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In education, Apple must augment the reality of the cheap notebook

In education, Apple must augment the reality of the cheap notebook
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At Apple’s 2012 education-themed event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, it launched an app to create multimedia textbook and deals with several prominent textbook publishers. However, a deal to equip the Los Angeles school district with iPads ended miserably. And as the father of a middle schooler on the other coast, I can attest that digital workflow for such kids seems further in the future than backpack-induced chiropractor bills.

With Apple’s “field trip” event set for tomorrow, the company has again considered the needs of a market that has historically been such a strong early supporter of Apple. Much has changed in the six years since Apple’s New York City event. The iPad, which once dramatically undercut the Mac on price, has seen more of its sales revenue extend to “pro” models that boast features such as larger screen sizes, four speakers and more PC-like file and application management.

Meanwhile, the iPad mini, the size of which was more manageable for younger children, has faded into the sunset even though Apple updated the baseline last year. Perhaps most significantly for the education market, though, Apple has allowed the iPad to diversify from its iPhone input roots by developing the Apple Pencil and offering better support for iPad keyboards, including its own.

But in that time, the education market has strongly embraced inexpensive Chromebooks. At another event in New York City last year, Microsoft tried to address Chromebook competition point by point, announcing a series of inexpensive Windows laptops running the speedier and more secure Windows 10 S operating system as well as updates to its OneNote note-taking app and Intune device management software. While Microsoft plans to make Windows 10 S but a mode in Windows 10, there is evidence that its fresh education push is having a positive impact for Windows.

Unlike Microsoft, or at least its Windows hardware partners, Apple won’t produce a Yugo-like computer that competes on cost. In late 2015, Cook responded to a question about the rise of Chromebooks noting that Apple would not produce “test machines,” a reference to the use of the Google-powered low-cost clamshells’ popularity for completing assessments.

However, that sells short the appeal of Chromebooks, which provide a familiar desktop experience and, particularly when combined with Google’s education suite, tools for much of the baseline document production needed well into high school. In addition, as inexpensive as most Chromebooks are, their clamshell design affords a degree of protection for the display that a naked iPad can’t provide.

So rather than produce an inexpensive education-focused clamshell (been there), Apple will need to leverage the strengths of the iPad platform. That’s not to say that cost and ruggedness aren’t important and the company could do more to reduce the former and improve the latter. Apple would also benefit from providing tighter integration with a keyboard and Pencil than its current pro lineup provides.

But for Apple to convince educators to embrace the premium it will certainly ask for versus Chromebooks and their direct Windows-based competitors, Apple will have to lean heavily on more of its current initiatives in promoting coding and the educational power of augmented reality. Apple may scorn the idea of “testing machines,” but it also must promote the value of the iPad as something far beyond an inexpensive, fragile e-reader.

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