- The new iPad Apple unveiled Tuesday seems ill-suited to solve its woes in the education market.
- Apple doesn’t seem to understand how kids use devices or what schools need.
- Compared with Chromebooks – the notebooks running Google’s Chrome OS that dominate the education market in the US – the new iPad is pricey, fragile, and impractical.
- After all, how often do adults drop their phones? Give every kid an iPad, and you can imagine the chaos.
Apple’s executives seem to have forgotten anything they ever knew about kids.
They also seem to have completely lost touch with what’s going on in the education market.
At least that’s the overwhelming sense I have after reviewing Apple’s education-focused announcements on Tuesday. Because from where I’m sitting, a slightly cheaper, somewhat faster, marginally more capable iPad is the not the answer to Apple’s education problems, or the best tool for teachers and students. It’s still too expensive and too impractical.
Apple famously pioneered the market for selling computers to schools – a market Steve Jobs focused on early. When I was a kid, my middle school had banks of Apple IIs in our computer lab, and I know that wasn’t unusual. When I was in college, my best friend and many of my dorm-mates had Macs.
But Apple lost its early lead in the education market, first to Windows-powered machines and more recently to those running Google’s Chrome OS. Though its iPad initially seemed like a way to strike back and regain lost ground, it hasn’t exactly turned out that way.
A major contract to sell iPads to the Los Angeles Unified School District ended in disaster. In 2016, Apple’s iPads and Macs accounted for about 18% of the laptops and tablets shipped to US schools, according to Futuresource Consulting. The company’s iPad shipments, which account for most of its education sales, fell last year.
Chromebooks meet schools’ needs – iPads don’t
Chromebooks have proved particularly popular with schools and now dominate the US market.
Part of their appeal is that they’re relatively cheap; Google’s partners offer a variety of laptop-style Chromebook machines for about $US200 to $US300.
Another draw: They’re generally easy to maintain, because Chrome OS is a web-browser-based operating system that updates automatically, has built-in malware protection, and is limited in the kinds of applications it runs.
What’s more, Chromebooks are well-designed for the types of applications many schools are using these days, such as web-based maths and reading assessments, and for just writing reports.
And by design, laptops are fairly durable – users generally close them to move or carry them, thereby protecting their screens, their most fragile part.
On those measures, even the newest Apple iPad doesn’t match up well.
Apple’s iOS, the operating system underlying the iPad, is more complex than Chrome OS, basically requiring an IT administrator to configure and maintain it continuously. And because it lacks a keyboard, the iPad, by itself, is not particularly well-suited for many school activities, like writing reports.
iPads weren’t designed with kids in mind
But the iPad’s bigger problems have to do with its price and durability.
Unlike notebooks, iPads, with their all-glass faces, are inherently fragile devices. If you’ve ever shattered the screen on your phone, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Adults break the screens on their phones all the time.
Kids, by nature, are likely to be even more accident-prone. A case in point: One of the first things my daughter did when my wife got an iPad several years ago was accidentally drop it, cracking its screen. That’s the precise reason that the version of Amazon’s Fire tablet that it markets to kids comes with a rubberised case.
Apple seems to be oblivious to this obvious fact. The iPads the company is selling schools ought to come with similar protective cases, but they don’t. Instead, schools would have to pay extra for them.
One of the key selling points of the new iPad is that it works with the Apple Pencil, the Apple-designed stylus. Here again, Apple seems to have no understanding of kids.
Do you remember where you put your Pencil?
Not only does the iPad not come with a case, but it also lacks a way to easily keep track of its stylus. There’s no slot to slide the Pencil into, and no way to attach it magnetically.
While you can connect the end of the stylus into the iPad’s Lightning port, that’s not a practical way to carry the device around, as that leaves the Pencil basically sticking out the end. You can also buy cases with pouches designed for the stylus, but the one from Apple costs $US130.
When I tested the Pencil when it debuted, I found myself struggling to keep track of it, because I didn’t have an easy way to keep it with the iPad I was testing. And I’m a somewhat responsible adult. Kids aren’t known for focusing on such details. I can see Pencils getting lost left and right.
The Pencils also are likely to get broken. You connect a Pencil to an iPad’s Lightning port to charge the stylus. But what physically joins the two devices is a relatively thin piece of metal, one that could be bent or snapped off while kids are horsing around, as they often do.
Compared with what schools can expect to pay for a Chromebook, the $US300 Apple is charging for the new iPad is already high. But that price understates its cost – schools that want to equip their iPads with Pencils will have to pay an additional $US90 for each stylus. They can get a less expensive one from Logitech, but it will still cost $US50.
Meanwhile, schools that want protective cases for their new tablets will need to spend even more. For example, Logitech’s rugged new iPad case costs $US100.
So don’t expect schools or teachers to embrace the new iPad. Apple’s latest announcement indicates that if it wants to make headway in the education market, the company needs to go back to school.