Apple had its focus on education event in Chicago this week, and the company is getting serious about taking back one market it used to have under tight control: the classroom. Not too long ago, if you were to look at the computing products school systems were buying you would have seen an Apple logo on almost all of them. Apple offered a consistent, secure and unified experience to educators and students which made them the company to work with if you wanted to deploy computers to the classroom.
Apple is using the same tactics Google did when they pushed Chromebooks for the classroom.
They were also very expensive and had a high training and administration cost which meant most schools went without. Google seized upon this and made sure that Chromebooks offered what educators needed at prices school board officials could afford and now have double the market share (52%) that Apple products (24%) do when it comes to the classroom.
With its latest announcements, Apple did a lot to address those issues. Whether it's enough to create a surge in the numbers is yet to be seen, but it's a great example of why competition is good for the people who use the products. Especially so when the people using them are the next generation. Here's a breakdown of what Apple now has to offer and how it all compares to what Chromebooks bring to the table.
It's unfortunate that the most important thing Apple announced will be all about the money. That's just the way things work when schools aren't provided with the funding needed to offer the education every child deserves and the single biggest factor when it comes to providing equipment for the classroom is the dollar.
The 6th Generation iPad has a 9.7-inch display and runs atop the same A10 chip the iPhone 7 introduced. It has support for the Apple Pencil like the previous generation iPad Pro but the best news was the price — $329 retail and $299 for schools.
A $300 iPad will gather a lot of attention. It should.
It's important to note that the $300 price is for the tablet only — the Apple Pencil stylus, as well as an add-on keyboard, are going to cost extra. And the Smart Connector didn't make its way into the newer cheaper iPad so that means a Bluetooth or connection through the Lightning port and a generic keyboard is the best solution. Once these costs are added in a new iPad is going to cost as much or more than a good Chromebook for the education sector like one of the new Lenovo models, so schools won't be saving any money should they make the move back to Apple.
The new pricing is great for regular consumers and an iPad is one of the best tablet experiences any amount of money can buy. But for a budget-minded school board, there's no benefit when you compare price to price.
New features for iWork
Apple's iWork suite — Pages, Numbers, and Keynote — received a substantial update, too. Apple Pencil support was added in and part of the feature allows for annotations to be anchored to the object they are annotating so they will stay attached no matter how that object is moved or used across the iWork apps. The biggest impact comes to Keynote, Apple's answer to Powerpoint, as annotations remain available even if an object is animated or moved across slides.
It's going to take a miracle to get school systems to switch from Google Docs and Gmail to iWork and iCloud. These changes are great but not miracle-grade.
Additionally, digital publishing was added to the Pages app (Apple's version of Word) which allows anyone to create their own eBook without any extra tools. These changes are really nice, and as someone who happens to appreciate iWork, I'm excited to see them in action. But they aren't exactly game-changing even if Apple wants us to believe they are.
As mentioned, I like using Numbers and Pages and think they are better than Microsoft's Office apps or Google Docs' app suite but I'm very much in the minority. Most schools use Google Docs, which is a byproduct of Chromebooks gaining traction in the classroom. Apple Pen support and authoring tools aren't likely to be enough to make a switch from the excellent collaboration and cloud management Google (and Microsoft) offer with existing solutions. And those solutions also will work just fine on an iPad.
Swift Playgrounds AR
While most students aren't budding programmers, for those that are Swift Playgrounds is a great way to learn to code. This week's update adds support for build Augmented Reality apps through Swift and AR looks to be the next big thing that any developer will need to know how to build.
Swift Playgrounds is a beautiful learning tool that I wish Microsoft Visual Studio would emulate.
The unfortunate reality is that Swift Playgrounds limits itself to Apple-OS and Linux devices. Swift and Cocoa are excellent development languages that work with existing Objective-C code already in place on billions of devices. But there are billions of other devices out there and better ways to teach kids to program exist. Until a for-profit company decides to build a product that's easy to use and helps students learn to program in any language — and spends money to promote and support it — it will always be one method versus the other.
It's worth mentioning that nothing exists for Chrome OS that is as good as Swift Playgrounds when it comes to learning how to code. I'd love to see Google step up in this area instead of waiting for someone else to make an IDE that runs through a web interpreter of the same caliber.
Apple Classroom and Shared iPad
Apple Classroom and Shared iPads are the biggest announcements when it comes to iPads in the classroom, even if they won't get the attention that lower prices will.
Shared iPad works the same way as multiple accounts on a Chromebook. Each student gets their own sandbox that syncs with their user ID and login, and can pick up any iPad, tap their profile photo and enter their password and get to work. The things they do will be stored in iCloud and available anywhere the student's user ID is used.
Time spent trying to manage a classroom full of devices is better spent teaching, and tools that make it happen are important.
Apple Classroom is a management application that teachers or other school officials can use to manage student logins but has an extra feature that's really great. A teacher can use Apple Classroom and open an app or webpage on every managed iPad at the same time so all the students are seeing exactly what they need to be seeing. Google's answer is Google Classroom which offers a completely paperless system and uses a "classroom stream" to share media and communicate with every student at once.
When it comes to administration and management Google's G Suite for Education and Chrome administration tools are going to be difficult to beat. Google uses Enterprise-grade management tools and features combined with the best collaboration tools available to make class time and assignments easy for teachers to manage and for students to learn from. Apple's answer looks to be a less pragmatic approach and will likely offer less of a learning curve for teachers which makes it very attractive.
Students are the real winners
When everything is said and done, the people who will benefit the most from Apple's new classroom features are the students themselves. Even if these moves fail to make any significant changes in schools when it comes to which computing platform is available, it will trigger a response from Google and Microsoft and result in better products all around.
When it comes to educational products we want everything to be better than ever.
We all should want the tools and services available for education to be great because they shape the future. For the next generation to do better than we're doing right now we have to provide the best we can offer so students learn what they need to know when they're holding the keys. It's not an Apple versus Google battle once you get past the quarterly earnings report and I don't care which products students are using as long as they are the best products.
We've seen Apple offer some great tools, now it's time to see how Google responds and enjoy seeing these two companies compete because it gives our children a better education when they try to outdo each other.
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