Today, at the prestigious Lane Technical College Prep High School in Chicago, Apple announced a revitalized push into the educational sector. The company showed off its new 9.7-inch iPad that now supports Apple Pencil, and includes a suite of new teacher tools along with screen annotations in an updated Pages app. And it’s the exact same price as the existing iPad: $329 for everyone, and $299 for students and educators. Adding the Apple Pencil will run an additional $89 with an educational discount.
The iPad weighs less than a pound, features an “all-day battery,” and sports a new A10 Fusion Chip. “It’s more powerful than most PC laptops and virtually every Chromebook,” said Apple VP Greg Joswiak. With that quip, it’s clear that Apple is striking back at Google’s Chromebook–the budget, cloud-based laptop that’s quietly grabbing roughly 50% of quarterly sales across the entire K-12 educational market.
Apple’s success in the educational market is no sure thing. In 2013, the company announced a billion-dollar push into Los Angeles schools alongside the textbook manufacturer Pearson. The plan was to give an iPad to every student, and to digitize the analog teaching process. The move raised the eyebrows of regulators, but on top of that, the company’s combination of hardware and software didn’t meet teacher needs. As Wired summed up the debacle at the time, there was no central vision behind the project–its problems ranged from little challenges–like students not keeping their iPad software up to date–to bigger ones–like exactly what problem these iPads were meant to solve in the first place. In other words, it was just bad design.
So what does this iPad do differently? The biggest breakthrough may be in Apple’s new educational platform called Classkit, and specifically, an Apple app called Schoolwork available this June. Schoolwork will allow teachers to assign handouts and quizzes to students with an interface that’s akin to email. Schoolwork also allows teachers assign students specific activities in third-party apps. Then, with a tap, teachers can scan across student progress on assignments in several apps. Apple’s hope is that this interface will enable a new era of individually tailored, digital schoolwork.
It sounds promising. Yet I can’t help but wonder if Apple missed one obvious reason that Chromebooks are doing so well in education, aside from the price: unlike the iPad, Chromebooks always come with a built-in keyboard. The new iPad still does not–instead, Apple just doubled down on its stylus.