Apple Made Up Ground in Education Yesterday, But Still Has Plenty of Homework- Part 1

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Apple held its first major event of 2018 yesterday, as they revealed expected updates to the 9.7″ iPad and iWork, as well as their new Schoolwork software for Teachers and Apple School Manager device management suite for IT Departments. You have likely read all of the details since the event has been covered exhaustively, as any Apple event is. I won’t bore you with yet another run down. I’m a little late to the party, since my day job decided to interfere for the second time out of the last three Apple events, but I am all caught up after watching the video of the presentation and taking notes, and spending a little time thinking about the impact these new devices and software offerings may have.

Nothing that Apple announced was revolutionary, by any stretch. This was about playing catch-up with Google and Microsoft in the education market and slowing the momentum that they have both gained in the space, largely at Apple’s expense. I think that the event was a largely a success when looked at in those terms, but it will also depend on how well Apple delivers on what they showed. If this is the first of what becomes multiple steps from Apple to improve its offerings for education, then then should see some solid results from their efforts. If they call it good here and walk away like they did with iBooks years ago, not so much.

After yesterday’s new announcements, here are what I think are some of Apple’s advantages in education

Advantages

Privacy

Privacy isn’t as big of an advantage in education as it is in the private sector, because neither Google or Microsoft is as aggressive about data collection in this space as they are outside of it. I think it is pretty obvious that Google is using this as a way to pull more people into their ecosystem so that they CAN mine all of their data outside of educational use. That’s their entire business model. Because of that, Apple’s assertions about user privacy do still carry weight. This is still an area of strength for Apple, and when you are playing catch-up in a market segment (and Apple IS on the defensive in education right now), you need to play to your strengths. Apple should continue to hammer away as hard as they can at any chink in Google’s armor when it comes to the privacy of children’s data. In light of continued data leaks, breaches, hacks, and specifically Facebook’s recent nightmare, this becomes more of advantage for Apple by the day.

Pencil Support

If you haven’t tried an Apple Pencil, you should. It is one of the best active styli on the market today, if not the best. It is also one of the best supported, as there are now thousands of apps in the App Store that work seamlessly with it. Adding Pencil support to the lower-cost iPad was a smart move, as it brings another one of Apple’s advantages into play in education. While the Pencil may be expensive and isn’t going to be ideal for a lot of younger students, it is the perfect tool for both note taking and especially creative expression. Even if it plays a more limited role in school use, it is a powerful, fun, and engaging one. It’s inclusion gives Apple a real leg up on the less expensive, but also less capable hardware they are competing against.

Apps

While the Chromebook and inexpensive Windows laptop have the basics down cold, they do not have the advantages of Apple’s App Store. While the expense of the iPad was always a big issue for Apple in education up until the release of the 5th Gan iPad last year, the App Store has been fertile ground for education software since its creation. The creative and highly interactive nature of many of these apps have set them apart from the competing platforms from Google and Microsoft. Neither the Play Store or the Windows Store can hold a candle to the App Store in terms of the amount or especially the quality of educational software.

The App Store may be a blowout win for Apple, but it doesn’t come into play as much inside Elementary and Secondary School classrooms. This has been more of an advantage for Apple at home and for younger children before they attend elementary school. Apple would be wise to find more ways to press this advantage directly in schools, because it is still their biggest stand-out feature.

Coding Education

Swift Playgrounds is an impressive piece of software that teaches the basics of coding from ground zero in a way that is both approachable and very easy to follow. I attended an Apple education event with my daughter and a friend of hers earlier this year, and she has been playing with Playgrounds in bits and pieces ever since. She was sitting with me last night as I watched the event video, and when she saw Playgrounds being talked about, she told me how much she enjoyed using it, and how easy it was to use. This piece of software is a perfect pillar to build an intro to coding program for Elementary School kids on.

While Swift Playgrounds is a great starter app, there is still plenty of room to grow. If Apple wants the iPad to gain broader appeal in computer science education at the Secondary Education level, at some point it will need to be able to do more than just run a gamified programming education app. Apple will need to enable the iPad to code directly in some capacity. While this is more the territory of the Mac, the iPad still needs to fill part of this role for Apple to make this case to an entire school district.

