Why the Touchpad is good for CTOs and instructional designers [guest post] | webOS Nation

Why the Touchpad is good for CTOs and instructional designers [guest post]

by Derek Kessler Thu, 19 May 2011 3:37 pm EDT

Hervé St-Louis works as an IT architect/instructional designer creating mobile apps and e-learning programs for a leading educational developer in Calgary, Canada. He just obtained his master’s thesis in strategic studies and cybersecurity (Twitter and Iran). By night he makes apps for iOS, Android and webOS (ComicBookBin, TED).

Platform-centric apps offer opportunities for CTOs and instructional designers to deliver e-learning and enable keynotes to a variety of end-users on tablets. However, based on my research, only BlackBerry QNX and HP webOS can fulfill the needs of most educational, institutional, and corporate clients trying to maximize training and presentations on tablets.

The world of e-learning and corporate training has been in chaos and catch-up mode since the release of the iPad in 2010. For years, Flash and PowerPoint were the means by which the majority of learning system content was delivered on protected websites for educational, institutional, and corporate users. In the office, Microsoft PowerPoint presentations were the preferred means by which business keynotes and lower-end educational learning modules were used. While smartphones have demonstrated the ability to be used for instructional design, they had not been ported en masse by instructional designers and their clients. When Steve Jobs declared Adobe Flash persona non grata on iOS devices, he set in motion a scramble in an entire industry trying to adapt to end-users’ preferences for tablets.

The moment the iPad was announced, many end-users asked clients whom I work for about the availability of their learning contents on tablets. Tablets offer many advantages over regular computers for educational, institutional and corporate training. For example, users in specific industries such as health and financial services have contractual obligations to take specific training every year that are verified and tracked by their employers and regulatory bodies as part of their employments and sometimes yearly certifications. In some industries, such as oil and gas, this is part of a regulatory process mandated by governments. For example, that roughneck working on an oil rig has to demonstrate that he understands the security regulations put in place by authorities, or he’s out of a job. Motivating end-users to take their online training can be difficult because it usually interferes with their regular schedules. Cloud-connected tablets alleviate the problem somewhat by allowing end-users to pursue their online training when it is more suitable for them, be it at an airport, while waiting for a connecting flight, or in bed at night.

Tablets are also perfectly suited for business presentations. They are lighter and allow users to make last minute edits on the go. A tablet can be all that is needed by a user making a business presentation. The user can have a few relevant files on the device, like spreadsheets, texts documents and presentations. Email, note-taking, calendar as well as full internet access are also readily available on tablets.

But not all tablets are created equal. I’ve been tasked recently to play the role of Chief Technology Officer for a major client to help them figure out their tablet strategy in regards to e-learning and presentations. This client has always relied on DVDs and PowerPoint presentations with embedded videos to serve end-users. The training format of this client calls for individual learning modules to train instructors who will then train larger groups of end-users with presentation software or DVDs connected to projectors.

It soon became apparent that tablets running the two most popular mobile platforms on the market right now (iOS and Google Android) were unsuitable for this client and possibly a majority of educational, institutional and corporate clients in a similar position. Tablets running Microsoft Windows 7 were also considered but failed to meet the needs of my client. The only mobile platforms that offered value for my clients are Blackberry QNX and HP webOS. Here’s why.

Apple iOS

Apple is now in its second generation tablet with the iPad 2. The device has improved ergonomics compared to the first version. The iPad line is clearly the most popular tablet device on the market and the one with the best support by third parties in the forms of apps and accessories. The main problem faced with iOS devices is the lack of support from Apple for medium size educational, institutional, and corporate clients. Short of having an organization that has 500 employees, Apple will not allow any of my clients to deliver and install their own e-learning apps and bypass iTunes. This is a serious problem for obvious reasons. Many businesses offer training to other businesses and bypass the consumer market totally to avoid confusion and inadvertent leaks. A variety of configurations and prepaid subscriptions enable end-users to use their learning modules without having to pay directly for the training module. For example, the app the roughneck will use to fulfill his oil rig security training has already been paid by his employer. An app like that has no business sitting next to Angry Birds on iTunes. While Apple’s iPad tablets are very interesting, forcing my clients to use iTunes to distribute their apps to end-users is a no go. I’ve been in contact several times with Apple and they will aren’t about to budge on this nor take the needs of corporate clients seriously.


Side-loading of apps is supported by Android, an important need of most of my clients (preferred method being full integration of software and hardware before the user even gets the device). In the past, a huge cost to my clients was technical support of end-users using a variety of computers and systems often times that did not meet the minimum requirements needed to run an e-learning module or even the latest version of a PowerPoint presentation. A main advantage of tablets is that through large information technology (IT) resellers, like Insight or CDW, tablets can be pre-installed with the proper apps and resold at a discount to clients. Or in the case of internal training, they can be pre-configured by the IT department.

With Android, this is a problem. There are so many Android tablets already released or scheduled to be released, that choosing one specific device and securing proper support from one vendor and proper supply of tablets in the thousands is difficult. Here’s something that happened to a school recently: Because of budget restraints, the school had enough funding to provide Android tablets to half of the students. The other half would receive tablets later when the budget for the next fiscal year was approved. When that budget was approved, it was difficult for the school to purchase the same Android tablet it had obtained six months prior. It had to settle on another model by different manufacturer ,creating a lot of problems for the IT department and resentment with students and teachers. As tech geeks we usually welcome the fast-paced product turnaround on platforms like Android, but for institutional and corporate clients this can be the source of major headaches. Even if my clients were able to bulk order enough Android tablets from one maker, what’s to stop an end-user from calling IT support and demanding an explanation as to why his year-old Archos tablet running an old version of Android cannot be used in lieu of the latest Samsung device we recommend?

