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Texas Instruments' graphing calculator division has long focused on doing one thing particularly well: creating the graphing calculators that most students and teachers use. There have been some hiccups over the years, and we at Cemetech have certainly appreciated some of the alternatives like the Casio Prizm, but there's no denying that Texas Instruments remains the leader of the pack in real-world math usage. Until 2011, all of TI's graphing calculators offered a grayscale or monochrome LCD and similar vertical cases covered in keys. The 2011 introduction of the TI-Nspire CX, at least in this community, was received with mixed emotions. Some appreciated the large color screen, touchpad interface, and newly-added ability to write Lua programs. Others bemoaned the continued lock-out of native C/ASM programs, and criticized the device's document interface as cumbersome and unintuitive. Yesterday, I (and separately, TI-Planet) sat down with two of TI's marketing managers to discuss a new product being announced today. Joining us was Tom, a teacher from Ohio who has been working with this new offering, to provide the educators' perspective. In what is a dramatic departure from all of their previous offerings, Texas Instruments has unveiled two apps for the Apple iPad, called the "TI-Nspire App for iPad" and the "TI-Nspire CAS App for the iPad".

As the names suggest, these apps offer the majority of the TI-Nspire CX and TI-Nspire CX CAS features in the form of iPad apps, each of which will be offered for a penny under $30. While the TI contacts to whom I spoke acknowledged that there are scattered apps available that attempt to teach math concepts or offer math tools, one of the strengths of these apps is a complete, integrated tool that offers almost every feature of the TI-Nspire calculators with a familiar interface. They explained that the app is built to be intuitive to students and teachers who have already used the TI-Nspire calculators, but showed off some of the new opportunities that the iPad provides. Two of the most obvious additions are a larger color screen and touch abilities. With the large screen, graphs can be very detailed without becoming hard to read. Tom spoke of "the power of visualization" and how important he feels visual learning is to driving home math and science concepts to students. I was particularly impressed that you can use your fingers to drag and re-shape graphed functions; in the video below, you can see a user changing the coefficients of a parabola by dragging it. In this age of smartphones and tablets, indeed, a touch interface is often more obvious to younger users than a mouse-based interface, particularly in a piece of mobile technology.

Needless to say, I had many questions about this addition, which Dale Philbrick, marketing manager for mathematics at TI, was happy to answer. First, he reassured me that while this pair of Apps aims to fill a hole with schools that have adopted iPads in the classroom, it doesn't portend any impending change of strategy with TI's handheld calculators. It is meant to be an expansion of the TI-Nspire family rather than a replacement for any existing devices. TI anticipates that the completeness and polish of these apps, including their ability to run the large library of activities that the company has built up for teachers to use in their curricula, will appeal to schools that are now using iPads in their classes. Mr. Philbrick acknowledged that as long as standardized tests like the SAT forbid internet-connected devices and tablets, this will not be an option, but may be used in classroom evaluations, and that the similarity of the interface between the TI-Nspire Apps for iPad and the TI-Nspire calculators would facilitate students using both. I also learned that TI will be showing off these new Apps during sessions and panels at the upcoming T3 2013 conference, where I will be presenting the pedagogical value of teaching programming with graphing calculators.

Speaking of programming, I learned that these new apps will be able to run both Lua and Nspire TI-BASIC programs. A new API will eventually be added to Lua programs to allow them to take advantage of the larger screen and to understand touch and possibly multitouch. Nspire TI-BASIC programs will be able to be written directly on the device, while Lua programs must be written with the TI-Nspire Student Software on a computer and then transferred to the device.

These apps are now available, and we look forward to hearing people's reactions to them. I will certainly bring updates as I get them, and provide a firsthand look at the apps when I get to use them at T3 (or sooner, if the opportunity presents itself). What do you think of these new chances? Is this an inevitable shift that had to happen sooner or later as powerful mobile devices become ubiquitous? How do you see them affecting math instruction in the classroom; do you think the lure of distractions on an iPad would be too great? Will traditional handhelds like the highly-anticipated TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition remain relevant? Be sure to join in the lively discussion in the attached topic.

