Hardware

Apple moves to take a bite out of Google's hold on education

TechRepublic and ZDNet editors discuss whether the new $299 iPad can take on Google Chromebook's hold on school districts.

Educators may express a preference for Apple products, but school districts' budgets can't accommodate the pricier products. Will Apple's new, lower-priced iPad be impactful enough to take a bite out of Google's grip on education? TechRepublic's Dan Patterson and Bill Detwiler discussed the possibilities with ZDNet's editor-in-chief, Larry Dignan. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Dan Patterson: Can Apple school Google with new low-cost iPads?

Larry, $299 for the new entry-level iPad. Is this enough to take on the Chromebook?

Larry Dignan: Probably not. If you looked at Apple's event, they came out with a $299 for schools. There's a little catch to that. They rolled out a lot of software updates, so Apple Classroom. There's IT management stuff they added. They added a lot of AR applications. They really leaned into what they're strong at, which is that creative pro market. They're basically targeting the creativity, all that kind of stuff.

Problem is, if you are a cash-strapped school district, the $299 iPad, which doesn't include the pencil, doesn't include the case, and doesn't include another goody, like Logitech came out with this little crayon thing that looks pretty neat, it adds up. You could get a Chromebook for $149 starting price. You can get a Microsoft Windows Education laptop for $159, $169. Basically, the price is comparable. The best case Apple's doing is coming in twice at that, twice that level. You don't really have that IT management case where Google can talk lower cost of ownership and all that kind of stuff.

SEE: Apple unveils new $300 iPad, education IT software, promises to protect privacy (TechRepublic)

Apple did a lot today to catch up to that market. They added a lot of software goodies. It all looked pretty impressive. The weird part was the first half of that, a lot that Tim Cook and those guys gave really revolved around, "Hey, guys. We're in the education market. We're serious about it." A lot of it went through their heritage. I view it as a big catch-up opportunity for them.

Dan Patterson: Bill, for productivity, what does this new iPad signal?

Bill Detwiler: You know, it's hard to say yet. Like Larry was talking about, you can get a Chromebook, or a base model laptop, or convertible. It can be used with Microsoft Education program for less than $200. Now, you may not get the fastest processor or the most local storage, but you can get in the door for like $179, $189 with products from Asus, products from Acer, products from Lenovo. They have, being laptops or convertibles, they're going to have keyboards built in, so you don't have to buy the extra keyboard. True, they may not have Apple's pen, but you have to pay extra for the pen or for this cool little crayon.

Apple's event, like Larry said, they paid a lot of attention at the event to creativity, to people using these to write books, people using them to create things artistically, visual presentations. They said, "Oh, and if you need a keyboard, here it goes." Now as someone who has a high schooler right now and... my daughter uses a lot of software to create stuff for school. She really needs a keyboard. Most of the stuff she's creating is either a paper, it's either a presentation. That's hard to do without a keyboard. You still need that. A pen is great. It's cool, but even to code, you're going to need a keyboard. Apple made a big point about coding and how they're teaching kids to code. Sure, you can do some things with a pencil. You can use an on-screen keyboard, but a hard physical keyboard goes a long way with these devices.

The other thing that I think is really interesting is the durability of these devices. iPads have gotten more durable over the years, but it's still easy to drop these things and crack a screen now. Yes, you could say you could do the same thing with a Chromebook, but with the laptop with the screen closed, you're a little less likely to break that screen, because you've got a little more protection there than you would on an iPad. I'll be interested to see whether people want to trade in those Chromebooks and those laptops with Windows Education for iPads.

SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Dan Patterson: Before we get to what Google and Microsoft are doing, let's talk a little bit about applications and software. Larry, there's a big push like you said a moment ago. The company is leaning into their strengths. One of their strengths is applications. There was a big push towards augmented reality. Speaking of reality, what is the reality of AR in the classroom and other Apple education and creation applications?

Larry Dignan: It's not quite there yet, but all the... whether you're Google, Microsoft, they're all looking at AR in the classroom. You can dissect a frog. That was one of the demos that Apple had today. It can bring art museums to life. It can do a lot of stuff. It's very interesting from that perspective. I think it's still early days, for sure.

One thing Apple did that was interesting was their classroom management apps, their apps for teachers, the coding app, they're teaching coding sort of thing, they're tying that into AR Kit. I think over time, that gets pretty interesting, but I'm not sure it's not necessarily an education thing just yet.

I think the most interesting thing about this is Apple spent a lot of time on education. That was the focus of their event. If you look at this, it's like all right, so the iPad costs $329 now for consumers. You buy the pen. It's interesting functionality. I almost wonder... I looked at it and go, "Okay, so I would buy the smaller iPad Pro, why exactly?" I think that's where it gets interesting. I think part of this play might just be the juice, iPad sales overall.

