Forty years on from the first device that was ever targeted to education, Apple held an event in Chicago at the largest single building high-school in the country. Apple did this not to just introduce an iPad but to tell their story on education, to show the end-to-end solution they now have to help teachers to really transform their curriculum.
I came into this event hoping to see three things: hardware pricing, an improved productivity and collaboration suite and a bigger focus on managing the classroom. Apple addressed my three points but in true Apple fashion it did so in a way that was not obvious to me.
I am sure, nobody was expecting Apple to hit Chromebooks pricing. Apple’s approach was to deliver more at the same price. So the new 9.7” iPad has a Retina display, a A10 Fusion chip support for Apple Pencil all for $329 to the consumer and $299 after education discount. It’s interesting that Apple continued to partner with Logitech for the rugged case and Crayon rather than designing their own. I understand why Apple would not try to do a rugged case after all not even Apple could make a rugged case that looks attractive. But I see the benefit of having something designed by Apple that was a companion to Pencil aimed at younger users. There would have been no cannibalization of the current Pencil. Of course, Apple could still do something for the consumer market where price elasticity is less of an issue than in education. I think of this in the same way I do Apple Watch bands, there is an opportunity to bring in color and design to accessorize with a more kid friendly stylus.
I know many will evaluate Apple’s opportunity only by considering the price of the new iPad, which is of course high when compared to most Chromebooks and especially once you add the case and Pencil or Crayon. But a way I think about it, is that with iPad you get more than a computing device. You get a camera, a video camera, music instruments and now a drawing board and support for AR. AR support in particular is interesting as it would allow schools to experiment with more immersive teaching without having to invest on a separate headset as it is the case with VR and Mixed Reality. In this way justifying the price is much easier. If you are investing in an iPad to continue to focus on traditional work with text, charts and slides you would be better served by a lower priced device with a good productivity suite.
Cost is not just about hardware, however. Total cost of ownership of hardware deployment and maintenance plays a big part and this is where Apple had made great progress. I had a chance to see Apple School Manager in action and it took only a few minutes to set up my classroom, my lessons and my books. For teachers to able to handle deployment and management helps to lower the overall TCO, something that Chromebooks have been very good at.
Productivity and Collaboration
Now that Pencil support goes across the entire iPad line, Apple has finally updated iWork to support it. I have not played with these apps much, but, from what I have seen, it will help create richer documents. I see how much my daughter uses the Pen with her Surface Pro and not just to draw but to interact with text on the web and in Word. Apple new Smart Annotation feature for Pages, now in beta, is also interesting, as it is not static but it changes as you update your document. I will be curious to play around with it more to see how useful it is in a real collaboration workflow.
Talking about collaboration, Apple also increased education storage to 200GB per Apple ID. This is key, as collaboration without cloud just does not happen. It is also key for using all the different media Apple is suggestions like video, photography, drawing and so on as project file sizes will grow considerably.
Interestingly, the Logitech Crayon also addresses collaboration within the classroom. With no pairing required it means that multiple kids can draw or write on the same iPad.
While I am not sure yet if these changes are enough for a consumer to switch from Microsoft Office or G-suite, I think they are welcome additions in education.
This was for me the most important part of the day and what really shows that Apple now as a full solution rather than a series of features. There are different layers to it. First Classroom which has been available since 2016 and helps with managing iPads within the classroom. Then Apple School Manager that, as I explained helps with setting up IDs, lessons and books. And finally ClassKit that helps teachers get more out of the Apps they are using by delivering an assessment on the student interaction with the apps and their progress. The teacher not only gets a single app view but also an across the board view so they can get a more precise picture of how their students are doing. This last component is something that speaks to Apple wanting to make sure that apps are integrated in the curriculum in a way that is productive and rewarding for both teacher and student. It also pushes management from people and hardware to content which is as important if not more. Of course, Apple underlined how they do not see, nor they want to see any of that data.
After creating a curriculum for coding called “Everybody can code” Apple has now created one called “Everybody can create” focused on video, photography, drawing and music. This is another tool that Apple is giving teachers to help them think more out of the box and integrate the pillars of STEAM in their everyday teaching.
Apple has kept true to its core strength of the app ecosystem by providing tools for teachers to make their everyday job of selecting the apps they want to use and assess their effectiveness which I think will improve learning but it will also help with validating their teaching choices and ultimately justifying the investment in these tools.
My Big Takeaway
Back in 1996, Steve Jobs during an interview with Wired said:
“When you have kids you think, What exactly do I want them to learn? Most of the stuff they study in school is completely useless. But some incredibly valuable things you don’t learn until you’re older — yet you could learn them when you’re younger. And you start to think, What would I do if I set a curriculum for a school? God, how exciting that could be! But you can’t do it today. You’d be crazy to work in a school today. You don’t get to do what you want. You don’t get to pick your books, your curriculum. You get to teach one narrow specialization. Who would ever want to do that?”
Sadly, I think that what Steve Jobs said back 22 years ago is still relevant today. You have heard me before being very critical of the current school system where kids are measured on standardized tests and teachers teach in the same way they have done for the past several years. That is what Apple is setting up to change. The new tools in ClassKit allow to build a much more personalized teaching environment. Not all teachers might have the flexibility to build their own curriculum but they can take a more tailored approach to teaching based on what teaching method resonates best with a student. It might not be an approach that results in the biggest market share grab but it sure is strongly impactful.
There were many teachers at the Apple event today and seeing how much they bring subjects to life in school is exciting for me as a mom. At the end of the day, it is all about providing our kids with the right skills to be successful and for doing that we must provide teachers with the right tools to be successful.
Of course, in this process all the tech companies addressing education are trying to engage children as early as possible to hook them into their ecosystem so while there is deep care for education across the board there is also the realization that you are influencing the next generation of buyers and users. This is why ultimately in my view aiming at the user – teacher, student or parent – rather than the institution is the key to long term success.