Apple’s new iPads still can’t best Chromebooks in the classroom

Several years ago, Apple looked poised to take over schools
with iPads, and in one of the most stunning moves, Los Angeles
schools planned to spend $1.3 billion getting Apple’s tablets
in students’ hands.
It didn’t end so well
.

And now, despite a commendable early push, iPads now lag far
behind Chromebooks in American classrooms. Consulting firm
Futuresource reported last year that
Chromebooks accounted for 58 percent of the mobile devices
shipped to American primary and secondary schools, while iOS
devices fell from 25 percent to 19 percent. Earlier this month,
Futuresource reported that the gap is only widening even
with slower overall mobile sales.

Apple’s
new iPads
are widely seen as an effort to regain some of
that ground, but for schools, the new tablets unfortunately
still aren’t as enticing as Google’s cheap, durable laptops.
That could all changeif we ever see the rumored low-cost
MacBook Air, but for now the new 9.7-inch iPad is all Apple is
giving students and school districts to work with. We’ve
already got one and it does look like a great device
for general consumers, but classrooms will likely turn their
backs. Here’s why.

Chromebooks are simply cheaper

Here’s the elephant in the room. Selling the impressive
new $329 9.7-inch iPad to students for $299 is a great start,
but with a Chromebook, students and school districts can buy a
device that’s essentially a full working laptop for around
$230. For that matter, all the talk of a “cheaper” iPad aimed
at students amounts to mere smart marketing, as Apple was
already selling the previous 9.7-inch iPad to students for
$299. (I admit I even got caught up in it as well.)

Heck, you can buy the capable Dell Chromebook 11 on Amazon
right now for just $205, and some refurbished listings
even have it at $115. For that matter, one of the
most popular Asus Chromebooks sells for just $223.

Asus Chromebook Flip C101PA
Mark Hachman / IDG

Look at that thing. That’s the Asus Flip. It costs less
than the new iPad.

Having used both Chromebooks and iPads for a long time, I can
say that Apple definitely has the edge in durability. I went
through around four Chromebooks during the lifespan of the same
iPad (which is still doing fine, by the way). My iPad 2 is
still alive and kicking despite heavy use. As such, I think
it’s possible to argue that iPads could be less expensive for
schools in the long run, particularly if they reuse them. But
that’s simply not as convincing when you’re a school
administrator looking at big numbers at the bottom of the bill.

If Apple really wanted to be competitive, it should knock down
the price to around $250 or less for students. Apple might have
needed to include a less powerful processor for that kind of
pricing, but as we’ve seen with the relatively weak
Chromebooks, students and school districts are more than
willing to embrace that sacrifice.

Someone’s going to lose a Pencil

On paper, yes, Apple is selling an iPad to students for under
$300. (It’s only a penny under that, but it’s the thought that
counts, right?) To get the fantastic experience Apple showed
off on the stage in Chicago, though, students and schools will
have to plunk down another $89 for an Apple Pencil with the new
discount, thus bringing the price precariously close to $400.

apple pencil ipad pro notes Apple

Try asking the teacher if you can borrow one and let us
know how it works out.

Even if students buy Logitech’s $50 Crayon, that’s still a lot of money for a device
that—let’s admit it—a lot of students are going to lose, and
probably quickly. I’ve managed to go about a year without
losing mine, but keeping up with it when I’m away from home
demands a change in mindset that’s akin to sticking to a new
diet. After a single loss, even some of the wealthier parents
and districts will balk at replacing them. As for less
advantaged students? Forget it.

Chromebooks come with ports

I’m glad to see that the Apple Pencil has at last come to a
regular iPad, but the fact remains that it’s no true
substitute for a mouse. With Chromebooks, students can easily
attach low-cost mice through USB ports, allowing them to edit
and manipulate text in essays and reports far more quickly than
they can with Apple Pencils. As a writer who often writes on an
iPad Pro, I’m all too aware of how this simple limitation slows
down my work speed.

But ports are good for other things as well. Students can
easily plug an external display into their Chromebook for a
presentation, or they can easily connect to external hard
drives for downloading or uploading massive files. The iPad?
You’re stuck with the cloud and the awkwardness of mailing big
files to more capable devices.

File management is less of a pain

Apple greatly improved file management for the iPad with iOS 11
with the introduction of the dedicated Files app, but (in stark
contrast to the usual Apple affection for simplicity), it’s
still a bit of a convoluted process to save and recover files.

Meanwhile, Chrome OS, despite being based around a browser of
all things, far better mimics the experience of saving and
sending files on a Mac or a PC. You always know where your
saved files are. You can easily create and access specific
folders for projects. That simplicity greatly cuts down on the
time needed to send off an assignment in a bind, whereas I find
on the iPad that I often have to relearn how to find a saved
file with each app.

Administration is trickier

Google’s G Suite for Education is the hot thing in schools
today, as it makes it easy for teachers to create and share
assignments, give students feedback on their work, and
occasionally even give parents or guardians progress reports.

Apple has made some clear strides to close that gap with the

Schoolwork app it announced yesterday, along with a
curriculum
focused on music, video, photography, and art
called Everyone Can Create.

Frankly, Schoolwork looks impressive. It even looks a bit more
intuitive and fun than what we see in the competition.
The problem is that G Suite is based entirely online, which
makes it super easy to use across a wide range of devices. You
can use it on a phone. You can use it on a Chromebook. Yes, you
can even use it on an iPad.

Apple’s app-based system, though, demands a full commitment to
Apple’s product line. If you’re a school, that means all iPads
or go home. That will work for some schools, but for many
others, Apple’s price tag for the required iPads will
prove too high a barrier to entry.

Where’s the keyboard?

I’m a fan of Apple’s digital keyboard for the iPad, and in
fact, people here in the office seem to think I’m a little
weird because of it. These days I don’t even use a keyboard
case.

But that’s because I mainly use my 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
At that size, the keyboard delivers roughly the same experience
of typing on the 2017 MacBook Pro. Having typed on the new
9.7-inch iPad for a bit, I’m impressed with it, but it’s hard
to ignore that fact that the loss of those extra inches
delivers a more cramped typing experience. And this is coming
from someone who has (sigh) decades of typing experience behind
him. For someone learning to type for the first time, a digital
keyboard isn’t going to cut it.

iPad Smart Keyboard Apple

No $150 keyboard for you, kids! Or anything, really.

For longer assignments such as reports and essays that require
longer stretches of typing, students and teachers alike are
going to want physical keyboards. Even I, a digital keyboard
advocate, grow tired of using them when I’m typing for more
than 200 words. This may not matter as much for students in
earlier grades (who’ll likely benefit from the iPad’s
touchscreen emphasis more), but I could see it become a problem
the closer students get to high school.

And remember, Chromebooks come with a keyboard already cozying
up to the display. Shockingly, the new iPad doesn’t even come
with the Smart Connector that Apple uses for connections to its
Smart Keyboard in other iPad models. Instead, Apple nudges
students and schools to pick up Logitech’s Rugged Combo 2 case, which looks super sturdy
but which costs another $100. (It also comes with its own Smart
Connector of sorts to make up for Apple’s omission.) Once you
figure in the Apple Pencil, congratulations: You’re now looking
at a $500 setup.

Sorry, Apple, you didn’t think this one through.

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