Apple's executives seem to have forgotten anything they ever knew about kids.
They also seem to have completely lost touch with what's going on in the education market.
At least that's the overwhelming sense I get after reviewing Apple education-focused announcements on Wednesday. Because from where I'm sitting, a slightly cheaper, somewhat faster, marginally more capable iPad is the not the answer to Apple's education problems, or the best tool for teachers and students. It's still too expensive and too impractical.
But Apple lost its early lead in the education market, first to Windows-powered machines and more recently to those running Google's Chrome OS. Although its iPad seemed initially like a way to strike back and regain lost ground, it's not turned out that way, exactly.
A major contract to sell iPads to the Los Angeles Unified School District ended in disaster. In 2016, Apple's iPads and Macs accounted for about 18% of the laptops and tablets shipped to US schools, according to Futuresource Consulting. The company's iPad shipments, which account for the large majority of its education sales, fell last year.
Chromebooks have proven particularly popular with schools and now dominate the US market. Part of their appeal has been that they're relatively cheap; Google's partners offer a variety of laptop-style Chromebook machines cost R3 750. Another draw: they're generally easy to maintain, because Chrome OS is a web browser-based operating system that updates automatically, has built-in malware protection, and is limited in the kinds of applications it run.
On those measures, Apple's iPads — even the newest one doesn't match up well. Apple's iOS, the operating system underlying the iPad, is more complex than Chrome OS — and basically requires an IT administrator to configure and maintain it on an ongoing basis. Because it lacks a keyboard, the iPad's not particularly well suited — by itself — for many school activities, particularly writing reports.
But its bigger problems have to do with its price and durability. Unlike notebooks, iPad, with their all-glass faces, are inherently fragile devices. If you've ever shattered the screen on your phone, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Adults break the screens on their phones all the time.
Apple seems to be completely oblivious to this obvious fact. The iPads the company is selling schools ought to come with protective cases like that for the kid version of the Fire tablet, but they don't. Instead schools will have to pay extra for them.
One of the key selling points of the new iPad is that it works with Pencil, the Apple-designed stylus. Here again Apple seems to have no understanding of kids.
The iPad not only doesn't come with a case, it also lacks a way to easily keep track of its stylus. There's no slot to slide Pencil into and no way to attach it magnetically.
While you can connect the end of the stylus into the iPad's Lightning port, that's not really a practical way to carry the device around, because that leaves Pencil basically just sticking out its end. You can also buy cases that have pouches designed for the stylus — but the one from Apple costs R1 399.
When I tested Pencil when it first debuted, I found myself struggling to keep track of it, because I didn't have an easy way to keep it with the iPad I was testing. And I'm a somewhat responsible adult. Kids aren't known for focusing on such details; I can see Pencils getting lost left and right.
They also are likely to get broken. You connect a Pencil to an iPad's Lightning port to charge the stylus. But what physically joins the two devices is a relatively thin piece of metal, one that could potentially be bent or snapped off by kids horsing around, as they often do.
Compared with what schools can expect to pay for a Chromebook, the R3 750 price Apple is charging for the new iPad was already high. But that price actually understates its cost. Schools that want to equip their iPads with Pencils will have to pay an additional R199 for each stylus. They can get a less expensive one from Logitech.
Meanwhile, schools that want a protective case for their new tablets will need to spent dozens more rands at least. Logitech's rugged new iPad case costs R1 290, for example.
So, don't expect schools or teachers to embrace the new iPad. Apple's latest announcement indicates that if it wants to make headway in the education market, the company itself needs to go back to school.