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Kindle Fire: Boon for Schools?

When news broke about the new Kindle Fire being released in November 2011, the Education World team was abuzz with speculation. Would the product be a game-changer, making tablets accessible and useful for all schools? We debated openly on the Education World Community (see Tech Battle: Kindle Fire vs. iPad), and the reaction was mixed at best. While the Kindle brand has the backing of the incredible powerhouse that is Amazon, could the available apps ever compete with Apple’s App Store for the iPad? And would app creators create for the new Kindle Fire?

No one can predict better than those in the app design world whether this new device will be a runaway success for schools. So we asked the experts, and here’s what they told us.

Game Changer?

Game, consider yourself changed. Though the iPad has an established and well-vetted cache of educational software available already, experts think the release of the Kindle Fire could open up the Android market to schools as well.

“The Kindle Fire has great promise in the education area,” said Jeannie Novak, founder of Indiespace and lead author and series editor for Game Development Essentials, a textbook. Novak said the smaller size of the Kindle Fire will be ideal for kids in elementary, middle and high school. Further, she said use of the Android OS will be a benefit, since users will draw on Amazon’s App Store for Android.

There’s also the real possibility that the Kindle Fire will encourage the creation of new Web-based tablet applications, added Novak. “The fact that [the Amazon Silk browser is] connected to Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing infrastructure (where some other virtual classroom apps already reside) bodes well for a new breed of learning management systems (LMSs),” she said.

The Price Factor

But that’s not all. The Fire evens the playing field for schools with less funding, some say. “An additional benefit of the Fire is that it democratizes the tablet in general so the classroom itself will evolve to utilize the tablet often. We see every school in the country using a tablet - iPad or Fire - in the next couple years,” said Mike Doonan, whose company develops speech therapy apps called Speech with Milo.

Of course, not everyone is convinced, especially since Amazon itself doesn’t seem to be going after schools with the new device--yet. “Amazon does not seem to be targeting the education market with this tablet,” said Karl Becker, president of KB Productions and an iOS and Android software developer. “Even though Android apps can be shared, most apps on Android are available for free through advertising because most users refuse to pay reasonable prices for Android software.”

Still, Becker admitted, the price is going to be alluring to schools. “The extremely low price of the Amazon Kindle Fire will make it irresistible to school districts on tight budgets. If school districts start spending money on educational software on Android, the developers will follow the money, and the Amazon Kindle Fire will succeed in the education marketplace,” he said.

Doonan said the six Speech with Milo apps are currently only available on iOS devices (such as the iPad) because there isn’t a market for Android in schools. The Kindle Fire could change all that, however. “The price point is so low that we expect the Fire to gain traction in schools. … It remains to be seen how good the decide will really be, but if it gets developer support to make educational apps available like we see on the iPad, then the product will do well,” he said.

A Textbook Solution

Textbooks, known for being expensive and notorious for being dated by the time they hit classrooms, could be a big factor in the Kindle Fire’s success, since students and teachers could access textbooks without buying through Amazon. “Instructors and students will be able to take advantage of Amazon’s textbook rental system, offering an additional cost-cutting option, as well as the ability for instructors to easily utilize their own textbooks in the classroom,” said Novak.

In fact, she added, students can borrow titles from more than 10,000 libraries through the rental system.

Facts at a Glance

 

  • The Kindle Fire will use the Android programming language, so apps currently available for Android devices will work on the Fire.
  • Android app licenses can be shared between devices. Also, many apps currently are free to download.
  • Users will be able to rent textbooks, borrowing from more than 10,000 libraries.
  • Developers need to get on board for the app aspect to be a success.

 

What do you think--when the Kindle Fire is released, will it be a big hit in schools? Join the discussion!

Join the discussion at Education World Community

 

Article by Sarah W. Caron, EducationWorld Social Media Editor
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