Why Apple’s new iPad is a better option for schools than a Chromebook tablet

It only took eight years, but the tablet wars have officially
begun. Ever since Apple
unveiled its instantly iconic iPad
back in 2010, we’ve been
waiting for something to challenge it in a meaningful way. And
it’s finally come, not in the form of an Android tablet, but a
Chrome OS-based one. And the first battleground will be
schools.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether tablets will ever
actually be a thing in schools, but Apple is certainly moving
as if it is. About 24 hours after Acer unveiled
the world’s first Chromebook tablet
, Apple responded with
its own
Pencil-compatible iPad
that matches Acer’s in just about
every way: price, battery life, screen resolution, and
portability. I haven’t had a chance to play with one yet,
but on paper, Acer’s 9.7-inch Chromebook Tab 10—seriously, who
names these things—seems to be a solid option for districts
looking for the touch-screen Chrome experience without the bulk
of an attached keyboard. It even looks a lot like the iPad, if
not for the ugly reflective Acer logo on the front of the
Chromebook.

acer chromebook tab 10 d651n primary Acer

Acer’s new tablet doesn’t run Android, it runs Chrome OS.

But even if a slew of dirt-cheap Chromebook tablets start
flooding the shelves, Apple has a quiet advantage with the iPad
that might give it an edge over models that cost hundreds of
dollars less: privacy. In a world where all devices all pretty
much do the same thing, Apple’s leverage with its new
tablet has less to do with what it can do and more to do
with what students do with it. And it’s an area where Apple is
poised to lead the conversation, both in and out of classrooms.

Gaining ground and building trust

It’s no secret that Apple has lost major ground in the classroom to
Google. While many students might have an iPhone or iPad for
personal use, most schools have opted to outfit their schools
with more traditional Chromebooks mostly due to their lower
prices.

Asus Chromebook Flip C101PA
Mark Hachman / IDG

Chromebooks like the Acer Flip offer a middle-ground
between a tablet and laptop at a cheap price point.

But even without the price gap, Chromebooks represent the best
of both worlds for schools. Straddling the line between laptop
and tablet, Chromebooks offer a uniform experience across all
devices with full-sized keyboards, touch-sensitive screens,
stylus support, and a mix of Chrome and Android apps. The best
Chromebooks are both powerful and versatile enough to replace a
tablet and a laptop, and they’re still light enough to
comfortably carry in a backpack. Plus they won’t shatter if
they’re dropped on a cafeteria floor.

Thanks to strong sandboxing and an inability to install outside
apps, they’re also safer than PCs and Android tablets, since
nearly every access point for system-level malware is closed
off, much as it is on the iPad. And constant security and
stability updates from Google mean that machines stay up to
date. However, since the hub of every Chromebook tablet is the
Chrome browser, the potential for attacks—either through
malicious ads or extensions—is always there. Google works quickly to remove bad actors from its
Chrome store, but the threat is real and isn’t going away. If
anything, it’s getting worse as Chrome OS spreads.

samsung chromebook Rob Shultz

Chromebooks may be more secure than PCs, but they’re still
more vulnerable than iOS devices.

With Chrome OS, extensions are central to the experience, and
even with a low percentage of rogue ones can wreak havoc in
schools. Everything is siloed on iOS, an important distinction
for schools and one that Apple should be trumpeting in its
sales pitch. Apple took its share of shots at the quality of
web apps during its Field Trip event, but the real advantage of
using an iPad isn’t just the strength of its App Store, it’s
its complete reliance on it.

One bad apple won’t spoil an iPad

The new iPad would have been a heck of a lot more attractive to
schools with a $250 price tag rather than a $300 one, but Apple
has more to offer students and teachers with the new iPad than
Pencil support and a pretty design. iPads aren’t just built to
last, they’re built to safely store and transfer your most
sensitive data without needing to set up secure folders or
fiddle with any settings. As Steve Jobs used to say, it just
works.

teaching long division using ipad pro 03272018
Apple

Apple’s iPads have the same level of privacy inside and
outside of schools.

Security isn’t just about keeping your device safe from
attacks, it’s also about keeping your personal information free
from companies who want to profit off it. It’s one of the
things that distinguish Apple from Google, so much so that it’s
probably responsible for the slow development of Siri. Apple
wants its customers to know that their data isn’t just
encrypted—Apple and app makers won’t see it either.

