C. (2006). Research on learners preferences for reading from a printed text or from a computer screen. Journal of Distance Education, 22(1), 33–50.
VanLehn, K. (1996). Cognitive skill acquisition. Annual Review of Psychology, 47(1), 513–539. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.47.1.513
Winne, P. (2006). How software technologies can improve research on learning and bolster school reform. Educational Psychologist, 41(1), 5–17.
Next up, a copy of my Second Article on the Apple tablet: Feb 11, 2010. The expression “Brain Fitness” should be replaced by “cognitive fitness”. The key concept is actually cognitive productivity.
Apple iPad Thumbs-Up: Brain Fitness Value, and Limitations (First published Feb 11, 2010 on SharpBrains.com).
By: Luc P. Beaudoin
In a previous article for SharpBrains, I asked whether the Apple tablet (the iPad) would hinder or support cognitive fitness. Here, I assess the iPad against the criteria I laid out previously. I then assess its potential for brain fitness in general. I am relying on Apple’s information; I have not yet used the iPad.
The iPad has been covered all over the net, and Apple has much information on its website, so I will not repeat that here, except to say that the iPad looks like a 9.7 inch iPod with a multi-touch LED-backlit IPS screen. It can run all iPod applications and more. It is a rather spectacular, attractive platform for doing all of what you can do with an iPod but with compelling possibilities that a larger screen presents. It is also an eBook reader and an extremely impressive gaming machine. It is priced very competitively ($500 and up). I imagine that many people will forgo purchasing an iPod, a game station, a netbook and an e-reader and apply their savings to this device.
The iPad itself, and as part of a technological ecosystem of products that work together, is something which has major implications for the brain fitness market.
The following table summarizes the check-list from my previous article.
Table 1 iPad Evaluation Check-List
|Powerful personal task-manager||Yes (Third-party)|
|Graphic Organizer||Yes (third-party)|
|Powerful outliner||Yes (third-party)|
|User-activity monitor||No (but within reach of Apple)|
|Integrated self-testing system||No (third-party can do part of this).|
|Major Cognitive Features|
|System integration and syncing||Yes (for what is provided, annotations not yet supported)|
|Rich annotation framework||No (but it is within reach of Apple)|
|Collaboration||Some (annotations not supported)|
|Mute function (Attention Protection)||Close (iPad is attention-friendly)|
|Affordable, rated content||Major publishers are on board; book prices currently high; intelligent quality rating system not announced|
1. Applications Checklist
Apple has enabled much of what is needed for the iPad to meet the application criteria I laid out. The iPad is not just an e-reader, it is an application platform for cognitive productivity, brain fitness and learning. It will run all existing (140,000 and counting) iPod applications. Some of the applications I called for are already on the Apple App Store, though they will require (forthcoming) enhancements.
I previously noted the need for a task manager, a graphic organizer, an outliner, and a spaced learning system. These applications will not be pre-installed on the iPad. However, many vendors have already announced that their Mac OS X cognitive productivity applications (including graphic organizers, outliners and task managers) are being ported to the iPad. So, we can tick those criteria off.
Apple has developed specifically for the iPad inexpensive iWorks productivity applications for composing documents, spreadsheets and presentations. This is implicit support for active learning on the iPad. In addition, Apple’s existing iPod applications are also available for the iPad.
I was puzzled by the absence of a dictionary on the iPad home page. Users should not have to research and download dictionaries themselves, particularly since a useful dictionary is available on OS X (its ecosystem relative).
2. User Monitoring
I expressed the need for a user activity monitor, which was not provided. What I mean here is that the Apple should include operating system, MobileMe and application support for monitoring and reporting on how the user is spending their time across the Apple ecosystem. This support should securely and configurably be useable by third party applications so that they can report activity and consume statistics (subject to privacy settings). This presents many significant scientific, usability and technical challenges; but the functionality could be delivered over time in an incremental, user-friendly fashion.
