- The new iPad Apple unveiled Wednesday 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 OS that dominate the US school market, the new iPad is pricey, fragile, and impractical.
- After all, how often do adults drop their phones? Now, 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 get after reviewing Apple education-focused announcements on Wednesday. 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, and it was a market that founder Steve Jobs focused on early on. 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. Although its iPad seemed initially like a way to strike back and regain lost ground, it’s not turned out that way, exactly.
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 the large majority of its education sales, fell last year.
Chromebooks meet schools’ needs; iPads don’t
Chromebooks have proven particularly popular with schools and now dominate the US market. Part of their appeal has been that they’re relatively cheap; Google’s partners offer a variety of laptop-style Chromebook machines in the $200 to $300 price range. 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 run.
What’s more, they’re well-designed for the types of applications that many schools are using these days, such as web-based math and reading assessments, but also just for 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, Apple’s iPads — even the newest one doesn’t match up well. Apple’s iOS, the operating system underlying the iPad, is more complex than Chrome OS — and basically requires an IT administrator to configure and maintain it on an ongoing basis. Because it lacks a keyboard, the iPad’s not particularly well suited — by itself — for many school activities, particularly writing reports.
iPads weren’t designed with kids in mind
But its bigger problems have to do with its price and durability. Unlike notebooks, iPad, 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 their nature, are likely to be even more accident prone. As a case in point, one of the first things my daughter did when my wife got an iPad several years ago was was to accidentally drop it, cracking its screen. That’s the precise reason that the version of its Fire tablet Amazon markets for kids comes with a rubberized case.
Apple seems to be completely oblivious to this obvious fact. The iPads the company is selling schools ought to come with protective cases like that for the kid version of the Fire tablet, but they don’t. Instead schools will have to pay extra for them.
One of the key selling points of the new iPad is that it works with Pencil, the Apple-designed stylus. Here again Apple seems to have no understanding of kids.
Do you remember where you put your Pencil?
The iPad not only doesn’t come with a case, it also lacks a way to easily keep track of its stylus. There’s no slot to slide 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 really a practical way to carry the device around, because that leaves Pencil basically just sticking out its end. You can also buy cases that have pouches designed for the stylus — but the one from Apple costs $130.
When I tested Pencil when it first 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.
They 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 potentially be bent or snapped off by kids horsing around, as they often do.
Compared with what schools can expect to pay for a Chromebook, the $300 price Apple is charging for the new iPad was already high. But that price actually understates its cost. Schools that want to equip their iPads with Pencils will have to pay an additional $90 for each stylus. They can get a less expensive one from Logitech, but it will still cost $50.
Meanwhile, schools that want a protective case for their new tablets will need to spent dozens more dollars at least. Logitech’s rugged new iPad case costs $100, for example.
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 itself needs to go back to school.