Apple’s first major event of the year kicks off on Tuesday, March 27. And, as always, everyone will be sitting on the edge of their seats to hear what it announces.
But the event at Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep High School won’t be your typical auditorium-packed keynote spectacle. The “field trip,” as Apple’s calling it, will focus instead on education — specifically on “creative new ideas for teachers and students.” And when Apple talks education, you can bet the iPad will be front and center.
Everything leading up to Tuesday’s event — the company’s first education-focused event since 2012 — suggests it’ll be somewhat low-key. There will likely be no livestream, and the classroom environment provides a more intimate setting for Apple to show just how much it cares about empowering the next generation of creators who’ve been raised on touchscreens.
Though Apple has had a long relationship with educational institutions and continues to make investments and partnerships in academia, its ambitions with iPad in schools hasn’t become the runaway success story as originally pitched.
Failure to start
Rewind to 2013 and you’ll see how optimistic Apple was about iPad in schools. The Los Angeles School Board of Education had just approved a $30 million deal to kit every student in the second-largest public school district in the U.S. with Apple’s tablet, loaded with custom digital curriculums designed by Pearson.
The plan was for the iPad, then a relatively new “post-PC” device, to lead the way for a new kind of learning experience compared to the old dinosaur desktop or laptop computers.
L.A.’s complete failure to deploy iPads — the entire thing was scandalous from every direction — to students dashed all hope of schools in other states adopting a similar iPad-based curriculum.
For an iPad to truly be a useful device for students, it needs a keyboard. Shame that costs extra.Equipping students with iPads was also an expensive program. It cost L.A. an estimated $698 per iPad. While Apple was busy trying to get pricey iPads into classrooms, Google had a different plan: It was sneaking into schools low-priced, secure Chromebooks, which cost about $299 a pop. More recently, Microsoft has joined the fray, making some inroads in the education sector with low-cost Windows 10 laptops.
Cheap Chromebooks and Windows laptops have proven a hit with schools, not only because they’re inexpensive, but because they come with keyboards. Apple introduced a cheaper $299 iPad for education institutions last year to better compete with Chromebooks and Windows laptops, but with the same caveat that a keyboard is an additional $99 cost.
Lower pricing, Apple Pencil support
All iPads should support Apple Pencil.Image: NATHAN WEYLAND/MASHABLEOn Tuesday, Apple could right its lopsided ship in the education seas. The latest report from Bloomberg’s reliable Mark Gurman claims Apple will release an even cheaper iPad (rumors peg it at around $259) for schools that could make them more attractive than Chromebooks.
Again, that price for institutions wouldn’t include a keyboard. But perhaps Apple could surprise everyone and toss one in for free or offer a bundle for $299.
What could really make the iPad a dream machine for students and teachers would be Apple Pencil support. Since its introduction in 2015, Apple’s digital stylus has only worked with its high-end iPad Pro tablets.
If its myriad iPad Pro ads are any indication — how can anyone forget “What’s a computer?” girl? — Apple envisions the Apple Pencil as an inseparable accessory that’s fundamental to unlocking the iPad’s true potential.
With Apple Pencil, students would be able to go beyond mere keyboard input. Students would be able to take digital notes and create illustrations/charts/diagrams/etc. possible through traditional pen and paper.
Software is key
Tim Cook firmly believes everyone should know how to code.Of course, a new iPad is only part of the equation. At its last education event in 2012, Apple revamped digital textbooks with iBooks 2 with a richer text and visual experience.
Bloomberg says Apple “will also showcase new software for the classroom,” but didn’t provide further details.
Discoveries in beta versions of iOS 11.3, however, might provide some hints. There’s a new “Classroom 2.2” app that lets teachers use the iPad as a teaching assistant for guiding students through lessons.
The software also has a “ClassKit” framework that’ll let developers of education apps “create student evaluation features” and let users “answer questionnaires that will be automatically transmitted to teachers remotely via iCloud” according to 9to5Mac.
Furthermore, we could hear more about Apple’s “Everyone Can Code” initiative, which teaches students how to code using its Swift programming language. ECC was aimed at colleges at first, but expanded to 500,000 students in Chicago. It shouldn’t surprise you Lane Tech College Prep High School is one of the participating schools.
Playing the long game
The focus of the event will no doubt be iPad, but it’s possible Apple could have other announcements in store. Upgraded Macs would be nice, especially a revamped MacBook Air. A cheaper Apple Pencil would be awesome.
In the education market, Apple commands a relatively small slice of the pie: 20 percent penetration in U.S. schools for Mac and iOS combined, according to research firm Futuresource. In comparison, Chromebooks have captured 58 percent of the education market.
Cheaper iPads could shift the tide in favor of Apple, but it won’t happen overnight. It took two years for Chromebooks in U.S. schools to jump from 38 to 58 percent. Apple’s always played the long game. With iPad, Apple has pretty much snuffed out all Android-based competitors. Same for Apple Watch. Both are now leaders in their respective product categories.
Tuesday’s moves could set the iPad up to truly be a classroom rockstar. Now it’s on Apple to deliver where it previously couldn’t.