Apple’s ‘Field Trip’ Education Event Used an Obsolete Formula

iPads in education - girl in classroom with an iPad
iPads in education - girl in classroom with an iPad
The new Apple tools look great. But can they influence school financial decisions?

Apple’s event in Chicago on March 27 generated a lot of excitement. Apple addressed some fundamental problems with new capabilities for schools. Most notable in my opinion are:

  1. Apple School Manager which allows the bulk creation of Apple IDs by teachers.
  2. Schoolwork App. Allows teachers to manage assignments and handouts.
  3. iCloud free storage has been increased, for education, from 5 to 200 GB.

A more complete list of all the new tools was published by CNET. This is all good stuff, but there remains an important issue, not addressed.

Changing Behavior

This event used, in my experience, a well-tested but increasingly obsolete strategy.

  1. There are elements in the Apple media that would like to see Apple compete more effectively in education.
  2. Apple develops some very cool, capable technologies that showcase a great vision for modern education.
  3. Then Apple holds a special event and invites selected media.
  4. The media gets all excited (as they should be), in awe of Apple’s terrific tools and vision. It all gets reported in glorious detail.
  5. Omitted is any analysis of whether it will change the behavior of educators because that’s not possible to foresee. The jazzy technology itself is the star. The news.
  6. Apple hopes that educators, reading all the high-spirited articles, will think themselves: “Wow, this is really cool stuff. I should reconsider what Apple has to offer when I make plans.”

This technique, born of an earlier time when computers were new in the classroom, fails in the modern era. In times past, progressive schools were eager to get computers into the classroom. (Of course, many teachers weren’t so generally eager, having inadequate computer skills. But that’s an aside.) The eventual choice was between PCs and Macs.

Even though Macs were more expensive, the Mac did well in many cases because its higher initial cost was offset by lower support costs. PCs were nightmares to secure and maintain.

Today, the overwhelming driver is initial cost and pedagogical requirements that Apple can’t change or address. And so, if a Chromebook breaks, it’s easy to replace. Nothing is lost because students work in their own accounts in the cloud. There is no offsetting cost benefit by purchasing a relatively expensive iPad. (Here’s a sober summary of the iPad pros and cons.)

Because Apple didn’t address the fundamental issue of hardware cost, the technical influence of the media, cool as the new tools are, will fall on deaf ears. The new iPad is US$299 for education. The Apple Pencil is $89. And that doesn’t include, in most cases, a obligatory keyboard. As one person said on Twitter,

Tweet - iPad priding for education.

Blame Game

What has to happen next is that these initiatives and tools need to be “sold” to schools by the field education force with general success. The case has to be made that students will be more inspired and better educated. Teachers will be able to work more efficiently, be less burdened by old techniques.

The problem is that, in many cases, schools have already learned how to achieve those goals with less expensive Chromebooks. Unable to compete on price and pushing glitzy corporate stuff not meeting the school’s specific requirements, the sales force hands will be tied. Most educators, excited as they are, will see no reason to suddenly change course.

What happens next is that, as in times past, senior Apple executives blame the sales executives for being ineffective in their ability to excite and change the behavior of school decision makers.

Then there’s a long period of soul searching while the competition continues to make inroads.

Final Thoughts

I think Apple rolled out some impressive and valuable tools. Time will tell, however, whether these initiatives will reinvigorate Apple’s educational efforts. In many cases, I suspect, there will be some showcase schools that already embrace Apple for their own reasons and will make a splash with these new offerings.

I also expect Tim Cook will highlight those schools as influencing evidence that Apple has done the ‘right thing.’ Even so, the real metric is significant market share gains in the long run. Are these tools and technologies both necessary and sufficient to reverse Apple’s losses of late? Are these new tools the result of deep understanding of educator needs, designed to broadly convince? Can Apple compete at the chosen price points?

Sensational news about an inspiring Apple event is one thing. Actually turning the tide of the war will be long, hard, frustrating, roll-up-the-sleeves work.

We’ll all be watching and rooting for Apple.

