iPad beware: Android tablets gain foothold in higher education


Nearly 14 million Android-based tablets will hit the market this year, according to market research.

The Apple iPad’s reign as higher education’s computer tablet of choice might be put to the test as Seton Hall University announced a pilot program that will put Android-based tablets—the iPad’s main rival—in the hands of 350 students and faculty members.

Officials at the South Orange, N.J., campus announced the pilot initiative Aug. 23, just a day after the Lenovo ThinkPad tablets began shipping to business customers worldwide.

The multi-touch 10.1-inch Lenovo tablet features one gigabyte (GB) of memory, 64GB of internal storage, cameras on the front and back, along with Wi-Fi access and a 3G connection.

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The ThinkPad will have access to more than 25,000 applications, according to Lenovo, which described the apps as “malware free.”

Seton Hall didn’t announce how much the initiative would cost the university, but new 16GB Lenovo ThinkPads are $499, while 32GB versions are $599. The top-of-the-line 64GB model is $699, according to Lenovo’s website.

Stephen Landry, Seton Hall’s chief information officer (CIO), said in a statement that bringing the Android tablets to the 9,000-student campus would bolster the school’s Mobile Computing Program, which gives participating students and faculty new computers every two to three years.

“This new technology represents the next evolution in Seton Hall University’s Mobile Computing Program to use technology effectively to support teaching, learning and institutional effectiveness while keeping pace with technology that appeals to our students,” he said.

Educational technology advocates who have pushed for more diversity in computer tablet adoption in higher education lauded Seton Hall’s decision to try Apple’s rival while small and large campuses alike have flocked to the iPad since its release in 2009.

“We applaud the university for adopting new technologies and not being afraid to take a different route in educating their students,” Joe Sirianni, a writer for the Talk Android blog, wrote in an Aug. 24 post. “Notice how they’re not using iPads? … Looks like someone is serious about educating their students and making their staff a heck of a lot more productive.”

While Seton Hall’s embrace of the Android mobile 3.1 operating system hasn’t drawn headlines extolling the forward thinking of the school’s technology leaders—as happened during iPad rollouts in 2009 and 2010—adoption of Android tablets in higher education ties into market predictions published in April.

After changing the tablet market the way the Apple iPhone “reinvented” the smart-phone market, the iPad and its iOS—Apple’s operating system—account for almost 70 percent of media tablets, while Android-based tablets account for 20 percent of the market, according to Gartner, an IT market research firm.

Google’s Android OS, however, will see steady growth over the next four years. By 2015, Google will own 39 percent of the tablet market, compared to the iPad’s 47 percent, Gartner predicts.

Yet growth of the Android OS will be “capped,” according to Gartner, because Google officials decided not to open its OS—known as Honeycomb—to third parties, meaning the price of Android tablets will decline more slowly than the iPad.

More than 47 million iPads will be sold in 2011, a number that will skyrocket to 138 million in 2015, according to the report. Nearly 14 million Android-based tablets will hit the market this year. That figure is expected to jump to 113 million.

Gartner analysts predicted that customers would gravitate to tablets made by the same companies as their smart phones. On college campuses, where students with web-enabled phones favor the iPhone, this could give Apple an advantage.

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