The Case for an Educational Mac

June 7th, 2006

Years ago, when I first arrived in Arizona, I visited the Scottsdale school district, which, at the time, was a showpiece for Mac technology. It has since gone to Windows, but that’s another story replete with the usual amount of political byplay. In the end, they were hoodwinked into thinking that kids should be using the operating system they would be using when they were adults, forgetting that you’re supposed to use a computer to run applications, and the operating system shouldn’t get in the way.

Anyway, even the school districts in reasonably affluent neighborhoods are strapped for cash these days, although I’m not sure about Beverly Hills High. No doubt Dell and other PC makers have made deals largely on price and the promise of cheap replacements if a computer fails. Into this environment, what does Apple have to offer? Well, the iBook has been popular with many districts, and I’m sure you’ve heard about some of the deals involving thousands of computers.

But where does the new Intel-based MacBook fit into the same situation? It would certainly seem to fill the bill in many respects, but it’s a little pricey. Worse, the remote control and Web cam are really not appropriate. In fact, I rather think Apple should come up with a version minus these two options in the hope of shaving perhaps $100 off the price, plus whatever quantity discounts they usually offer. The savings of going to a single-core processor, with price cuts imminent because of Intel’s next chip revision, might be insignificant, though I suppose a few dollars here and there can’t hurt.

In recent weeks, there have also been rumors about a so-called educational Mac, one that would replace the eMac in the lineup. Remember the eMac? It was a good idea, a 17-inch all-in-one that some regarded as the true successor to the original iMac. In fact, for a while, it was even offered to consumers.

But Apple is way past integrated computers with CRT displays these days, so what approach should they take.? Well, I’m going to forget about any speculative specifics, and give you my own simple solution. Simple avoids the headaches, but after having a MacBook without a few options is only part of the picture.

As you probably know, the guts of the MacBook and the guts of the Mac mini are kissin’ cousins. So what about a miniature iMac, with a 15-inch LCD with the least powerful Core Duo processor? It would contain AirPort, and gigabit Ethernet, the better to survive in various educational networks. The port connections would be identical to the regular full-sized form factor in all the essential respects. And, as with the educational MacBook, no iSight or Front Row adornments, to keep the price as low as possible.

Just what would this panel-based eMac substitute cost? Considering how the display costs scale up so massively as a few inches are added, would it be possible to offer one for, say, $799? Remember, we’re also talking about integrated graphics here, no discrete chips from ATI or NVIDIA.

Before you wrack your brain on the production figures, consider a final possibility, one I mentioned when I first championed a cheap Mac, one I called a “headless iMac” at the time. This was before the Mac mini debuted. At the time, Apple was still busy pouring cold water on the suggestion that they’d enter the cheap PC arena.

You see, in an educational setting, and many business settings, fact, a Mac mini, minus the Front Row appendage of course, is ideal. It’s small, and lets the IT people repurpose their displays and input devices. Does it really make a difference if a Dell peripheral is wired to a Mac? But that misses one more opportunity for Apple to offer a complete package, and that’s an affordable line of displays.

No, I do not regard the 20-inch Cinema Display, somewhat overpriced at $799, as practical in those settings. Instead Apple ought to consider a line of 15-inch and 17-inch “Mac mini” displays with special, slim designs to complement. Now it’s true you can get a 17-inch flat panel, with analog rather than digital capabilities, for $150 or so these days, and I don’t expect anything of that sort from Apple. They have minimum standards.

But, say, all-digital LCD displays at $199 for a 15-inch and $299 for a 17-inch would seem reasonably competitive with the marketplace, though a bit on the high side. The cable lineup could be simplified to offer strictly DVI, without USB and FireWire capability, and that would also cut costs some.

It would be nice, of course, to see lower prices on the existing Cinema Display line, but that’s another matter entirely.

Cheaper displays would allow Apple to offer yet another range of packages for schools and businesses that are looking to save some money, and the profit possibilities seem encouraging. Consider how many of you choose other vendor’s displays to go with their new Mac mini these days, and you’ll see what I mean.

On the other hand, Apple doesn’t like to have too many products in its lineup, so a smaller iMac and a MacBook, both shorn of the digital lifestyle extras, would likely fill the bill.

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7 Responses to “The Case for an Educational Mac”

  1. setomi says:

    Since schools are strapped for cash, it’s likely computers will be shared rather than handed out like iBooks were. A cheaper laptop solution (dare I say stripped down model) seems logical, especially when Apple already offers “Mobile Labs” to the education market. Mobility allows freedom to use any classroom as the lab. This would be a little harder to do with a mini iMac or Mac mini.

