Commodity Devices?

Microsoft recently announced their tablet would be donated to 10,000 educators attending this year’s ISTE conference and the device would now be sold for $200 in the education market. You wonder whether this is a way to get rid of inventory that will not sell, a clever long-term marketing strategy, or both. Anyway, these announcements got me thinking about why it would matter which device I use and which I would recommend. Have we reached the point that price should be the deciding variable?

This question has frequently been framed as whether tech hardware (e.g., laptop, tablet) has become a commodity. My interpretation of this term, given my ag background, is that the value of different products is roughly equivalent (e.g., corn, milk) so the expectation is the cost to purchase should be very similar and because of competition low. A Mac Pro would not fall into this classification. The question, if you are an Apple advocate, is whether the term should be applied to the iPad and say the Air.

I assume the coming days will see comparisons of the iPad, Nexus, and Surface. I do not own a Surface, but I have both iPads and a Nexus. My consumption and production needs can be accomplished with either. I still find the iPad a little easier to use and there are apps I prefer on this device. I admit in nearly all cases there are alternatives or I assume developers will eventually get around to making unique apps cross platform should the number of competing products reach a critical level.

What I happen to value now is that a device get me to the things I want to do in the cloud. Frequently, I need to work with Google apps, but this access could also involve Feedly, Evernote, DropBox, Box, Flickr, Diigo and probably a few others that do not come immediately to mind. Both Apple and Microsoft seem to be attempting to ramp up their cloud presence – the cross-platform opportunity to use iWork apps and Microsoft Office 365 seem promising (as long as the work better than Mobile Me). I bothers me a bit I do not see the revenue stream in all cases, but I leave that to the companies to work out.

For those of us who work to support classroom use of technology, a commodity mentality would discourage such a great focus on the identification of the next new thing and a greater focus on creative and productive ideas for using a core set of tools. Consider the popular conference sessions during which several well-known presenters attempt to wow the audience by demonstrating services and devices few know about. Entertaining, but not that productive. Interesting activities for classroom use would end up being far more helpful.

That all sounds like we are moving into an era of DULL. What could be wrong with commodity devices? The concern I think is the lack of motivation to improve capabilities rather than reduce cost? You might imagine this as the Dell vs. Apple approach. Where will the profit margins necessary for innovation come from?

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