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What to expect from Apple’s Chicago education event on Tuesday

What to expect from Apple’s Chicago education event on Tuesday
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Enlarge / A view of the riverfront Apple Store from the Chicago River.

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On March 27 at 10am CDT, Apple will hold an event focused on education at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago. Apple’s invitation to press read “let’s take a field trip” and promised “creative new ideas for students and teachers.” While we won’t know for sure until Tuesday, there are hints that have suggested what sorts of announcements we can expect.

The event will not be livestreamed, but it will involve live news announcements, as well as a follow-up event for teachers at an Apple Store in Chicago. Apple has held events focused on education in the past, but not for a long time—the last was in 2012. The focus then was on iBooks, Apple’s ebook store, and its features for textbooks and classrooms.

For this event, discussion of education-oriented software is almost guaranteed, but hardware announcements are also possible. Let’s go over the possibilities.

Likely topics

A new iPad

The most likely hardware announcement is a refreshed iPad at a low price point, accessible for budget-strapped schools, with support for the Apple Pencil that was previously only supported on the pricy iPad Pro—a natural feature for classrooms. A cheaper version of the Apple Pencil would make sense in this context, too.

According to a report in Bloomberg citing people familiar with the matter, Apple plans to announce at least one new iPad at a cheaper-than-ever price point during the event.

Apple’s Mac platform has a deep history in education, and the iPad initially showed some promise of adoption for use in schools. However, Google Chromebooks have become widespread in schools since then, thanks to their low prices, simple and limited interface, and features that allow teachers and school IT managers to carefully control student use.

Below: The Apple Pencil, which may soon be updated, from our iPad Pro review.

Apple reportedly has a 17 percent share of mobile computing shipments to K-12 students in the U.S. By contrast, Chromebooks and Android tablets together comprise 60 percent of the market. Microsoft’s Windows platform comes in second at 22 percent. This is surely unacceptable to Apple executives, both because of Apple’s pride for its history in the education market, and because the computers students use in formative years could have an impact on lifetime purchases.

Apple’s cheapest iPad is currently $329. It is also possible that Apple could revisit the iPad mini, which has not been updated since 2015.

iOS 11.3 and ClassKit

iOS 11.3 is going through various beta stages right now, and it’s probably best known for adding the ability to control the battery-based CPU throttling that angered many consumers when it was discovered late last year. However, 9to5Mac found something else important when examining one of the beta releases—ClassKit, an application development framework in the tradition of SpriteKit, ARKit, and so on, aimed at developers making educational apps for use in classrooms.

Apple has not publicly announced this feature, but the code is there, and the timing for an announcement now is perfect. ClassKit would reportedly allow developers to create student evaluation features, lock students out of leaving a testing app on their device during a test, and allow students to submit question answers wirelessly to teachers.

Below: Screenshots of other features in iOS 11.3.

There might be more to ClassKit, so we’re eager to see what Apple has in store here. Other education-related software announcements are also possible. You can likely expect at least one or two education software partners to share their work at this event, too.

Everyone Can Code and other programs

Apple has been driving an education program called Everyone Can Code in elementary schools and high schools around the US. It uses an Apple-developed curriculum to teach software development concepts to students.

The company has also touted its Swift programming language as an ideal one for new students, and it has also offered more in-depth code training programs to community colleges. A couple of years ago, it released Swift Playgrounds, an iPad app that teaches kids to code using Swift.

While we’re not sure what Apple will announce about the program (other than rosy numbers and positive results stories, we’re sure) it’s definitely going to be mentioned. The Chicago school where Apple is holding the event has participated in the Everyone Can Code program previously.

Apple might also announce new educational programs for schools, using Everyone Can Code as a template.

Other possible topics

A new MacBook

This one is based on supply line rumors and analyst predictions, so take it with a grain of salt, but Apple may be planning to unveil a new MacBook that would replace the MacBook Air, the basic design of which has remained unchanged for several years.

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, a frequent Apple commentator, released a report saying he expects Apple to release a “new MacBook Air with a lower price tag in 2Q18.” He didn’t share any details, and as is often the case with analyst predictions, he did not provide a citation—though that doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t have insight through supply line contacts or other sources of information.

However, the same Bloomberg report that claimed a new iPad is coming also lent credence to this rumor, saying a new MacBook is coming to replace the MacBook Air at a price point below $1,000. That report also says the new product is unlikely to be unveiled at this event, though.

A new MacBook would be welcome, but while this would be Apple’s cheapest laptop, it is difficult to imagine Apple shipping a laptop that would be cheap enough to compete with Chromebooks in budget-strapped classrooms. For that reason, we’re not counting on this one.

An iBooks redesign

Apple’s last education event focused on iBooks. While it’s highly likely Apple will discuss textbooks on iBooks, it might just be to reiterate the features and announcements from the 2012 event.

That said, a Bloomberg report from January said Apple is preparing an overhaul of the iBooks store to make it look more like the revised App Store we saw in iOS 11. The iOS 11 app store adds a feed called “Today” that features highlighted apps with developer interviews and other editorial content.

Below: Screenshots of iOS 11’s redesigned App Store from our iOS 11 review—this app store design is said to be the template for the new Books app.

The storefront might not be the only part to get an update; Apple reportedly hired an executive from Amazon to help build out an improved iBooks reading experience. Bloomberg’s sources said the new iBooks app would feature a dedicated audiobooks tab (ideal for educational lectures as well) and a new section titled “Reading Now.” The app will also be rebranded “Books.”

That said, Bloomberg’s sources for the above-mentioned iPad story said they were not confident this update would be featured in this event, so we’re not calling it a sure thing.

New Apple Watch accessories

Earlier this month, Apple announced that new Apple Watch bands were coming by the end of the month. Apple could use the event to highlight them and make them available for sale. This is not related to education, though, so we expect it to either by a brief aside, or it might not be mentioned at all.

Below: Some of the new bands that will become available for the Apple Watch soon.

Wild card topics

An updated iPhone SE

We’re adding the iPhone SE 2 to the list because the timing is right, but don’t count on this one. Apple is reportedly working on three other phones this year—an iPhone X successor, a larger version of the iPhone X successor, and a cheaper version of the iPhone X with an LCD display. It is unlikely that Apple will offer a fourth phone by releasing a successor to the iPhone SE. This announcement would also not be directly related to the education theme of the event.

In the unlikely event the iPhone SE is covered, we expect something quick as a footnote between education topics, and we expect no more than a simple processor bump—no new features.

If you’re disappointed, you’re not alone; multiple Ars staffers believe the iPhone SE is one of the best products Apple has made, and it would be unfortunate to see it stuck with 2015’s A9 chip for another year. We hope we’re wrong on this one.

AirPower

When Apple announced the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X last September, it promised a charging mat called AirPower that could charge your phone, your AirPods, and your Apple Watch at the same time. We saw a prototype of it at the event, but have not heard from Apple about it since. It was originally promised for around this time, so we might see it at this event. If AirPower is coming, wireless-charging-capable AirPod cases will also be announced.



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