iPad Education Event

I am writing this article under protest. Here are a few reasons why.

  1. This announcement has literally nothing to do with post-secondary education.
  2. I genuinely try to find the positives in Apple's products, but I am often harsh about what they actually produce.
  3. This is going to be a lot of me pointing to ChromeOS followed by the implied word "see?" which is awful cause I don't like endorsing Alphabet either. 

Education iPad

Let's cover the uninteresting details of this hardware first. The Education iPad, for lack of a better name, is a 9.7" retina display with the custom A10 system on a chip as its heart. It comes in three colours: silver, space grey, and gold. You can get it with or without an LTE modem on board, so WiFi only or WiFi + Cellular. There is an option for either 32 or 128 gb of on board storage. This iPad comes with Pencil support built in like the iPad Pro. 

Which is exactly what this is. This is a two year old iPad Pro with a slightly better processor. We see the $1,000+ original price drop to the much more appropriate $399(CAD) base price. The max spec. with LTE and 128gb storage is listed at $689(CAD). 

Why this fails at nearly all its stated goals

There are specific things that Tim Cook and Apple touted as the reasons for the iPad: It's price, Pencil support, updates to iWork, updates to the classroom management suite, and Everyone Can Create. Let's look at each one of these elements. What Apple is jazzed about, and how it actually is.

The cheaper iPad

The $399 price tag on an iPad Pro seems great. Yes, the processor is a little more than a year old, but that is still fine as long as it still works well with iOS. Which it does. The hands on use of the Education iPad all shows that it is an extremely competent device for the price tag. On the surface this is a great price. It compares favorably with Chromebooks from Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and others. Until you start to actually make a direct comparison. There is no school that wants its students to hand in anything handwritten after the 4th grade. In Apple's opinion this means that you'll need either a magic keyboard ($169) or a smart keyboard ($229). There are always cheaper keyboard options, decent bluebooth keyboards run in the $50 range.

The most direct and fair comparison I can think of for the Education iPad is the ASUS C302CA. The retail price I can get off of Amazon.ca and Newegg is $599. The ASUS C302CA has a touch screen, a built in keyboard, Wacom support and also runs ChromeOS that allows the Andriod Play Store to run.

The Education iPad in a similar configuration is $628. Which is within a reasonable margin because Apple builds quality products. The issue is that no one is running the C302CA in k-12 because it is too much machine for the use case. Institutions are going for the least expensive and most durable hardware because these are machines for children to learn on, not multimedia devouring game machines. 

This brings up the other problem. Apple is constantly pushing their hardware to keep up with their operating system. Apple doesn't plan obsolescence, but they don't hold reverence for their past either. This is a fundamental difference between ChromeOS and iOS. ChromeOS runs very well on hardware that is two years old out of the box. iOS needs every resource they can jam into their devices. So when you are buying the Education iPad you are getting hardware that is already a cycle behind the flagship and will likely fall victim to an iOS update sooner unless something starts to change in how Apple develops devices and systems. 

Pencil Support - The Logitech Crayon

Why? Why is this even a thing. Does no one remember Steve Jobs standing on a stage saying "a stylus is a sign of a total failure"?  I know that the dumb pointer that Steve was railing against isn't the Apple Pencil. The Pencil itself is a great tool for creators. But we aren't talking about Pencil for the Education iPad, we're talking about Crayon. Much like the difference between a pencil and a crayon we have the Logitech Crayon v. the Apple Pencil. One is a tool of creativity. The other is going to stop being useful after about the third grade. Granted, this iPad supports both. But the Pencil and Crayon will have no support outside of Apple. At $79 Logitech drops the pressure sensitivity on the nib and boosts the charge rate which is a pretty significant discount over the $129 Pencil. 

Let's make the Chromebook comparison. The Samsung Chromebook Pro is roughly the same base price as the education iPad. Again, super overkill for hardware. The stylus is included. The price is $599. 

iWork update

I feel confident in saying that most people Apple made iWork until this event. Good news is that they are back and still inconvenient. Now you can use the iWork suite on iPad devices with your Pencil/Crayon. The problems with iWork remain that you don't have the options to natively output in Office formats. You can export in office formats and the fidelity is great, but you have to remember to do it. 

