Apple's New iPad Will Not Change Anything For Aussie Schools

Image: Apple

Apple announced an upgraded iPad yesterday, at their education event held in Chicago yesterday. That new iPad costs the same as the current model, which was unexpected with most people forecasting a price drop or lower cost option, but adds support for the Apple Pencil (which still costs $145) and an upgraded processor. While those are good things, they're unlikely to significantly influence tech purchasing decisions.

I spent about four years running the technology department at a large school in Melbourne's south-east. During my time, we made the transition from a school with shared computers into one that was progressively rolling out iPads to students. We started with Year 5 and 6 students and each year we added a new cohort of students to the mix with a plan to eventually have every student carrying their own computing device.

The decision to go iPad was made by the teaching staff. I did a bunch of research and sourced demo units of different platforms for staff to try out but the final decision came down to what the teachers thought was best at the time.

My children went to a different school where students were issued with a Windows laptop in year 7 with a replacement in year 10. That school has now settled on a current release Surface Pro.

The issues

Although the iPad looks like a good deal at $469 for the entry level Wi-Fi only model, once you add the Apple Pencil and a decent keyboard case, there's not a lot of change out of $750. And while that's less expensive that the Surface Pro, schools on a budget can buy decent notebook PCs for students at around $1000.

And while schools and student do get a modest discount - $439 for the iPad with the Apple Pencil going for $129 - there's a lot less "computer" in the iPad than many schools would like.

Where the iPad both excels and falls down is software. Even with the newly released "Everyone can Create" and Classbook tools, it will take a long time for schools to move away from their existing Learning Management Systems. Programs like Schoolbox and Blackboard have massive entrenched bases with many schools holding years of intellectual property in those applications. Shifting to a new tool is a massive task.

Simple things, like connecting to network fileshares is still a problem with iOS. And while cloud storage makes that somewhat simpler, it's not nearly as flexible as a traditional computer in that regard.

Also, app support is a challenge. Photoshop on an iPad - nope. Many schools have access to low cost or free enterprise-grade software and mining them to different tools will be a massive challenge.

Then, there's the skills problem. If you want to hire competent Windows network administrators, the skills are readily available in the market. Trying to get the same skills on the Apple side of things is far more challenging. And there's also the issue of bias. Some Windows admins simply don't want a heterogeneous network. Having a single platform makes it easier to manage. And relaying that to a school's management is an easy sell in terms of keeping things more reliable.

I tried to convince my old school that infrastructure planning that was platform agnostic was important but that took a lot of effort - something many of my peers in other schools weren't prepared to go through.

Should you bother with the new iPad?

If you're in the market for a new iPad, then, the updates are pretty handy. A faster processor is always welcome and the ability to use the Apple Pencil is a good, albeit expensive, addition.

But for schools, I just don't see how this will change purchasing and platform decisions.

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