While Google might not be actively using Chromebooks in schools
to actively track or spy on students, a recent report by the
Electronic Frontier Foundation found that
“educational technology services often collect far more
information on kids than is necessary and store this
information indefinitely.” That’s not a result of Google being
nefarious but rather a symptom of how Chromebooks operate
through the Chrome browser. And it’s a problem that will only
be amplified with the launch of tablets.

Hands-off, eyes shut

Apple’s commitment to privacy didn’t take up much of the
keynote, but after demoing the Schoolwork and Classroom apps,
Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of product marketing,
had these strong words to say about it: “It’s really important
to us that you understand that this data stays private.
While teachers see each user’s progress information, we don’t,
and neither does anybody else. Privacy is integral to
everything we do at Apple, not just for students and teachers,
but for everyone using an Apple product.”

apple ipad schoolwork app 03272018 Apple

Apple’s new education apps come with a big selling point:
privacy.

That shouldn’t need to be said, but it is. With the
Facebook flap dominating the news, privacy is fast becoming the
most important buzzword in tech, and Apple was ahead of it
long before today’s headlines. And it’s constantly tightening
the screws. In iOS 11.3, Apple has added an icon to clearly
inform users when one of its own features is requesting use of
your personal information. And Bloomberg reports that it will also be
rolling out new Apple ID management features that let users
download all of the personal data Apple stores and allow them
to temporarily deactivate or completely delete accounts.  

With its search business and the Chrome browser, Google isn’t
just targeting users with ads, it’s targeting the user
for ads. At least some information is
available for mining every time you sign into your Google
account, even if Google promises to not do it in schools. It
comes back to the setup of the system: Since most of what
you’ll do is through the Chrome browser, ads and search
tracking are of even greater concern.

student captures video on ipad 03272018 Apple

With an iCloud account, your data is for your eyes only.

That’s not the case with an iCloud account. While a Google
account may offer a higher level of integration with a
broad range of apps and services, Apple offers the promise that
none of your data—whether you’re talking to Siri or snapping a
pic of your bestie—is tracked or otherwise collected by Apple
or third-party apps. And with the iPad’s classroom-based apps,
students can go a whole day without ever seeing an ad. For some
schools, that might be worth more than a lower price,
especially as the battle over privacy ramps up.

A cloud behind

Privacy as a concept is a tough sell. Most users are willing to
accept some trade-offs for ease of use and simple set-up, even
if schools aren’t. and Apple still doesn’t have a true
alternative to Google’s G Suite (which is free to schools). As
an incentive for schools to adopt iPads, Apple is giving
students 200GB of free iCloud storage, but the tools for
collaboration and interaction outside the classroom aren’t as
fully baked as the ones inside it. A couple hundred gigs of
iCloud storage are great for accessing files and projects on a
school-issued iPad, but what happens when a student wants to
use their own Mac?

google g suite education
Google

Google offers a robust set of classroom management tools
for free.

If Apple were to offer something akin to Google’s G Suite for
Education, it would be a game-changer for privacy. The biggest
issue with a Chromebook tablet isn’t Google, it’s the relative
ease with which bad actors can infiltrate the Chrome browser
with malicious content and ads designed to harvest data that
should be off-limits. Private data needn’t only be on the
device the student is using, and Apple has the tools to offer
similar cloud-based tools for managing classrooms,
collaborating, and communicating that it does through the
Classroom and Schoolwork apps.

By failing to implement a full system that encrypts and stores
student’s data in the cloud, it’s missing a chance to truly
challenge Google and Chromebooks on privacy. Apple is making a
strong case for hardware-based privacy, but most schools will
still need a cloud management system, which will more than
likely be G Suite. Google’s biggest advantage inherently puts
student’s privacy at a disadvantage compared to iPads, since
most of them will be using Chromebooks to access their G Suite
accounts.

Apple’s reinvigorated push into schools might begin with a new
iPad and a high-priced stylus, but the story shouldn’t end
there. While Chromebooks may have an insurmountable lead in the
classroom, the tablet battle is only just getting started. And
Apple’s commitment to privacy could be its best way to win.

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