Dodging presidential scorn of the iPad

President Obama bemoans the iPad as a distraction--but an Xbox it's not.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

After President Obama on Sunday cited Apple's iPad--among other devices--as being a "distraction" rather than a tool for learning, he spoke of only one possible vision of the tablet's future.

iPad has a lot of potential as an educational tool in addition to its obvious entertainment value.

In a widely reported commencement speech at Hampton University in Virginia, Obama lamented the tendency of popular electronic devices to simply entertain and divert, rather than educate.

The president prefaced his comments by saying that college graduates face a difficult economy, then added: "With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations...information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation."

That the president laments the impact of devices like the iPod, Xbox, and PlayStation is not surprising and echoes the sentiment expressed by computer pioneer and entrepreneur Max Palevsky.

But the jury on the iPad is still out--even if some believe the iPad is only a "toy", compared with traditional tools like the laptop. The problem is that this view belies the promise of the iPad. Or, at least one vision of the iPad and tablets in general.

A quick glance at Apple's iPad app page lists the predictable entertainment apps but also educational apps like "The Elements" and "Shakespeare Pro" and of course iBooks.

And education sites are brimming with ideas about how the iPad can revolutionize education. "Imagine for just a second...if every student in a classroom had a tablet...The information could be immediately updated unlike the current format of a textbook that in some instances is obsolete before it is in the hands of the user," according to one site for teachers.

Time will tell if the iPad becomes just another distraction or, rather, more of a reading platform and educational tool. But until then, Obama might even be well advised to tout the iPad's potential at schools rather than slamming it as just another attention-deficit device.