iPads vs. Macs & PCs in Education: Pros & Cons

It’s a question you will often hear debated when schools look to buy new devices. iPads? Macs? PCs? Chromebooks? Which is best? The short answer is, it depends. None of them are bad devices, at least not any more, so it usually comes down to what is the best fit for students, teachers, and the ways that a school is looking to advance teaching and learning with technology.

For this post, I joined forces with Stephen Lai, from teachingwithipad.org. Together we compiled some of the more popular advantages and disadvantages associated with using an iPad when compared to a Mac or Windows laptop.

Why iPads?

1. Speed – We have all become accustomed to how fast our iOS devices wake from sleep. They rarely need powered off and the instant on gratification you get is hard to beat. In fact, if your laptop doesn’t have an SSD drive, the iPad will beat it every single time whether it is opening an app, waking from sleep, or performing some basic tasks.

2. Apps – Cut price iOS apps are getting better all the time and they are looking to rival expensive desktop software. Finding quality educational apps that will consistently enhance teaching and learning is the tricky part, especially when there are so many apps available, but it doesn’t take long to find the best ones. So, spend time researching and talking to colleagues about which apps are worth the money, and which of the free ones are really free!

3. Camera – According to Chase Jarvis, the best camera is the one you have with you. The iPad camera will never rival that of a dedicated DSLR, but it sure beats the webcams on a Mac or a PC! It’s a one-stop solution that lets you shoot, edit and share photos and videos captured on your iPad. It is also capable of producing special effects like stop motion movies or even green screen captures. This kind of creativity makes it perfect for a modern multimedia classroom.

iPad Air Homescreen

4. Battery life – As long as you remember to charge it overnight, the iPad will last the entire day. With the exception of the newest model MacBook Air, the iPad will have a better battery than your average PC.  Laptop batteries will also slowly become less reliable over time. One of the laptops at Steve’s school claimed it had 94% battery left, but it also gave a remaining time of 1h 15 minutes!

5. AirPlay – Once you learn how to use AirPlay, you can wirelessly beam an image of your iPad to a projector via an AppleTV or AirPlay software for your Mac and PC. The students will see whatever is on your screen. Students can also take advantage of AirPlay and take turns sharing their work with the class without even leaving their seats!

6. Digital Storytelling – If there is one thing the iPad does exceedingly well, it is the creation of digital stories. There are countless amazing apps available for every grade level, and more get added all the time! Check out Adobe Voice, Our Story for iPad, 30 Hands, Shadow Puppet EDU, iMovie, or Book Creator for innovative, easy to use apps that are ideal for the classroom.

Why Macs or PCs?

1. Storage – Storage is still expensive for iPads and you are currently limited to a maximum total storage allowance of 128GB. Worse still, there is no way to expand that storage. If you need more, you have to transfer some of your data to cloud storage solutions, or buy a bigger iPad. Neither is ideal.

2. Keyboard – The tactile feel of a full-size keyboard is hard to beat. The iPad keyboard is very versatile, and is capable of keeping up in almost all regards, save long-term comfort. Some iPad users turn to Bluetooth keyboards to help alleviate this problem, but others are just fine to tap away on the on-screen keyboard, albeit not as fast as they would on a laptop or desktop keyboard.

3. Desktop apps – Lots of big names titles like Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and Autodesk have all brought apps to the iPad. Each are very effective in their own right, but none are as powerful as their equivalents on a Mac or a PC. The desktop apps boast more features, and can take advantage of more advanced hardware to produce better overall results. You might not need them all the time, but you will be glad you have them when you really need them.

Windows Laptop

4. Screen size – The largest iPad to date has a 9.7-inch screen. This is great for creating a lightweight, portable device, but it’s limiting in other ways too. If you are used to working at a 27-inch desktop monitor, then the compact nature of the iPad screen may not be best for you, at least not as a direct replacement. Tim Cook does 80% of his work on an iPad. Can you?

5. Multitasking – Speaking of screen size, many Mac and PC users like to run multiple apps at once on the same screen. iOS 8 made it easier than ever to switch between apps, but you still can’t have multiple apps on the screen at once when you use an iPad. You can on a Mac or a PC.

6. ConnectivityA modern PC will likely have multiple USB 3.0 ports as well as HDMI outputs, SD card slots and ethernet ports. The iPad takes a different approach and aims to compete with wireless solutions or additional accessories. Either way, a PC is often more flexible when you are looking to quickly connect other devices.

And the Winner is…

The truth is, no device will not transform teaching and learning by itself. Many educators will prefer one thing over another, (and that will likely always be the case), but let’s not get too hung up on which one is “the best”. We need to remind ourselves that teachers, parents and school administrators are the biggest contributors towards increasing academic achievement. Technology helps, but it is just another means to an end.

In the right hands, almost any mainstream device that is available today is capable of great things, regardless of whether it has an Apple logo, a Google logo, or a Microsoft logo emblazoned on the back. Why? Because we live in fortunate times where technology has evolved to become truly efficient, creative, innovative, and increasingly affordable. There are also a huge number of really good cross platform apps like OneNote or Evernote that can be used on multiple devices. On top of that, there are a plethora of web based tools that need little more than an up to date web browser.

So, are there differences between the various hardware solutions for schools? Absolutely, but with the right training for teachers, and a well-thought-out plan for integrating technology, you soon realize that everyone is a winner!

Here are the other collaborative posts that Stephen and I have worked on the past:

1. 15 Engaging and Creative Ways to Use iPads in a K-12 Classroom

2. The Top 10 Things Every iPad Teacher Should Know About.

Please take some time to check out Stephen’s excellent blog.

3 thoughts on “iPads vs. Macs & PCs in Education: Pros & Cons”

  1. I realize this article is almost a year old but it still feels very out of touch. You mention Chromebooks in the intro then seem to forget they exist.

    Speed? A Chromebook wakes up just as fast as an iPad and boots from being powered off much faster. Battery? There are plenty of chromebooks with 10 – 12+ hours of battery. Airplay? I’ll take a $39 chromecast any day thanks!

    There is a reason the Education market is making a mass exodus away from iPads towards Chromebooks.

    1. Hi Thaaron. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. As I am sure you will agree, all devices have their pros and cons. I am glad that you have found one that is good for you.

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