Editor's Note: TI has noted that there are "no plans for an Android app at this time," and has also provided this update on the App: "Immediately after the TI-Nspire Apps for iPad were posted on the App Store, we discovered an issue with App Store settings and have temporarily removed these apps from the store. We are working to update these settings and will repost the apps as soon as possible."

More Information
Promotional video showing the TI-Nspire Apps for iPad
TI-Nspire Apps for iPad website

This is really cool stuff Smile Glad to see TI finally competing properly in the mobile space. I have to wonder if they'll follow up with an Android release?

Also, I know that Apple provides opportunities for customized app loading and management in the enterprise market space. I wouldn't be surprised if similar features were used by or available to educational institutions to allow them to load iPads with only school-approved apps. Even without it, the parental controls can be applied to school-owned devices and internet-filtering software can run by transparent proxy for everyone as means of reducing distraction for a competent high-school IT department.
There's no current news about an Android version of this App, based on what I know, but I can certainly inquire to make sure. Also, you make very interesting points in that second paragraph. I didn't know that there were ways to lock down iPads in any sort of way; does that also prevent jailbreaking, or would you rely on human detection of jailbreaking? When I asked about the potential for cheating on tests, the teacher in the conference said that he would indeed want a way to block off internet access, but as far as the features the app affords as a calculator, he could see creating a test with a calculator portion and a non-calculator portion (not unlike what is often done already in many tests, as I can personally attest).
Not sure if the free Apple Configurator tool allows you to disable WiFi or unload Safari from the device, but it does allow you to configure "Global HTTP Proxy" (which would make jailbreaking very difficult) and "Lock to App" (which would be perfect for testing mode) as well as restriction of the Game Center and messaging services. I'm under the impression that there are also more advanced iOS-device managing programs ("Mobile Device Management") available from other companies that provide more advanced features.

The custom app-store can be in-house apps only using the Business Accelerator program (and an in-house provisioning server) or Apple-approved apps using the "B2B" (business-to-business) app stores and Volume Purchase Program.


Incidentally, if your teacher contact or the people at TI were unaware of these options (and I think most people are, since Apple often doesn't advertise as heavily outside the consumer market), it might be worthwhile to mention the Apple Configurator and Lock to App specifically if you talk to them again sometime soon.
Good to know, thanks for those tidbits. That certainly opens my eyes to how far tablets and similar mobile devices have progressed towards being useable in evaluation situations. Also, to answer your Android question, one of my contacts has confirmed that there are no plans for an Android app at this time.

Edit: I certainly shall mention it, though I'd assume that they researched it very thoroughly, and if not, they might already know from this topic. Wink
That doesn't surprise me too much. I wouldn't really want to have to port an Obj-C program to Android unless they were really strict about limiting the OOPisms to the UI specific portions of the code, and Android still hasn't really gained acceptance as a tablet OS in the way that it has for phones.

