Applications refer to programs such as word processors, spreadsheets, databases and Internet browsers, as well as applications that also include content such as exercises or other learning tools. Basic applications are not necessarily a significant cost item depending on: (i) the type of LCCD; (ii) the operating system; and (iii) software applications desired.
All low-cost computing devices come with some application software along with the operating system. One consideration is whether commercial software such as the Microsoft Office suite of applications is necessary. If so, this software will need to be purchased; however, software manufacturers often give significant discounts for educational use of their software in many countries. 104
Many software applications are available at no cost. For example, popular Internet browsers (e.g., Firefox, Chrome, and Opera) are free and run on different operating systems. Likewise, the Adobe Reader document reader is also a free download and runs on various operating systems. The OpenOffice suite can be downloaded for free and includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphic and database software. 105 It is available in various languages, runs on a number of operating systems (e.g., Windows, Linux) and can read and write files from other common office software packages.
In some countries, LCCDs must be usable with open-source software, because of the high cost of commercial applications. There is also a philosophical argument that commercial applications are not really necessary for primary school children:
“Children—especially young children—need the opportunity to learn far more than Word Excel, and Powerpoint. Of course, picking up these skills, having grown up with a laptop, will be readily accomplished.” 106
Applications specifically intended for LCCDs continue to proliferate. The OLPC xo-1 runs a Linux-based operating system called Sugar that was initially developed for OLPC products. Sugar has since been made available for other devices, including those running Windows, MacOS and Linux. 107 Programs that can be used in the Sugar platform currently number nearly 450, including content related to math and science, media creation, games, maps and geography, search and discovery, games and teacher tools, among others. 108 The planned xo-3 tablet will run Sugar or Android, providing access to applications developed for those operating systems.
So, smartphones and tablets running widely adopted operating systems, such as Android or iOS, have increasingly been considered or deployed as LCCDs in educational settings. Such devices can take advantage of a variety of applications – both free and paid – that provide educational content or utility. The use of tablets in educational settings is still an emerging trend, but as such deployments expand, the variety of available applications is also likely to grow. Major device vendors already have made efforts to develop education-focused applications for tablet devices.
For example, in June 2012, Apple agreed to make iPads available to 600 students in 20 Thai schools. Apple also will develop education applications for marketing in its App Store. 109 Intel, in conjunction with its Classmate and Studybook devices, has developed its Learning Series Software Suite, which includes tools for classroom management, note-taking, e-reading, and painting/drawing, among others. 110 The I-Slate being developed for the Indian market runs a custom-developed operating system specifically intended for use in educational settings. 111
In addition, feature phones can be used as educational and literacy tools. Worldreader, which has conducted pilot projects involving e-readers in Africa, has also developed an application (in conjunction with an Australian application developer) that runs on any Java-enabled handset and provides access to approximately 500 public domain books, as well as contemporary fiction and non-fiction from a number of developing markets. 112 The Worldreader app is also available for smartphones running Android or BlackBerry OS.
104 Microsoft offers a Windows/Office bundle to Chinese students for $3. See: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/hiner/?p=525 . It also has the same deal for Russian students: http://www.silicontaiga.org/home.asp?artId=7535
107 See http://sugarlabs.org/.
108 See http://activities.sugarlabs.org.
109 Leesa-nguansuk, Suchit, “Apple to let students test iPad tablets,” Bangkok Post, (June 22, 2012), available at http://www.bangkokpost.com/tech/computer/299161/apple-to-let-students-test-ipad-tablets .
110 Intel Learning Series Software Suite, available at http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/intel-learning-series/software-suite.html .
111 “I-slate educational tablet: optimizing tech-brain interface,” (March 19, 2012), available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBFNyGwlCQw&feature=youtu.be.
112 Worldreader, “Worldreader Mobile,” available at http://www.worldreader.org/what-we-do/worldreader-mobile/