So is Apple’s Educational Initiative Doomed?

March 30th, 2018

As much as Macworld is regarded as one of the original and few surviving Mac-oriented publications, of late it hasn’t treated Apple so well. In recent months, their bloggers have attempted to redesign the iPhone X in rather a silly fashion, decided Apple must offer a free (not free trial) version of Apple Music, and felt that spec comparisons of released products must have some importance aside from idle chatter.

It is not the Macworld I wrote for in the 1990s, where legitimate stories were published, not hit-bait blogs.

True, one is entitled to their opinion, just as I am entitled to express my disagreement and the reasons for that disagreement. When it comes to facts, however, that’s another story.

So take Apple’s latest educational initiative, punctuated by this week’s Field Trip and the introduction of a 2018 9.7-inch iPad with faster innards and support for the Apple Pencil.

But Macworld’s blogger believes that Chromebooks are the bee’s knees and there is no possible way that Apple, with is luxury priced $329 iPad and $99 Apple Pencil — minus modest educational discounts — can possibly compete. Make them cheaper, please. Make them cheaper, pretty please. Make them cheaper, because they demand it!

Maybe even make them mimic PCs!

This is not to say the article is totally off the mark, but there are questionable comments, misleading assumptions and downright incorrect statements.

As you notice, I am not mentioning the author or giving a link. The post doesn’t deserve it.

According to the stats in the article, sourced by Futuresource, a consulting firm, Chromebooks dominate, with 58% shipped to American K-12 schools, whereas iOS gear holds 19%. The stats do not mention Macs at all, which is quite misleading. After all, both are made by Apple and are meant to work together in schools. Macs certainly are more suited to the higher grades.

On the surface, the article about prices appears to be accurate; well mostly. Apple’s student price for the iPad is $299, whereas a Chromebook is estimated to cost $230. But that comparison is bogus for different reasons. Apple’s modest discount is for a single unit purchase. School systems would very likely pay less if they bought iPads by the hundreds or thousands. But no effort is made by the Macworld blogger to examine that question.

But there’s more, and it’s revealed in this paragraph:

Having used both Chromebooks and iPads for a long time, I can say that Apple definitely has the edge in durability. I went through around four Chromebooks during the lifespan of the same iPad (which is still doing fine, by the way). My iPad 2 is still alive and kicking despite heavy use. As such, I think it’s possible to argue that iPads could be less expensive for schools in the long run, particularly if they reuse them. But that’s simply not as convincing when you’re a school administrator looking at big numbers at the bottom of the bill.

So let’s review this: It’s an example of one, to be sure, but you expect students to be harder on delicate electronics gear than a tech columnist. But even if you assume that its necessary to buy several Chromebooks for each iPad, how long does it take for the total bill of materials to add up? Do we assume school admins are too stupid to see that the former just aren’t very reliable and are unsuited to severe use and abuse? When do the bean counters begin to complain? How much of that 58% of total shipments is for replacement gear?

But that’s what you should expect when you buy cheap and cheaper. Suggesting Apple cut the price to, say, $250, without knowing the actual bulk price, is a statement based in ignorance.

Yet another argument against the iPad is that Chromebooks have ports. True, you cannot connect a mouse to an iPad, but you can connect a keyboard. But when the Macworld blogger goes into external hard drives and monitors, he’s clearly thinking of the wrong product. He wants something that “far better mimics the experience of saving and sending files on a Mac or a PC.” So why not a Mac? Why doesn’t he realize that Apple sells both iPads and MacBook Airs to the educational market.

Without actually having used Apple’s new Schoolwork app, he concludes that Google’s G Suite for Education is better because it appears to support a wider range of devices.

Not mentioned, however, is any comparison of Apple’s commitment to user privacy compared to Google’s. Is there any comparison? Do Chromebooks provide the necessary level of online security for school systems? If they are no better than Android gear, I’d have serious concerns, and the poor reliability of  cheap Chromebooks is going to make that choice a far more expensive solution as time goes by.

Yes, there are legitimate reasons to consider using a low-cost device that more closely matches the traditional PC model, with keyboard and trackpad or mouse. But to assume that Apple is selling just iPads to school systems is a big mistake. The article is clearly spun towards explaining why Chromebooks are better than iPads, but that depends on a number of conditions. I expected far better from one of the original Mac publications.

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2 Responses to “So is Apple’s Educational Initiative Doomed?”

  1. dfs says:

    There’s one huge fly lurking in the woodwork, and if Apple doesn’t recognize and deal with it, then nothing very interesting is going to come out of this current initiative. Here’s the problem: under the right conditions school districts can sometimes be induced to make a serious capital investment in hardware, and they get the point that that entails a corresponding investment in what everybody at least hopes is the right software. But they all too often fail to get the further point that none of this good stuff does a bit of good unless a significant time and money is invested in teacher training so that teachers understand how to use all this good stuff, by which I don’t mean just how to manipulate it technically, but how to make proper pedagogical use of it. I’ve seen several cases where this has not happened, with the result that after a brief period all the shiny new gear gets locked up in closets and is forgotten. So, for ex., if you buy some commercial software package you also need to pay for on-campus visits by representatives of the developer (not necessarily of the vendor, who is likely to be some vendor functioning as a middleman) who can put on appropriate dog-and-ponies, preside over seminars and discussions, and so forth. And money to fund this effort needs to be built into the budget starting on Day One.

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