Augmented Reality

This is less an advantage today than it should become in the very near future. Still, it makes a lot of sense for Apple to tout the fact that they are there first, at least in the mass market and availability sense. It is still early days for AR, but it is also easy to see the enormous potential that it holds for education. The fact that Apple has been able to stake a large early claim in this space should serve them well. However, they will need to be effective in taking what they learn now and quickly iterating on and improving ARKit to stay ahead of their fast-moving competition. But if Apple can, then AR could become a big differentiator for them in education in the coming years.

Creativity and the Arts

This is another of Apple’s biggest advantages in education. While the Chromebook and inexpensive Windows laptops excel as utilitarian and inexpensive workhorses, the iPad does the same for more creative endeavors. This is where the advantage of the App Store comes back into play, and is a real strength. Case in point, I ordered a new iPad and Pencil today for my oldest son, who has taken a great interest in art. He was looking at saving up for a drawing pad for his computer, but after trying out my iPad Pro and Pencil, he was immediately sold. Completely. His teacher was also very excited to learn that we were providing him with a tool help him improve and hopefully, to motivate him to work hard. We looked at other options, but nothing else came close to the new iPad in terms of capability for the price as a creative tool.

The iPad excels in several creative areas, as does the Mac. While it is difficult to expect school systems to support multiple platforms, it would behave Apple find ways to make it easier to press this advantage. Even if they can’t sell a school system on blanket adoption, figuring out how to take a larger role in the creative programs of more schools would still expand their overall reach in education.

Higher Education

Apple will likely have struggles in Elementary Education because of the expense of the iPad and the difficulty of keeping them functional in an environment where they will take a lot of abuse. Secondary Education is a little better situation, but I’ve already heard many complaining about how easy it will be for students to lose Apple Pencils, Logitech Crayons, or iPad cases. This is definitely true, and is less of a problem with an inexpensive laptop or Chromebook.

Where the iPad truly shines is in Higher Education. First off, the issues above are less of a problem in college,just by virtue of the students being a little older and (hopefully) more responsible. Hopefully.

In many cases, students are responsible for their own machines, which brings Apple’s advantage of the App Store back into clear focus. Also, students who buy their own machines tend to be more invested in keeping up with them and their accessories. I have definitely found this to be the case with my oldest son, who is about to turn 17.

While you can take notes with any laptop computer, I can tell you from experience that an iPad with Pencil support and a keyboard is pretty much incomparable as a note taking device. Whenever I attend a meeting or training session, I use Notability to take notes, and when I do, I always get questions about it from people around me. It NEVER fails. Once I show them the app’s ability to synchronize recoded audio to digital ink or typed text, they are blown away, This is invaluable for being able to refer back to key details of a meeting, and I am sure it is of even more value on a daily basis for students taking college courses. Man, I wish I had this setup when I was in grad school.

Notability is no exception, either. There are MANY great note taking apps for the iPad that have native Pencil support. There is also an abundance of task management apps, many of which are geared toward students keeping up with assignments and projects. Having tried the competition, I can tell you that an iPad with a Pencil and a Bluetooth Keyboard may cost more, but it also mops the floor with the majority of Chromebooks. I briefly had a Pixelbook, by far and away the best and most expensive Chromebook available, and even its pen support was frankly a joke. I could literally count the number of apps it was compatible with on one hand. The Microsoft Surface lineup, which has a very nice and well integrated pen, is feature competitive to superior in all areas. However, it is also as or more expensive than an iPad Pro, and is far more expensive than the iPad.

The iPad is a solid value that opens up avenues for creativity at a lower cost, but still has the capability of delivering basic productivity, as well. This will likely make it a hit among older students. Even if Apple hasn’t done enough yet to turn the tide in Elementary or Secondary Education, expect the iPad to sell very well to older students.

While yesterday’s event was a solid step in the right direction, all is not perfect with Apple’s situation in education. I will be back later today to cover some of Apple’s continuing challenges in the education market.


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