The hardware costs more, the apps are neither free nor teacher-tested and the most popular education item lacks a keyboard. Now that Microsoft® and Google® have kicked up efforts to capture the K–12 market, what — if anything — is Apple doing to compete?
Back in 2010 when the first iPad® came out, I was a bona fide Apple education groupie, enthusiastically supporting the tablet’s introduction at the K–12 private school where I worked. Many other teachers were suspicious, concerned the devices would hijack students’ attention. I saw mainly upsides: enhanced interdisciplinary apps, iTunes U®, a library of free classics available in iBooks®, the opportunity to teach 21st-century skills and an excellent platform for digital textbooks.
However, that was before the Chromebook. Google had just introduced its suite of free education apps, and nothing prevented their use on an iPad. It was also before Apple famously started to demonstrate it had no intention of competing with Kindle™ for a share of the book download market. And it predated Microsoft’s introduction of the Mac-comparable Surface Pro Laptop and launch of Windows 10 S on less expensive devices. Microsoft is also in the headlines lately with innovative AI and 3D learning technologies.
Apple education meanwhile hasn’t made headlines lately — except with Swift Playgrounds™, a code-teaching program marketed first to younger kids, then to community colleges and some high schools. That’s a comparatively meager offering. In 2010, the company was pushing iPad for the classroom hard. It had a robust education department that offered ample training for teachers along with superb tech support. Though I haven’t heard about any neglect in the customer service area, it’s clear both Google and Microsoft aim to surpass Apple here, too.
In the past, the marketing goal seemed to be this: Turn students into Mac® addicts early and ensure long-term corporate dominance. If an entire generation has learned how to learn on a macOS®, they will inevitably become Apple users as adults. Reports are, though, that many schools have indeed found children are more easily distracted on an iPad than on a Chromebook.
It appears Google and Microsoft have officially dashed Apple’s dreams of inculcating an entire generation via the classroom. What’s more, the company known for staying ahead of the curve — and forcing others to catch up — appears to have fallen behind in the education game. Has the market suddenly lost its appeal? Could the company possibly make as much money from a high-fashion, high-function wearable — i.e. Apple Watch® — as it could from an innovation targeted for the education market? I can’t imagine the answer to this question is “yes.”
Apple is famously unwilling to sacrifice the quality of its merchandise for the sake of making it more economical for anyone — including schools. That may be the sore point here. Compared to iPads, Chromebooks are practically disposable. Schools need devices that can take a beating. It’s hard to imagine the company releasing a tablet or laptop that is truly kid-friendly. It would change our image of Apple as an upmarket brand.
And perhaps that’s where Apple encountered a paradox it could not manage: The education market can’t afford to be elitist. Call it brand protection, or call it stupid. The current climate suggests that unless Apple allows for some changes to its image, it can say goodbye to any notion of K–12 dominance.