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iPad Worth a Press Release

With cash-starved school systems in the U.S. choosing Google Chromebooks and PC netbooks instead of iPads and Macs, many believe that Apple is losing big time in the educational market. Some of that impression comes, according to AppleInsider’s Daniel Eran Dilger, from deliberately manipulated sales numbers, designed to ignore periods of flat or declining sales growth.

And let’s not forget that those cheap computers are sold for virtually no profit. It’s almost as if they are giving them away to build market share, and what about the reliability of these gadgets? How often do they have to be replaced, since repairs are probably out of the question for a $150 piece of junk, and how many of those sales are due to replacements? Remember, tech gear used in schools will receive a tremendous amount of use and abuse. There will be no on-site repairpeople to fix them.

In passing, I wonder how many years a school system is going to cope with unreliable gear before deciding something has to change. I also wonder how manufacturers can continue to build low-end garbage without the hope of a profit before deciding there has to be a better way. But they’ve been doing that in the PC space for years, and Android smartphone sales continue to follow the same pattern.

Indeed, some of the less savvy tech pundits have, for years, insisted Apple must seek a higher market share at all costs, profits be damned. Macs have held relatively small minority of the PC market for 34 years. But these days, it’s a premium portion of the market, and thus Apple earns high profits, and most PC makers, except for premium gear, make very little. I wonder if the Macs that HP is leasing to subscribers generate higher profits than their own PCs.

Back to the world of education, Apple is clearly ceding nothing. With a huge splash in the media, Apple held a “Field Trip” event in Chicago on March 27 to explain its educational initiative that featured a new 9.7-inch iPad as the focal point. Again listing for $329, with an educational price of $299, the 2018 model is upgraded with the same A10 Fusion chip used in the iPhone 7. To keep with the educational focus, support is added for the Apple Pencil.

And, yes, Apple’s stylus still lists for $99, but students and teachers receive a $10 discount.

There will also be an iOS 11.4 update, due later this year, with special features designed for educators, including the ClassKit framework to deliver opportunities for developers, and an iPad app known as Schoolwork that tracks assignments and work progress for both teachers and students. This is the sort of thing that will help differentiate Apple from the pack.

That said, it doesn’t mean educators will be rushing to place orders for tens of thousands of iPads, even though the purchase price for cartons and cartons of these tablets will no doubt be far less than $299 each. Bear in mind, too, that the iPad doesn’t become any more flexible for lengthy text material. Students will still want to consider an accessory keyboard, or doing a large portion of their work on, say, a Mac, though I’m not altogether certain how they’d integrate with apps designed for the iPad.

Well at least until Apple allows developers to build apps that run on both iOS and Mac, if one assumes recent rumors are true.

It also shows up the flexibility of the cheapest iPad for different purposes. I suspect, too, that the nearly forgotten iPad mini will disappear before long, but you never know.

After several years of flagging sales, the iPad has been recovering, if slowly. The 9.7-inch iPad and the Pro versions have clearly found loyal audiences. No doubt owners of older iPads have also found reason to finally upgrade, though I’m not predicting any specially large upgrade cycles, though that trend could certainly improve over time as Apple comes up with more bright ideas to grow the product.

But it’s also possible some of these iPad users have had enough except perhaps for Netflix watching. I may actually be in that category. My wife is devoted to hers, but I spend scant time on it, because it doesn’t suit my workflow. To me, it’s just a large iPod touch in terms of basic usability. I do not find myself typing particularly faster, and the apps I need to earn my keep are Mac only, at least so far.

As I’ve said before on occasion, I can foresee using an iPad for audio editing chores if there was a way to record my radio shows on such a device. But the technique I use now, which includes Skype and Audio Hijack, requires functions not supported on an iPad.

That doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It would require a number of changes to iOS no doubt, and developers to deliver the goods, but if Apple really wants to continue to expand the iPad’s possibilities as a productivity device, such changes would be essential.

For now, I’ll continue to drive my truck, I guess.