Why dwell on this? First, user activity monitoring would allow the user to gauge and redirect the use of their most precious resource: their brains. The overabundance of information and activities we can perform on computers is a major brain challenge. Task switching with computers is so easy that hardware and software support is required to report on how we are spending our time. Who amongst us precisely knows how much time they really spend writing email, reading, etc.?
Second, user activity monitoring would provide very innovative support for the brain fitness needs expressed at the 2010 SharpBrains Virtual Summit and in the SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness:
- Assessment is a key component of brain fitness.
- Independent measures of performance are required.
- Brain fitness software must increasingly challenge one’s developing abilities.
- Brain fitness software needs to keep users motivated and engaged.
- Some software should tell us what part of one’s brain one is using.
All those propositions require support for monitoring the user’s activities.
Apple’s user activity monitor could conceivably provide chart summaries of one’s time on YouTube, mail, safari, the phone, texting, etc., across its entire ecosystem (iPad, iPhone, OS X). This could allow one to tell one how much time one spends skimming content, actively reading, writing, drawing, etc. One’s reading rate could be measured and tracked. The iBooks application could reflect how much time one has spent interacting with any given book, chapter or page (ditto for other applications).
Apple provides Activity Monitor for its Macs, but that merely reports computer metrics. There is more to gain in measuring how our cognitive time is spent than the processor’s time.
A user monitoring tool could provide independent measures of performance so that we can assess the impact of using brain fitness products on users. Is the user now goal-setting more regularly with a personal task manager than before? Is the user skimming much content (and consequently not learning much in depth)? This could be related by third party software to brain areas: How much time is the user spending leveraging his or her visual cortex (using a drawing application, annotating images, watching physics demos)? And what part of the user’s auditory cortex is he or she leveraging (podcasts vs. music)? Is the user taking notes during the podcasts? While reading?
Apple prefers simplicity whereas user monitoring is complex. However, Apple has been known to deliver sophisticated innovation, e.g., with iPhoto’s face recognition. Ultimately, Apple could leverage embedded cameras for eye tracking (to detect when one is reading vs. away from the computer), various iPad sensors, its operating systems, MobileMe or sync services to integrate and report user activity data. This would open huge doors to brain fitness software vendors. Only a company like Apple, which controls a large part of the ecosystem, can deliver a comprehensive user-activity monitoring solution.
3. Rich Annotation Framework
I noted previously that active learning on a tablet requires a rich annotation system. This would, for example, allow users to highlight resources, attach notes to them, and browse their annotations. Apple has not yet demonstrated annotation for the iPad. Granted, annotation is a difficult nut to crack. It is unfortunate that many years after the advent of the web, users still do not have a standard way to mark up what they read. Annotation capabilities would greatly facilitate active reading on the iPad and Macs. Therefore, I will describe annotation requirements in more detail so that industry and consumers alike realize what is needed for the iPad, computers and e-book readers to become more cognitively useful devices.
A large number of annotation products have been introduced in the past (I have led the development of three large ones myself.) Yet annotation cannot be adequately supported on a piecemeal, application-by-application basis. Annotation ultimately requires operating system and ecosystem services. Briefly, this is the crux of what is needed:
- a set of cross-device, operating system services and application services that allow users to easily index (link) and annotate arbitrary, fine-grained resources with a consistent, simple, yet powerful user-interface involving highlighting, rich text editing, tagging, drawing, doodling, voice recording, etc.
- All types of resources need to be annotatable (web pages, e-books, Mail, photos, PDFs, images, videos, files, third-party resources, etc)
- an annotation browser that allows users to review their annotations and quickly access the specific content that they have annotated (e.g., as they review for an exam, prepare a presentation, or write a document).
- IP syncing of user annotations to a web service (e.g., MobileMe) so that users can access their annotations and their annotated content on multiple devices.
Apple is a very controlled company, so I imagine that if they have not yet provided annotation support in its ecosystem, it is because they are still working on the problem and want to tackle it in a comprehensive and user-friendly manner. That is acceptable. However, this being 2010, it is now time for Apple to begin to provide more adequate support for active learning. I find it difficult to imagine how any e-reader competitor can defeat Apple if Apple were to deliver a proper annotation solution. Apple is uniquely positioned to deliver on this, because Apple controls the entire ecosystem and is usability-oriented. Apple could deliver the functionality in a series of software updates. Not all annotation features need to be available on the iPad itself, some are more suitable to Macs.
