A Bold Move for Apple: MacBook Air 2 for Education

2 minute read
| Editorial

There is no doubt that Apple’s arsenal when it comes to education is not yet fully formed. Back when the MacBook Air was a Thing, too expensive for secondary education, Apple got the idea that the less expensive iPad, the computer of the future, should be up to bat.

MacBook Air (2017)

Starting at $999, even with ed. discounts, way too expensive in 2017. Image credit: Apple

Since then, things have not gone according to plan. I started writing about this in “What if the Modern iPad Really Isn’t Right for K-12 Education?” From what I’ve read, what readers tell me and input from my professor wife, there is a modern price cutoff that dictates what the average secondary school student (or school) can afford these days.

This could be due to the price norm created by Chromebooks. Or, in the case of personal purchases, the diversion of funds into smartphone-related affairs. Or the erosion of middle-class income. All of the above come into play.

That cutoff is roughly US$250. (it’s more like $400 in a community college.)

This puts the modern (2017) iPad in the running, but that strategy doesn’t account for cases where secondary schools may want to opt for a more full-featured notebook computer. That’s, after all, what the student aspires to and will generally use in college.

A Coup For Apple

Now that Apple has come out swinging with the Mac during WWDC, it would be a brilliant move if the company did something dramatic in education and launched a MacBook Air 2. Competing hardware in terms of PCs and Chromebooks suggest that Apple could meet that  cutoff price if engineering changes were made. For example, reverting to a hard disk.

It would be a bold, heroic move by Apple. It would be a statement that Apple is committed to having either an iPad or a notebook Mac in the hands of every student who wants (and can afford) an Apple product.

Recently, it has been fashionable to suggest that the MacBook Air might be discontinued by Apple. And yet, not only did Apple not drop this Mac at WWDC, it announced a modest processor upgrade. (The continued use of the Broadwell CPU suggests Apple is up to something anyway in terms of controlling costs.)

Childhood Influence

One of the things I’ve learned from my weekly podcast, Background Mode, is that the vast majority of my guests grew up with an Apple II. That computer set the stage for the entire rest of their careers. It would be a shame if, in Apple’s renewed emphasis on the Mac, the company forgot about the powerful influence a Mac can have on a youngster. It’s something that lasts a lifetime.

Indeed, it’s a significant engineering stretch to redesign a MacBook Air 2 to meet Apple’s quality goals and also hit that crucial price point, but that’s the definition of a major challenge. The alternative is for the competition to continue eating away at Apple’s education market share with low cost alternatives to the iPad, even as Apple remains helpless to stop the erosion.

7 Comments Add a comment

  1. pjs_boston

    How about this? An education focused “iBook”. Imagine a MacBook Air-like device with an Apple “A” series chip and running a version of iOS with a pointer based UI. That would be a Chromebook killer and would be sufficiently differentiated from the Mac.

  2. balloonengineer

    Apple made a huge mistake years ago when it targeted the EMate at elementary school kids instead of college students.. I owned one (as did my wife). It was the best note taking machine that existed at the time. While my fellow law school students lugged their heavy windows based machines into the lecture halls, scrambling for a seat near an outlet so their machines could last through a two hour class, I could sit anywhere and my EMate was ready as soon as I opened it.. while they waited two to three minutes for windows 95 to boot, I was already reviewing notes. I could sketch in the middle of my documents and have my notes seamlessly open up in Word on my home computer. A similar, IOS based light, small, rugged clamshell device with a full keyboard would be an ideal educational machine that could serve from elementary through college. Using iPad mini sized screen with a pencil type stylus would be awesome and could probably be done for $499 if apple wanted to.

  3. bdkennedy1

    Hard disks are history and the MacBook Air has never had a hard disk. Apple isn’t going to re-engineer the case to put a hard disk in it.

  4. aardman

    Back in the days when Apple dominated the education market, kids still graduated from school and moved on to DOS/Windows at work and for personal use. The takeaway is that for whatever reason, computer users do not get locked in to the OS that their schools used.

    Thus, I don’t see any reason for Apple to get into a race to the bottom just to compete against underpowered, under-specced, dirt-cheap, Chromebooks and PCs. When folks buy their first computers post-schooling, they still do a clean sheet evaluation and purchase the OS and computer that they feel best suits their needs and preferences at the price they can afford. So vie for the market, by all means, but not through loss-leading stripped down Macs. That just damages a brand that they spent decades to establish.

  5. It’s a shame Apple put profit margins before education. But it abandon the White Macbook which many schools adopted after retiring those old iMac’s and eMac’s. But then much cheaper alternatives came into play namely Chromebooks. Oh sure school districts like LA promised a iPad for every child, but that lasted all of two years before being abandon because of curriculum problems, theft, and breakage issues. In the end the iPad is not durable enough. Personal experience I see schools that have basically moved back to Windows, bought refurbished PC’s and use cheaper Chromebooks for students. Grade schools can embrace this ecosystem of tech very well. When I look at what Apple offers, I don’t see many districts in public education that can afford what Apple offers. Even Microsoft realizes this and has pushed PC makers into the cheaper Chromebook type hardware to attract school districts. Really the only affordable Mac option for schools is the Mac Mini which has basically been ignored by Apple. Let’s face it, Apple appears to be happy selling iPhones and whatever else to consumers and businesses willing to pay the price. Apple may say they are committed to education, but only on their terms of profitability.

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