Apple’s announcement today was hailed as a game-changer for the education market by some, and as a complete dud by others. This is par for the course on anything Apple does, but this time around, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
For Apple to truly be successful at its endeavor, it needs to change two major pain points. That’s not to say this won’t be successful, but that it would be vastly improved with a couple of tweaks.
The first is that Apple needs to rapidly widen its selection of books. One of Apple’s stated goals was to lighten the load of books that students have to carry around. If students are using iBooks in one classroom, but the books aren’t available in any other class, they have to carry around an iPad and 4 large books. Problem definitely not solved.
Some people are going to say that Apple doesn’t need to have a super-wide selection of books at launch, and that these are starting points for other authors to look at. Sure, that could be true, but unless Apple signs up hundreds of books by fall, iBooks won’t be mentioned too much this coming school year.
The second issue Apple needs to fix is price. Currently, the iPad costs $500 in the United States. Say whatever you will about the benefits of light backpacks, ability to learn and added value of the iPad, it is still a lot of money to spend on a device that will be outdated every year.
There are rumors that Apple will be debuting the next generation iPad at $500, and knock the current iPad down to $200-$250. That would solve the problem to a large extent, but these are just rumors for now. You can’t build a school off of rumors.
Unless the price is dropped significantly, iPads won’t be widely adopted by schools. Yes, some students own iPads for their own personal use, but in a school of 2,000, a few people owning iPads is a drop of water in an ocean. Multiply that by the size of the entire New York City public school system, and you have hundreds of thousands of iPads. Remember, Apple is trying to solve our education problems on a nationwide level, not just with a few featured schools.
In college, this is less of a big deal. Students are used to purchasing their own textbooks, so purchasing an iPad will be equal in comparison. However, this brings us back to the issue of selection. If Apple doesn’t quickly widen its selections to cover even the most obscure higher education course, it will be a non-starter.
On top of a lower price, Apple needs to improve their bulk educational pricing. Much like they do with bulk purchases of Mac computers by schools, they needs to offer steeply discounted prices on their iPads, or the schools will simply say no.
Let me be clear about this. Apple’s education announcement is exciting, and may finally bring the United States education system into the 21st century. However, Apple seems to be ignoring the very entrenched bureaucracy of the local school boards, ignoring the pricing demands, and ignoring that there are more than 8 textbooks in a grade level.
Unless Apple straightens out the pricing of iPads for educational use, and really moves forward on getting hundreds of books into their system, not that much will change. Oh, and integration with Khan Academy would be a nice bonus for everyone.