Until annotation functionality is provided, much of the potential of technology to support active-learning will remain untapped.
4. Syncing Services and Collaboration
Apple seems to have delivered some of the major criteria I mentioned regarding syncing both purchased and user-created iPad content, across the ecosystem. Purchased books, and user-content will be synced through the new iBooks application (same concept as iTunes, but for books). My ecosystem criterion requires that the iBooks application be available on OS X so that one can read the same book on multiple platforms (as one can listen to music on a Mac or an iPod). This will be something to watch out for.
One of the potentially collaborative features for the iPad is the provision of WIFI shared folders. Also, the iPod has many collaborative features and applications which will translate to the iPad. And we can look to third party vendors to innovate here.
5. Mute Function (Attention Filter)
I called for an easily accessible mute function for the iPad. It is not yet provided by Apple but the device does have a related design feature, and they do have the technology to deliver what is needed. The rationale for the mute function is that performing cognitively demanding tasks, such as active learning and problem solving, involves executive brain mechanisms whose performance degrades significantly when they are interrupted. As John Medina argued inBrain Rules (pp. 84–88), it is a myth that humans are good at multi-tasking. Being bombarded with notifications from email, instant messaging, iPhone calls, text messages, Skype/iChat invitations, advertisements, lyrical music, etc., interferes with productive thinking and reading due to the architecture of the brain and mind. In this respect, contrary to popular criticism, the iPad’s apparent lack of multi-tasking may be a very significant cognitive advantage.
Apple holds a venerable position with respect to the potential for automating attention filtering. Because Apple provides an ecosystem of products and services, it could actually provide an ecosystem-wide mute function. This would allow the user to send a signal to globally suppress all but the most urgent interrupts. This attention filter could provide an uninterrupted block of productive learning, thinking, etc. Some parents might see value in their children being seduced by a wondrous gadget that actually encourages undisturbed, active reading. Parental controls might even allow parents to press the global mute button themselves during their kids’ (or their own!) homework time.
6. Affordability and Rating of Content
The availability and percolation of quality content is a major unheralded factor for brain fitness.
Abundance of content will be a strong point for iPad. Major publishers are on board. Others will need to follow to remain competitive. The entire Amazon offering will be available with the Kindle application (which seems to remove the need to purchase a Kindle). Also, the iBooks application allows content to be downloaded very intuitively.
Pricing will need to evolve with market pressures that are not in Apple’s control. E-book prices ought to be a much smaller fraction of a physical book than Apple has mentioned so far. I suspect the solution to this lies in the upcoming emergence of a new breed of publishers who will bet on Apple’s iBooks Store. These new, savvy publishers will need to compete by providing high quality content at low prices. The largest publisher of books 5 years from now might be a company that is as unknown to most of us today as eBay or Google initially was.
When considering the cost of purchasing books for an iPad, we need to consider the surprisingly low-cost of the iPad and how much value it provides to users. The iPad is a convergence device. This single fact will allow many customers to forgo the purchase of either a netbook, a gaming station, a portable video player, an iPod or other MP3 player. Also, the software on the App store tends to be affordable and is abundant. It will also give parents an additional option to provide a computer to their families.
Finally, there is the issue of intelligent rating and percolation of quality e-books. Brain fitness requires that we read the best content and not be distracted by the rest. Ideally, we should spend time reading powerful ideas that “stretch” our minds. Current rating systems are not up to this challenge; this is an area for innovation. An intelligent content rating system would reflect relevance, originality, difficulty, complexity, annotation density and coherence of content, along with other data including the user’s profile. Such a system could leverage (future) monitoring and annotation data (depending on privacy settings).
In sum, it looks like there will be an abundance of content, though pricing and rating systems are to be determined.
