You may have read the news that the University of Nevada, Reno, will give every member of its incoming freshman class an iPad Air (along with a keyboard and a pencil.) In and of itself, this development isn’t all that newsworthy, but it does hark back to something I have been thinking about for a long time: the coming — and necessary — paradigm shift in how we compute. 

Apple was once a much-beloved part of the US education system. Lately, Google’s Chromebooks have been taking over. They are cheaper, which may appeal to cash-strapped school districts. (By the way, kudos to Sarah & Ev Williams for giving $10 million to help the San Francisco school system.)

Now, suppose we can forget the politics of Google versus Apple. Personally, I don’t care either way. Chromebooks (like their Apple or Microsoft counterparts) are simply an extension of the old paradigm of computing — one that is heavily reliant on a keyboard, a mouse, and a semi-tethered setup. Sure, Chromebooks live on and benefit from the cloud, but they still pretty much rely on traditional computing. Whether it is Google Docs or Google Slides, nothing about them is remarkably novel. 

Essentially, the kids in school are getting trained on the classic model of computing. Meanwhile, at home, many of the same kids are growing up with touch devices — iPads, iPhones, and Androids. They are also growing up talking to (mostly) Alexa, (maybe) Siri, or (sometimes) Google Assistant. Every time I interact with my goddaughters — both are below five-years old — my jaw drops. They know FaceTime, iMessage, and other apps inside out, including stickers and other fun features. They are well versed in making a video call and having a chat.

And it is not just my goddaughters. I see kids who are handling kid-centric content on their touch devices with fantastic dexterity. Their engagement with interactive apps is higher than with static books, and they have more opportunities for visual learning. Swiping left or right for accessing or navigating through information is already part of their mental model of interacting with the digital world. I remember hanging out with some kids in Ladakh, and they were entirely at ease with their Android phones, typing, swiping, and taking selfies. 

The point of my soliloquy is this: we have a generation that is growing up with modern computing interfaces. Instead of creating new tools for education, we are still pushing the “classic” models onto them. Why? If computing has to become modern, then we have to use modern models for everything — from play to teaching and learning. 

Giving iPads or other tablets to kids will not achieve this goal on its own. It will require a complete systematic overhaul of the proverbial educational food chain. This must start with teachers, who need to become adept in teaching with new technology, not just the old paradigms. App developers, app store operators, and parents also need to internalize the idea of moving beyond the traditional interfaces for computer-based learning to more modern methods. That is how the paradigm will change. 

PS: I, for one, would love to see Apple introduce a program where, whenever I buy a new iPad (or any Apple device), I can give an iPad kit to a student. Sort of like what Toms did for footwear and Warby Parker did for eyeglasses.


Updated on July 12, 2021: California State University system will give a similar package to 35,000 of its incoming and transfer students in 2021. More here

The Comfortably Dumb

The most recent issue of my weekend newsletter, in which I conveyed my disinterest in engaging with products equipped with surveillance-type technologies, elicited quite a reaction from the readers. I was personally shocked by the number of people who were in agreement with my desire to have devices that eschew the add-ons from big technology … Continue reading The Comfortably Dumb

All About Alexa

Given its dominance of the e-commerce and cloud services, Amazon, not surprisingly, had a great fourth quarter of 2018. I was checking out their earnings release this morning, and one thing that struck me was the number of times they mention Alexa in the press release — 25. That’s a lot. But it’s not just … Continue reading All About Alexa

Why without context Google’s billion device “Assistant” claim is B.S.

Google says its “Assistant” (the voice-based query service) is soon going to be on a billion devices –primarily phones, and a majority of them being on the Android phones. There are some obvious questions that the report should have covered. For instance:

  • Are these pre-installed on the OS as part of deals with handset makers or phone companies?
  • What some money involved to get these pre-installed if they were pre-installed?
  • What percentage of these were downloaded by end customers?
  • How many Google Assistant speaker-type devices has the company sold and not just given away as part of some promotion?
  • What is the number of daily active users of the Google Assistant?
  • How is the daily usage trending? Any data? Claiming global active users have grown four times over past one year is utterly meaningless!
  • What countries is the Assitant popular in?
  • And is it GDPR compliant?
  • How does it correlate with Google’s current business model of placing advertising against search results?

In other words, without the relevant context, Google’s claim is no better than old fashion bullshit. For whatever its worth, I find Google Assistant is very good at understanding my accent than Alexa and Siri. They are also much more accurate than those two. Unfortunately, I don’t trust Google to let them into my apartment on a device.

Read article on The Verge

Should Spotify buy Sonos

If some job listings are to be believed, then Spotify might be getting into the hardware business. I am not sure, how much of that is true, but it makes perfect sense. Spotify should be thinking about vertical integration — its content, its distribution and its own speakers — it wants to compete with Apple, Amazon, and Google. Those three companies are making their speakers, have their music services and have their distribution channels.  Continue reading “Should Spotify buy Sonos”