Microsoft Windows 7

Some of the problems with Microsoft Windows tablets running the full desktop operating system are similar to those with Android. There are many models some from large merchants, and some like HP are seemingly continually out of stock. They also run full desktop operating systems instead of customized apps created to take advantage of a mobile platform in a controlled environment. The whole point of using apps for e-learning is that the instructional designers control and can predict the full user experience without having to worry about users licneses, drivers, and the introduction of random unsupported configurations. Using apps on tablets made by a single manufacturer in control of both the software and the hardware offers the best solution. The other problem with Windows-based devices is that, some users would rather use Macs or Linux computers than Windows. In a way, the ubiquity of PCs is part of the problem with PCs.

QNX on the BlackBerry PlayBook

The BlackBerry Playbook was released barely a month ago but offers some of the best features for my clients. First the Playbook has one integrated environment with support for several programming languages. The Flash-based development environment also means that existing contents can be easily reused for a Playbook app. Were my clients to adopt QNX as their platform for e-learning, they would also benefit from strong presentation capabilities: the Playbook’s Dataviz office suite contains an app that can play PowerPoint presentations and allow the presenter to view his notes on his own device, while screens connected through micro HDMI only show the contents of the slides. This is a great feature. Connections to projectors seem easily feasible, although it’s not clear if presenter’s notes continue to be hidden with regular projectors.

Research in Motion already works with large IT resellers and therefore there is a potential for the company to offer pre-installed tablets to clients for a discount. However, the Playbook is the first non-phone/non-pager device from RIM and therefore the Canadian company does not have the habit of delivering preconfigured devices for smaller clients. Because of the issues with the lack of internal email and personal information management apps, some clients may be reticent to adopt the Playbook. Another concern is the extent of support for the Playbook that RIM will guarantee in the future. In less than a year, RIM has launched BlackBerry OS 6, QNX and now BlackBerry OS 7. BlackBerry OS 6 is no longer supported, and OS 7 isn’t likely to hit even the most recently released BlackBerry devices. The speed at which RIM abandoned support for BlackBerry OS 6 is concerning for clients that have to make a decision to support a platform and a device for the next five years. Will the Playbook still be around in five years? How about RIM? However, this device ranks very highly so far in my initial evaluation for my clients.

HP webOS on the TouchPad

Hewlett-Packard has more experience than RIM in working with large IT resellers. In discussions with some of them, while doing my research, a representative for one of these resellers told me that HP had already programs in place to facilitate the type of custom services my clients would require. Unlike with RIM, this knowhow does not have to be built from scratch. The TouchPad has not been released yet, but like the iPad, it offers an integrated environment where both the hardware and the software are controlled by one manufacturer. But unlike Apple, HP allows educational, institutional and corporate clients to side-load apps without going through the webOS App Catalog. Potentially, my clients could partner with HP, and a large IT reseller to sell pre-installed TouchPads configured with their own e-learning apps.

Another great benefit to my clients is that the technologies used to create traditional e-learning contents and infrastructures shares the same web-based architecture used by webOS devices. The learning curve for an instructional design team to make e-learning materials on webOS is significantly reduced compared to platforms like iOS and Android that rely respectively on Objective C and Java. HP webOS can also be used for multimedia presentations. However, at this time it’s unclear if connecting a Touchpad to a projector is possible (the TouchPad only has a micro-USB port, with no mentioned video-out capabilities). HP has partnered with QuickOffice for an office apps suite on the TouchPad, but it is currently unproven in the real world, and may only support document viewing at launch.

webOS itself will soon work on non mobile devices, such as HP computers and printers, and enable multiform factor communications increasing the real estate of devices accessible by an e-learning app. Thanks to features like Touch-to-Share data sharing between devices, creative instructional designer can leverage new opportunities for their apps. For direct web app mobile development, the Touchpad is also a good device, supporting both HTML5 and Adobe Flash. Because of its corporate-friendly origins, HP’s Touchpad is poised to be one of the top two solutions for educational, institutional, and corporate clients in developing their mobile e-learning and business presentation strategy on tablets.

A quick summary:

Platform and Tablet




iOS, iPad


Popular platform

No mid-level enterprise support, iTunes deployment is consumer-oriented

Limited support makes the iPad a device for consumers only

Android, various


Competition between vendors makes prices affordable

Too many different tablets to be supported, too many changes to allow long term planning

Logistic nightmare for large scale medium and long term enterprise deployment

Windows 7, various


Complete compatibility with desktop programs

None of the benefits of a controlled mobile OS, some users avoid it

Lacks traditional tablet benefits

QNX, Playbook

Research in Motion

Great presentations capabilities, single manufacturer

Lacks experience in enterprise non phone /non pager devices support, need to build expertise

Great solution, but needs to prove long term support of QNX and backward compatibility

webOS, Touchpad


Multiple form factor, ease of development of instructional design

Unclear about how presentations connect to projectors and other devices

Recommended solution, but HP needs to control its own webOS office suite

The iPad and Android tablets have garnered the most attention and conventional wisdom assumes that iOS and Android devices should be the choice of CTOs and instructional designers looking to deploy instructional and presentation material on tablets. However, as much as it was criticized for its personal information management shortcomings, RIM's Playbook is really a suitable device for instructional design and corporate presentations. HP, however, has an opportunity to come up as the darkhorse leader in this market thanks to its strong corporate reaches and natural understanding of the needs of educational, institutional and corporate clients. Given that webOS is also an appealing mobile platform, all HP needs to do is go after this market and demonstrate to potential clients that the Touchpad is right choice for e-learning and business presentations. A worthy signal would be the quick announcement of the buyout of an office suite developer like Quick Office. webOS is the only mobile platform that lacks a proprietary office suite of its own in all the major mobile operating systems on the market.