    Yes, a 15″ or 17″ LCD would definately help. Price is a key factor because you wouldnt want the price of Mac mini + LCD to be too close to the cost of a laptop (mac or PC). Otherwise, you might as well get the laptop.

    I doubt that Apple would push Mac mini on education. Although the Mac mini is the cheapest solution, it’s also the most wired one and allows for a mashup of various hardware. It “works” but looks ugly and awkward with using PC keyboard, external speakers, etc. Not the impression I would want to leave on young minds.

    Miniature iMac? YES great idea. Again, the price must be cheaper than a laptop.

  2. Stanley Wasserman says:

    The issue is not that the Mac product line is priced too high — it’s not. The price that Apple gives educational institutions is very low and quite resonable. The real problem is: Why are schools strapped for cash?

    The answer is that, as a nation, we don’t really care about the public education of our children. We claim there’s no money. Want to know why?

    The interest, the INTEREST, on the national debt, we paid last last year, was over 315 billion dollars. In other words, the minimum payment on the national credit card was greater than all the money spent on everything else (except defense, social security, and medicare) — combined. That’s over 6 times the budget of the Department of Education.

    The numbers don’t lie. We’d rather spend money on sports betting, beer, needless military adventures, over-eating, etc, etc. and are perfectly content to have our students ranked at the bottom of the rest of the world. So don’t look to Apple and other companies to make up for our lack of vision.

  3. Andrew says:

    Not sure about cheap Apple displays. The 20″ Apple display is gorgeous, but at $799 I didn’t even consider it for a second when display-shopping for my G4 Mini and ancient G4 PowerMac. Both of those computers have gorgeous 19″ Samsung LCDs connected by VGA cable (PowerMac) and DVI (Mini), both have terrific image quality, and I got the pair for $600, $200 LESS than a single 20″ Apple display. One of the Samsungs is even silver, and looks great next to the Mac Mini. Apple just can’t compete at that price point.

    That said, the Mini is a terrific computer for education and business use. My G4 Mini is used by a lawyer in my firm as her primary computer. It is more than fast enough for everything she does, looks terrific and has its formerly PC-only user seriously considering a Mac for her home. Sounds like just what Apple intended with this model.

  4. Bill Doty says:

    As a teacher, I agree we need an education mac. You are almost on target with your article of 6-7. Leave the optical drive in. Make it a super drive so the kids can burn cd / dvd of projects and play them at school or at home. I would also like to see a port to connect computer to TV or to connect computer to projector device. Many classrooms have ONE computer. If you can project or enlarge the image, it does wonders for the lesson.
    Make network compatibility job 1 and the display options second priority.

  5. woz says:

    Perhaps it would be a good idea to look at how the Mac is used first. What exactly do the kids use the Mac for? What do teatches want the kids to use their Mac for? Does it has to be in every classroom? Do the kids need to burn DVD’s in every classroom? Is it useful to make notes on a Mac (or PC)? What about plain old pen and paper? How about raoming profiles? Perhaps Apple can examine the situation first? Or have they done so already?

  6. nova.e says:

    My first thought on this when the rumors broke was that a less-expensive iMac replacement–15″ screen, no camera or Front Row, $799–was a great solution. Both my children attend elementary/middle schools in Wake County, NC, which is currently facing challenges throughout the school system as the population expands at astronomical rates. As they build new schools and shift resources, a somewhat portable computer seems an advantage, but I think kids (mine, anyway) do better in a workstation environment, and laptops may provide more flexibility than a classroom needs, or can be easily managed.

    A compact and good-looking computer that’s easy to manage and easy to transport makes sense in a lot of ways. An all-in-one solution sounds best of all, but the eMac is yesterday and the iMac is too expensive. I would think Apple would benefit from introducing a Jetsons-inspired school Mac (SMAC, for short) ASAP, and maybe a SMACBOOK (for the higher grades) as well.

    Should Apple introduce such a computer, I would buy one for each of my children, for use here at home. Should they not, I’ll need to decide between one iMac–which is what I use–at $1299, or one Dell desktop at around $900, well-equipped and with monitor. Speaking as a parent and a Mac user, I would rather spend the extra money, give my children discrete workstations and the advantage of the Mac experience, rather than compromise on what I want for them or spend more that I should.

  7. Bill says:

    Everyone seems to want an iMac for $799.

    The only compromise that seems acceptable is to use the integrated graphics of the Mini.

    But you can’t keep DVD burners and all the other bells and whistles and expect to save $500!

    I question whether tooling down to 15″ would save any money, since that would require a new enclosure
    (with the CRT eMac the bulbous case was the most expensive part)

    17″ panels are cheap – keep the 17″ form factor for the new eMac, but plan on stripping out more than just the dedicated graphics if you want a machine that sells for $799.

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