The ChromeOS equivalent? Chromebooks now run G Suite as a part of their OS, which run the same issue as iWork. Office 365 is available on all these devices with varying levels of pen support if that is your thing. 

Classroom Update 2.2

When you are basing a product push on the back of software that is getting a 1.4 star review, you might be in the process of making a colossal mistake. Previous versions of Classroom, the iOS device management/classroom management app, were the subject of a lawsuit against Apple, but there are a lot of refinements in the new update.

Shared iPad

Let multiple Apple IDs bring their programs, documents and profile onto whatever device they have in their hands. As a part of the larger Classroom / Classkit / Schoolwork portfolio this allows teachers to assign work, monitor progress, and check what apps are open and functioning. This is the multi-user device support that has been around since iOS 9.3. This is only available through Apple School Manager, so no luck on having multiple users at home. 

Classkit

This is the developer toolset that allows integration with Schoolwork. Like Homekit, Sirikit and Healthkit before it, this is how a developer will make their app, or parts of their app, available to Schoolwork. Having the flags will allow for things like evaluation, monitoring and all the promises of Classroom. 

Schoolwork

On the student side of the equation is Schoolwork. Where Classroom gives the ability for teachers to monitor students' progress etc. Schoolwork is where students and teachers will actually be doing the work. On the student side they'll be doing the work, on the teacher side this is where they will be integrating Classkit elements, pdfs, and links to other materials. Schoolwork also allows students to markup assignments with their crayon. 

Everyone Can Create

In a similar vein as "Everyone Can Code" this app is meant to bring creativity into any lesson. Developed with educators and professional experts Apple wants to maintain art and creativity in lessons that would otherwise not have that angle. Music, photography, drawing and more can be infused into lessons that would otherwise be void. This is pretty neat, but implementation is on the teacher. They'll need to browse curriculum and find matching lessons that can use the iPad. 

The competition

ChromeOS was built from the ground up on G Suite and Google's robust multi-user eco-system. The implementation with hundreds of thousands of students has also built a pretty significant body of work for teachers and administrators to draw from each other on. At this point Chromebooks are well documented, known commodities. 

The reality of support

iPad is pretty firmly entrenched in the "also rans" for educational hardware globally. Overwhelmingly the world still relies on Windows PCs to do educational lifting and with Windows 10 S being free (or as close to it as to not matter) the rise of sub $300 PCs is going to extend this trend. If we want to rank the worldwide use of operating systems by educational institutions at the end of 2017 they look like this:

  1. Microsoft - Windows - 60.8%
  2. Alphabet - Android (20.7%) & ChromeOS (8.7%) - 29.4%
  3. Apple - iOS (7.4%) & MacOS (2.0%) - 9.4%

The statistics in the United States (sorry no Canadian stats) look different, as Alphabet has been pouring a lot into getting ChromeOS into schools:

  1. Alphabet - ChromeOS (59.6%) & Andriod (0.3%) - 59.9%
  2. Microsoft - Windows - 35.6%
  3. Apple - iOS (10.6%) & MacOS (3.5%) - 14.1%

Microsoft has seen gains in the United States every quarter since announcing Windows 10 S. These gains are mostly coming at iOS and MacOS's expense. With the public announcement of the lower priced hardware and updated applications can we really expect Apple to make a turn around? I don't have a magic crystal ball, but Apple has enough marketing savvy to take some more market share. The real question is the longevity of the play. Building applications for Classkit to only have a small user base unlikely to motivate development. ChromeOS is rapidly pushing all their hardware towards the Google Play Store for applications which will see a huge boost in the application library for ChromeOS devices. 

Apple needs to adopt developer partners that aren't just through the Everyone Can ______ applications. Yes, there is an opportunity to do business development and get individual at board levels to adopt the hardware. But, teachers aren't going to be using your software when it is the limiting threshold, adds a barriers to teaching, or is just another administrative tasks. Positive implementation at the classroom level will dictate success. 

What are the failures, succinctly this time

  1. The iPad is cheaper, but still more expensive than the competition
  2. Apple will release an OS update that will kill these machines prematurely
  3. Pencil support is fine, keyboards are actually more important most of the time 
  4. iWork is still worse than G Suite
  5. Classroom has new bells and whistles but lacks incentive for third party developers