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John Kheit

Apple needs a toaster fridge to compete in EDU. They talk about coding in the classroom and show a freak’n MacBook. So their strategy for EDU is get a useless iPad AND a MacBook, if everyone wants to code. Since they will not do a touch screen MacBook, their only other chance to compete is to finally let the iPad have mouse/touchpad controls and sell it with a keyboard (that has an integrated touchpad). They could sell that for $199 if they wanted and eek out a small profit for EDU, if they wanted. But they are cheap and stupid.… Read more »


There’s a lot going on here, so I’ll just grab onto one thing: Coding on an iPad … that’s probably good for introducing the idea, and it is very important to introduce the idea (I got shown Logos, a programming environment for turtle-based drawing, in 5th grade, I think on an Apple ][e but I’d have to double-check that), but you don’t need to make an iPad a full-blown development environment. Programming is a real engineering discipline that needs real tools. It is possibly one of the last things that would switch away from more traditional computers to an iPad… Read more »


Their formula hasn’t changed at all. They used to make the case that Macs even with their higher cost were a better education experience. They made the same case with the iPad. Every my daughter comes home after using her chromebook at school and the first thing she does is goes straight for the iPad. Chromebooks are cheap, functional, and basic. There is nothing about them that promotes creativity or fun or love of learning. Yes, Apple won’t succeed in winning the market. But they will stay true to their values of delivering a better user experience and product.


Yes, Apple has chosen to cede the market rather than give up their high profit margins.

Doug Petrosky

What do you think the profit margin is on a $299 iPad that includes all of the software and 200GB of storage?

How cheap would it have to be for you to not make this statement? Had they delivered an iPad with a keyboard case using an A7 processor and a much lower quality set of cameras, no pencil support (but dumb stylus aka touch screen) for $229 would that have hit the mark? Because I can tell you that would not have been less expensive over 5 years.


In our rather large school district, all of the kids have Chromebooks. Well, the little kids have iPads, I believe 1st and 2nd grades. Makes sense, with the younger kids not yet typing, but the older kids typing away (and using trackpads). As a student (computer user in general), I’d get rather frustrated using a iPad/keyboard without a trackpad. I tried blogging with my iPad on travel and it was rather frustrating to want to quickly highly text using the touchscreen, on an iPad sitting somewhat precariously in a keyboard stand. With a trackpad, right away you’ve got excellent control… Read more »

Lee Dronick

Not sure if Apple really cares about education outside of colleges where they can sell a student a MacBook Pro and an iPhone and maybe iPad and make hefty profits.

Apple is a business, they probably ran the “Numbers” on selling to, and supporting, K-12 education.

Doug Petrosky

I curious how much your school pays for chrome books? Are they touch capable? And how long are they used. My curiosity comes from people (including those on this podcast) who said Apple missed the mark because iPads are more expensive than chrome books and I have to believe that it is not likely that is true or at least we certainly don’t know yet. My understanding is that most schools are buying $250-$300 chrome books with rather low resolution displays and very poor processors. Systems like these in the android world last about 2 years with updates and become… Read more »


Our district probably pays about $300 if I recall for a Chromebook. If the iPad is meant to be a laptop replacement, then its has missed apple’s mark. Look, it’s best to try one out. I’ve been using laptops for over 25 years. 2 years ago I bought a used, bottom of the barrel C710 Acer Chromebook off eBay for $90 that was probably 3 years old. It was FANTASTIC. It was on par with my 12″ MacBook in speed. The Chromebook is a fantastic device. When my MacBook stops working, I’ll probably go back to a Chromebook (I gave… Read more »

Doug Petrosky

I don’t know about your schools but at mine there are very few in class lessons designed around typing. I’ve tried to do math with a keyboard and it just doesn’t work. There may be certain activities (like learning to type) where a keyboard would be useful, but as a tool for in class work, pencil input makes just as much sense or frankly more! I don’t know how old you are, but I’ve been around for a while and there are things that kids are comfortable with that freak me out! Like watching kids touch type on an iphone… Read more »


I was a bit disappointed that the new iPad wasn’t introduced with a new lower price as was rumoured. The rumors were that the price would be dropped by $50 US, but the iPad retained the same $329 US price as the previous model. But then I realized that the new iPad is basically the 9.7 inch iPad Pro that was introduced just 2 years ago in March 2016. The differences are: iPad Pro 2016 Apple A9X (2 cores @ 2.16GHz) 2GB Memory 12MP camera 9 hours battery life $729 (32 GB) iPad 2018 Apple A10 (4 cores @ 2.3GHz)… Read more »