7. iPad vs. Paper
To determine how the iPad will compare with paper will require usability studies. Having carefully analyzed Apple’s iPad keynote address and worked on productive e-reading solutions for several years, the iPad seems very impressive to me, even at a distance.
- The form factor and physical handling seem right.
- The multi-touch technology has over 1,000 sensors; it seems very responsive.
- It uses a premium in-plane switching liquid crystal display for viewing from multiple angles, which is important for comfort.
- Content navigation is my major concern with e-readers. iPad and iBooks have some very impressive tricks to match and improve on paper. The tactile flipping of pages seems very intuitive. Navigation to and with the table of contents is efficient. There is a subtle but crucial navigation bar at the bottom of the page which reflects one’s place in the book and allows one to navigate quickly to a particular page. There are other (fade-out) navigation controls.
- The iPad’s annotation system is lacking (though there seems to be bookmarking), but this is within Apple’s grasp with a software update.
Reader’s whose eyes cannot handle LCD may need to use an alternative to this integrated environment with e-pub formatted books that support video, animation and so much more.
8. Lack of Adobe Flash: Implications for Brain Games
Adobe Flash is software made by Adobe that allows users to play videos and run programs within most of their web browsers. Apple refuses to allow Adobe Flash to be installed on iPad, iPods or the iPhone.
This presents a challenge for many brain fitness web sites, because they tend to implement their software using Flash. Should the industry be clamoring for Apple to support Flash? I personally think not, but this is perhaps the source of most frustration with the iPad. It is a sufficiently important and complex issue for me to elaborate on.
Apple’s exclusion of Flash is not a matter of commercial rivalry. (Credits to Steve Leach for elucidating some of the following reasons behind Apple’s position.) In sum, Flash has been plagued by serious security, stability, performance and other problems. Here is how that relates to brain fitness:
- Security. If the iPad is to be a major brain fitness platform on which sensitive user and productivity data will be stored (e.g., one’s neuropsychological profile, one’s IQ ratings, etc.), then the absence of some major security vulnerabilities in an era of increasing malware may be advantageous.
- Stability and performance. A tablet that slows down, loses battery power too fast, or crashes while one is trying to work is not always as useful as one that does not.
- Speed of innovation. Apple’s not having to contend with third-party vendors of virtual machines like Flash and Java means that it can more quickly innovate and resolve problems with fewer risks. The brain fitness market, which is leading-edge, stands to benefit from this speed.
- Flash is a major vector for pornography (though there are other means).
- Apple and Google support HTML 5 including open standard alternatives to Flash videos (but not running arbitrary applications).
The iPad offers a large number of very interesting hardware and software features that cannot be leveraged in a browser via Flash (e.g., accelerometer, digital compass, multi-touch display, and a camera enclosure for future development). Hence, more sophisticated brain fitness applications ought to be written directly for the iPad. An alternative for brain fitness companies that do not want to write a native iPad or OS X application is to partner with thin-client gaming companies such as onlive.com.
I encourage readers to have a very careful look at the Apple iPad keynote presentation’s section on the app store (and gaming), which starts 29 minutes 48 seconds into that video. The iPad seems to be a surprisingly powerful gaming platform that will attract many children and young adults, given its compelling value proposition (not to mention the Apple brand itself).
Customers who prefer the advantages and current ubiquity of Flash will vote with their dollars and have recourse to devices running Google and Microsoft operating systems.
The iPad seems poised to be a commercial success. It fulfills many of the requirements that it sets out to fulfill. And it meets many of the requirements that I called for in my article. And what it doesn’t do it can potentially do with updates. The iPad represents a compelling new class of convergence devices. It has a powerful software development kit that will be very attractive to developers of brain fitness applications. The Mac operating system (on which iPad applications are written) is a versatile and increasingly popular software development platform. So at a minimum, the iPad is a platform which the brain fitness market will need to prepare for.
Thanks to Carl Forde, Carrie Spencer and Stephen K. Leach for reviewing and commenting on drafts this article.
Will the Apple Tablet Support or Hinder Cognitive Fitness?
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