What was the right question?

There is an article in the Guardian called ‘Which laptop should we buy for our child?‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/askjack/2015/nov/05/which-laptop-should-we-buy-for-our-child), you might think that I have an issue with the article, and I do, but not perse with the article. The article is quite decent, however the article is about a ‘solution’. I learned recently that solutions are vague, they are transient and they fade the moment you give them. You see, as a great teacher not too long ago taught me, it is about trust and about answering needs.

I understand what Jack writes, he gives good advice and I would have given a similar advice, yet at some point I learned something new (we all do, trust me). What are the needs of the child? Now, the child might not understand it has needs here (other than cool games, and we can see that in schools laptops, or better stated ‘fat’ mobile devices are going to be the trend. Whether this is an Airbook like the Mac has, a Chromebook like ASUS has or another device in a similar capacity, the child will need to move forward.

Yet, am I not in a mode where the answer is given? No, let me explain. Jack mentions the Windows 2-in-1 “detachables”, which sounds nice Mr. Schofield, but that trend is now, it is 2015, what about 2016 or 2017? What happens when those trends shift? By the way the sentence “we can’t afford to spend lots of money“, so as such Apple will not become a solution any day soon. Interesting the Chromebook solution that many carry are on average of $250 cheaper (Australian comparison), a part not mentioned anywhere, that optional solution did not make it to the table.

For me, do I think it is a solution? I am not at all certain, you see, the needs of the child are unknown. So why spend money? To give the kid some skills? Well that is all good and fine, so why is the possible solution for a tablet; a mere Android based tablet at one third of the cost of a Chromebook not decently investigated? The mention of the tablets (all 6 mentions was regarding the push to the 2015 trend of a ‘detachable’. You see, the object of usage is a small person about to celebrate the moment of his ninth birthday. Kids have accidents, they break things (unintentional), your youngling drinks lemonade and other liquids. So you want to put a laptop there? With his excited friends that is an accident waiting to happen. So, how will you afford the second laptop?

The simplest tablet with a decent casing costs less than a hundred quid. For £49.99 you get a very basic one. The best thing is that the skills will transfer to a laptop or a larger tablet when your child is ready, more important, there is no way of knowing what the needs will be when he gets to a decent school level, when he gets to year 10, what will he need? Perhaps the school provides? Also, the pricing would have gone down to such an extent, that the one device you cannot afford now, could be really affordable in 2016.

So many people so many options, why answer them at all? Why not give the device that at least lets your little one to grow skills and answer the call to the device your young one needs when the moment is there?

So yes, Jack Schofield gives advice, it is sound advice but in all this, he failed to mention that some devices are limited and to get a better return, a much higher cost comes into view. You see a mere simple version from Asus might be £195.64, yet when you consider how fast 32GB is gone you will need something bigger, that will take you to £289.99 very fast. In my situation, I do not offer a solution, for £49.99 you get a very simple device that allows the little one to grow skills, and in 2-3 years when his skills have really outgrown the 8GB device, he might get that same device not for £289.99, but for £179.99, perhaps even less, so the little tablet paid for itself.

Part of me understands that the next generations needs to be clued in, logged in and online earlier in life, I will not stop it, oppose it or question it. Yet in all this we must also answer what is the best to make your child grow. Perhaps it is the 2 in one that Jack Schofield mentioned, but I am not convinced. You see with the quote: “there are several ways to run Android apps on Windows PCs, such as BlueStacks and AmiDuOS” is all about getting someone to windows. Why? I do not oppose Windows as I use it myself. After the blunders Windows 8 had, I am not willing to trust Windows 10 at this point, yet Microsoft is willing to mandatory push it to its user base regardless of what the consumer thinks. A methodology I do not support. This was shown in another Guardian article by Samuel Gibbs where we see: “Consumer users of Windows 10 will have no choice but to accept the installation of automatic updates, even if they break software for them” (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/17/windows-10-updates-mandatory-home-users), what happens when our choice of software breaks? Are we forced to a Microsoft solution? How is that not an instilled dictatorship? The final quote from that article was “Automatic updates may also create a situation where an update breaks something on a computer system, perhaps a legacy program“, which is what many will face over the next decade. Microsoft is starting a cleaning operation and the user is losing their rights. I might have had to pay $199 for my Windows 7, but at present trusting my system on the net is not an option, that trust was destroyed by Microsoft in a way 10,000 viruses could not. Regardless of that choice, Jack should have remained a lot more neutral than he did. I believe for the bulk of all needs Android fills the requirement of a user, this does not take away to prospect of Microsoft, but last time you looked, which software was free? Weirdly enough, for the normal student, the software like writing, calculating and presenting is free on android and Linux. Apple and Microsoft charges for that.

Yet in all this, where are the needs of the user? When he gets to the setting up of things he is addressing fear in my humble opinion. Now let me add one too. The text: “Windows 8.1 and 10 will email you a weekly record of your son’s activities: how many hours he’s used his PC, the websites he’s visited, and how long he spent in his favourite apps“, so are you the only one who gets this, or will Microsoft have this data too? There is validity in keeping your child safe, but that starts with the need for strong passwords and knowing what to do and what not to do. Your child will make mistakes and even today many adults still make these blunders and larger ones too!

So in my view, spending little is not a shame and your child should be safe, but consider the options hackers and malware have nowadays, it is close to impossible to stop, in that case let it be a device that when it happens will not infer heavy losses. In that part, let me end with another quote the article has “I don’t think it’s worth buying or installing the full desktop programs for a 9-year-old“, which is true, so how large are the hands of a nine year old. Can they not hold onto a 7” tablet easier? More important, when he gets soaked in the rain and his backpack got drenched, my money will be on a skinned tablet not any laptop or ‘2 in one’ solution to survive that ordeal.

In the end it is as I expect growing skills with your child. I get that, and I applaud that approach, yet let it be skills, playful skills and artistic skills. Let the child enjoy their life until year 6 when the skills will be tested, let them grow into the savvy programmer they can be and get them the system they can handle and let them grow into a stronger system, the needs of any child will grow stronger when ingenuity is required, factual evidence that has been known for decades. Yet how they grow will usually be up to them, not you or me, or their teachers for that matter, we can only hope to guide them in a decent direction, let’s not forget if you as a parent do not have the skills to guide them, where will they get their example? What happens when they follow the wrong example?

In the end, what was the right question? Which device allows your child to grow in all directions a device offers growth? On which device are their drawing skills challenged? Anyone can type a text, anyone can do ‘math’ with a spreadsheet, yet the art of drawing (a skill I never mastered) is getting lost more and more in this world of laptops, is that not a shame too?

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