The Lost Legacy of the iPad: Action Games That Truly Teach

There are iPad games that are greatly addictive. And there are buckle down educational apps that teach fundamental skills of use in academia that try, often in vain, to be fun. Given our enormous technological skills in app development, can the two ever be combined into a truly first-rate, important product?


Propositions: We all love our iPads. Games are enormously popular on iPads. Apple likes to promote the idea that iPads can be educational. Therefore, one would think that kids are learning by leaps and bounds on iPads.

And they are. If they generally buckle down.

But that enduring idea that a truly fun, immersing, action game can somehow be educational, in a practical sense, remains elusive. Kids are either working with focused, educational apps that try to be fun or else they're killing and blowing things up. Is the Holy Grail of a game that is both addictive and highly educational, in some realistic sense, obtainable? Can great action games that kids dearly want to play ever deliver quantifiable technical skills? Annie Murphy Paul ponders all this in "Can Educational Games Ever Be Truly Fun To Play?" and points to some relevant research. The outlook seems bleak.

I know that Apple is in the business of making profitable products, not spending money on various research projects that may or may not pan out. That can be a real money drain. Still. I'd like to think that just as Apple sells books for iBooks in the iBookstore in order to promote hardware sales, Apple would also provide some leadership for technology that makes iPads the ultimate educational tool. That means investing in the highest level of Artificial Intelligence (AI) research that can translate into hardware and software. That's something that could separate Apple from the pack. Also, perhaps the power of a 64-bit iPad CPU can open doors.

This is where I think technologies like IBM's Watson comes into play. Perhaps the only way a game can be truly educational is if the environment, perhaps an intelligent agent playing with the child can make the whole educational affair really fun. Think of the world's best, most exciting teacher you ever met — and loved.

Just a thought. Call me a dreamer.

And if you're an educational app developer (or know one), and you think there's an app that can meet the high bar described above, contact me. My suspicion is that only a university could develop the kind of app described above.


Tech News Debris for the Week of February 17

When you're competing in the technology world, you tout your strengths and hope that customers will forget about your weaknesses. Along those lines, we know that Apple has invested heavily in low power technologies, so it's no surprise that the iPad Air would have a great battery life. On the other hand, I can't recall Samsung bragging about the battery life of its products. Perhaps there's a reason. "iPad Air destroys the competition in battery life tests."

In this technological era, we have to develop various strategies. We pick companies that we think will deliver solutions and value that we need for the long run, and we develop security and backup strategies. To help with that, here is an especially blunt and insightful article at the New York Times by Farhad Manjoo who tells us "How to Survive the Next Wave of Technology Extinction."

Part of Mr. Manjoo's advice is to stay away from Apple's iBooks because of the incompatibility with other platforms. And I have to admit, he's right. Apple sells books for the iBooks app to make the iPad more attractive, to check a potential buyer box. But if one is serious about the long-term viability and migratability of an eBook library, Amazon is probably the better choice for most customers. It's a thoughtful read, especially if you're not overly allergic to Google.

On to PCs. We know that the price of PCs has steadily come down over the years. PCs, sold as commodity products built from commodity parts became steadily devalued as the PC makers struggled for market share and catered to cost conscious businesses. The well known results were razor thin margins, and one way the PC makers made up for that was to pre-load crapware.

While all that was happening, Macintosh customers would have none of it. They bought a quality product, generally hassle free and devoid of crapware. As a result, the Average Selling Price (ASP) for Macs has stayed fairly constant over the years. I don't see anything on the horizon to change that, especially as tablets take a lager and larger bite out of the PC market and the prospects for making good money selling PCs look bleaker and bleaker.

However, with the ASP of Macs looking very good and holding relatively constant, there's no reason why Apple shouldn't just continue thriving in that market. Apple's strategy reminds me of chess. The iPad and iPhone are like the Knights and Pawns that clear the files. Then, in the mid-game, the Rooks (Macintosh) come swooping in for the attack. Horace Dediu analyzes this ASP factor in "The price is right."

A complementary article to the above is by another favorite of mine, Jonny Evans. He illustrates why, when you love your Mac and it's so easy to get something done, you're more engaged. " Mac users four times more engaged than Windows users."

Ken Segall has been working with Apple for along time. In fact, according to Leander Kahney in his terrific book: "Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products," Mr. Segall is the one responsible for the name "iMac" back in 1998. (p. 129) So I paid attention when, this week, he presented his  insights on the plastic iPhone 5c. "Apple’s adventures in plastic."

Windows 8 has been through the ringer. At first, it was seen as Microsoft's clever solution to Windows Everywhere. In time, however, it became all too clear that tablets need their own OS and that Windows 8 was a failure on both tablets and PCs. One way to know that Windows 8 is a failure is when one of the most notable voices in the Microsoft camp, Paul Thurrott, says so with forceful articulation. To wrap that story into a tidy package, John Kirk has put together an instructive article entitled "Windows 8 in Hindsight." No one in the Apple community of observers these days is writing in the smart, quotable, effective and entertaining style of Mr. Kirk.


Boy with iPad via Shutterstock.


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble) followed by a discussion of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.