The School Daze Ahead
November 12th, 2003

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

Thomas Edison

It's kinda interesting how the media's view of Steve Jobs waxes and wanes with the apparent popularity of Apple products. Right now it looks like Apple's CEO can do no wrong; he's led Apple out of the depths of despair to become the bellwether of the computer industry this despite Apple's small market share); he's led Pixar from a startup venture to one of the leading animation studios in the world; he's taken on the immense task of redefining the music distribution industry, and has put Apple and its oh-so-cool iPod at the center of that change.

Through it all he's made a profit for his investors while not giving in to pressures that would make Apple or Pixar less than they currently are. Like him or loathe him, Steve Jobs seems to be a man who can do no wrong.

So what will he do for an encore? I have a suggestion.

For a while it seemed that Apple had pretty much conceded the battle for the education market to Dell, but with renewed vigor, and with better education pricing and more focus on the needs of academia, Apple has been winning a lot of bulk educational purchases lately. No one will argue that this isn't a good thing, but as a recent article in CNN (School laptops losing luster) points out, money is getting tighter, so the rash of wins Apple has enjoyed lately may be short lived.

That is, unless Apple does something about it.

Many of us welcome the introduction of the G4 iBook. I have long thought that a G4 iBook would be the perfect laptop; inexpensive yet powerful, rugged enough for backpack and satchels, yet, for all the rough handling, it still manages to look great. For consumers, the added power of the G4 in a portable is a nice upgrade.

For the education market, however, the G4 iBook may be overkill. The biggest difference between the G3 and the G4 is the bit of processing real estate Apple calls the Velocity Engine. If your apps can make use of it, fine, but most academic applications won't, at least not the one a high schooler is likely to use. Even if a student or teacher uses a Velocity Engine enabled application, he or she won't likely realize the difference in speed because it won't be something they use everyday.

For instance, if a high school student uses Photoshop (which I doubt since high schools typically can't afford such niceties), an app that can take advantage of the extra oomph the G4's Velocity Engine can provide, would she notice if the picture she's rendering takes 4 seconds or 10 seconds? I don't think so.

When Apple abandoned the venerable G3 iMac in favor of G4 powered desktops, the company didn't completely stop making the little-Mac-that-could; it produced them exclusively for the education market. G3 powered systems are more than adequate for educational use, a fact that I believe Apple will admit.

Wouldn't it be nice if Apple did for laptops as it did for institutional desktops and continue to make G3 iBooks exclusively for the education market and price them accordingly? Doing so would earn Apple an A+ in the minds of cash strapped educators. Still, such a move by Apple would not entirely address the looming downturn in the education market. Schools just won't have the resources to buy computers, even cheap ones.

Obviously, something must be done, and who better to address the issue than the current man of the hour, Apple's Steve Jobs. Just as Mr. Jobs found a way for music lovers to download music honestly, I think that Mr. Jobs could find a solution to the dilemma that many educators face; the growing lack of funds to buy equipment.

There have been programs in the past where people collected soup labels and boxtops to get equipment for school, but those programs were so cumbersome that many school systems just couldn't afford the time and effort to take advantage of them. What Apple could propose is some means by which schools can get extremely reduced pricing for computers and software which is somehow offset by contributions made by individuals and businesses. How this can be done, I have no clue, but I believe that Apple has an opportunity to reclaim the education market by figuring out how to get others involved in the funding issues.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that there is a huge opportunity waiting in the education market; I've just proven that. It does take a shrewd mind to take advantage of that opportunity, and that's where Steve Jobs and Apple comes in. Now, if I can just get him to stop playing with his iPod for a moment...