I would have assumed that they would be familiar as well, but the hypothetical phrasing you used ("When I asked about the potential for cheating on tests, the teacher in the conference said that he would indeed want a way to block off internet access") indicated that his school specifically might be unaware of the opportunities afforded by iOS, and that if TI were aware they might not be using it to their full advantage in direct marketing to schools.
elfprince13 wrote:
I would have assumed that they would be familiar as well, but the hypothetical phrasing you used ("When I asked about the potential for cheating on tests, the teacher in the conference said that he would indeed want a way to block off internet access") indicated that his school specifically might be unaware of the opportunities afforded by iOS, and that if TI were aware they might not be using it to their full advantage in direct marketing to schools.
That may be the fault of my phrasing. I should clarify that this particular teacher hadn't had the opportunity to use the app in-class with students yet, but TI's representatives said that would be willing to get me in touch with a teacher in their pilot program. Let me know if you think of any interesting questions you'd like me to ask if I follow through on that.
I wonder if there are any tablets that are as powerful or more powerful than the iPad out there that runs Android? If so, then it would definitively be nice to see an Android version of this at one point.
DJ_O wrote:
I wonder if there are any tablets that are as powerful or more powerful than the iPad out there that runs Android? If so, then it would definitively be nice to see an Android version of this at one point.
As far as I know, plenty of tablets like the Nexus 7 are plenty powerful compared with the iPad. As Elfprince13 pointed out, though, the porting effort would be significant.
The Nexus 7, specifically, is plenty cheaper, which just means that the margins are lower than Apple's (which is not hard !) Smile
Very nicely written article, Kerm! Sadly, none of this will affect me in anyway, since 1) I refuse to purchase any apple product and 2) I don't utilize the Nspire in anyway, as of yet.
tifreak8x wrote:
Very nicely written article, Kerm! Sadly, none of this will affect me in anyway, since 1) I refuse to purchase any apple product and 2) I don't utilize the Nspire in anyway, as of yet.
Thank you for acknowledging the effort I put into writing this, tifreak8x. Smile I was a bit upset at how the release time got flubbed and we got scooped pretty much everywhere, but I guess it doesn't matter. I think that your reservations will affect many people; it seems to me this is primarily aimed at schools that already use iPads in the classroom.
my teacher is omg-ing to this, cause she is a bignspire and Ipad user. thanks for pointing it out.
LuxenD wrote:
my teacher is omg-ing to this, cause she is a bignspire and Ipad user. thanks for pointing it out.
If you can get some information on what particularly appeals to her about it, and/or get her on here to offer her thoughts firsthand, I know I and my TI contacts would be interested. Smile
mainly, its that the nspire is clunky, and the enlarged screen will help with presenting what she is doing to the class.
BTW, about an Android tablet version... Wink

It is publicly known, for example on Geetha Ram's LinkedIn Profile (she is the "Executive Director, Education Technology Product Development") : "exciting interactive math and science teaching and learning product (TI-Nspire™) on multiple platforms (i.e., PC, MAC, iPads, Android Tablets)"
KermMartian wrote:
Editor's Note: TI has noted that there are "no plans for an Android app at this time,"


It's also publicly known that there won't be an Android App. But there's hope!

Texas Instruments is always listening to the feedback it receives from teachers and wouldn’t rule out a release such as Android if they receive feedback that indicates the demand is there.
I would tend to believe the "Executive Director, Education Technology Product Development" more rather than other sources, especially when this "information" made its way through at least 2 or 3 people Razz

(One more argument, even though it has less impact : making the dev on Android would probably require a little less work than on iOS since Android is Java=based, and they already have a Java software...)
adriweb wrote:
BTW, about an Android tablet version... Wink

It is publicly known, for example on Geetha Ram's LinkedIn Profile (she is the "Executive Director, Education Technology Product Development") : "exciting interactive math and science teaching and learning product (TI-Nspire™) on multiple platforms (i.e., PC, MAC, iPads, Android Tablets)"
That's an interesting detail indeed, and I think that certainly casts uncertainty on the PR tidbit I received.

By the way, I noticed that education.ti.com/ipad redirects to the Nspire page now, so perhaps this security issue is a more long-term problem. Or perhaps Apple was not so thrilled that the TI-Nspire Apps for iPad can run Lua and Nspire BASIC. Sad
KermMartian wrote:
By the way, I noticed that education.ti.com/ipad redirects to the Nspire page now, so perhaps this security issue is a more long-term problem. Or perhaps Apple was not so thrilled that the TI-Nspire Apps for iPad can run Lua and Nspire BASIC. Sad

Well, it was released the 7th and we are the 11th... just after a week-end. For now, I wouldn't be so worried...
But anyway yes, I hope it gets solves ASAP Mad

Edit : found another interesting profiles (more proof Razz) : for example
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/ramesh-velpula/20/2a1/262
  
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