Dan Patterson: Yeah, it certainly competes with Apple's own product. Let's talk about Google and Microsoft. Google owns the low-cost laptop market or computing device market with the Chromebooks. Microsoft is introducing a low-cost laptop very soon. Is this enough for Apple to catch up, or will they always be behind Google in terms of cost and utility?

Larry Dignan: I don't think at scale that Apple can really compete with Google. Matter of fact, I think at scale, I'm not even sure Microsoft can compete with Google, because I did a story comparing the three, the hardware, the software, the deployment stuff. If you look at Microsoft's model for deployment for in education, a school district, it's got a flow chart. It's here and there. It's all these things, and boxes, and whatnot. Then Google Chromebook, it's like, yeah, I just need to figure out how to connect to G Suite.

SEE: How Apple, Google, and Microsoft Stack Up in Education Technology (ZDNet)

I think at scale, it's really hard to argue with that. The security's taken care of. The way the model works is the school district pays for the Chromebook. They pay an annual maintenance fee. Then if the kid drops it or loses it, they just get a new one.

From a management deployment perspective, it's really hard to argue with that. That said, I think a lot of the stuff Apple had today will appeal to probably private schools, wealthier school districts. But I really think they're betting on things like I'm going to go out and pay $329 for a iPad that has Apple Pencil support, and I'm going to bring that to school. Then maybe I bring that to school, and I don't use all the classroom stuff Apple has. Maybe I'll just use Google G Suite in the classroom. I think there's a back door to this too where they can stay in the conversation in education, but I think the game is really to sell it to students who will bring it to school.

Bill Detwiler: Larry, that's a really important point, because when you're talking about these purchasing decisions, it's either going to be at the district level, it's going to be at the state level. I mean, you're talking about big decisions that have to made by school administrators, right? It'll depend how successful Apple can be is convincing a school district to set up iCloud accounts. They talked about upping the free storage that they're going to provide. They tried to put forward the IT management solutions.

But are teachers in the classroom, if they're required by the district to use, say, something like Blackboard, or if the district uses Infinite Campus, these are other student management systems and portals. If they already have a system in place, sure, it may have an iPad, or a iPhone, an iOS app that goes with it, but is it going to be double duty to manage a classroom, to manage a learning experience with Apple software, versus say, what you already have on the books?

School districts are notoriously slow when adopting new district-wide solutions. I'll be interested to see how good of a sales pitch Apple can make to those districts to say, "Hey, I know you're already using Google Docs or Google apps to do all these projects. I know you're already using all these classroom management tools to keep your grades, to manage the learning experience. Come over and now use our tools instead." That can be a tough sell.

SEE: iPad with Apple Pencil support, $299 for schools, aimed at Chromebook (ZDNet)

Dan Patterson: All right. It may be more office than education, but Microsoft is also coming into this market with the low-cost computing market with their own products. We all do grow up and leave school, go into the office. Will Microsoft be able to compete here?

Larry Dignan: I think they will. In terms of market share from that Futuresource Consulting group, I think Microsoft was like 22% of the market, 25%, something like that. Google's pushing 60%. If you look at Apple, Microsoft, and Google, they basically account for almost 83% of all the revenue. That's a stat from Frost & Sullivan. There's really three big players here.

Microsoft's most interesting thing is they've come down on the hardware with their partners to basically match a Chromebook, so that's good. Their main pitch is really Office 365. They're saying if you want your students to have work skills, they need to know Office, which, kind of self-serving, but I can't argue with that. You can do things in Google Sheets, but at the end of the day, if you're really doing something, you need Excel, or you need PowerPoint, or you need something in Office. I think that's interesting. Microsoft also has these other goodies, where you got Minecraft for Education. That's interesting. They all have unique characteristics.

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That's what Apple's trying to bring to the party. They're trying to bring iPad, Apple Pencil. They're trying to bring some interesting approaches to their apps and things like that. I just see the Apple play being more high end, more consumer-student type thing than necessarily a district-wide scale, because it's still going to be twice the cost of what Google's offering.

Like Bill was saying about Canvas and Blackboard, I think that's what makes Google Classroom so dangerous, because it's good enough, and it's free, and it's integrated with G Suite. If you're the company behind Canvas and Blackboard, it's tough. It's a tricky market. I think that's a ongoing thing, but I think Microsoft will be fine in certain areas. But they have an uphill battle too, because it's hard to compete with that simplicity that Google has.

Dan Patterson: All right, you can find full analysis of the iPad for Education by visiting TechRepublic and ZDNet. While you're there, make sure you subscribe to a ton of our different newsletters that will keep you on top of education tech, business tech, and future tech. Also, make sure to read Larry Dignan's full story, How Apple, Google, and Microsoft Stack Up in Education Technology, as well as Apple iPad and the New Pencil, $299 for Schools and Aimed at the Chromebook, both by Larry Dignan and on ZDNet.

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Image: iStock/MachineHeadz

About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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