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Apple Strikes Back at Google with Education Initiatives

With Google now a dominant force in the classroom, it was a fine time for Apple to stage an education-focused press event at the Lane Tech College Preparatory School in Chicago on 27 March 2018.

The iPad, after initially showing promise as a classroom computer, has largely fallen behind Web-centric Chromebook school laptops that are simple to manage and typically less expensive than iPads.

Accordingly, the iPad’s presence in education has ebbed. In the K-12 market, Chromebooks accounted for nearly 60 percent of mobile computer shipments in the third quarter of 2017, up from 50 percent in 2015 and 38 percent in 2014. By comparison, iOS devices were at 14.3 percent in 2017’s third quarter, down from 19 percent in 2015 and 26 percent in 2014.

It’s not just hardware leading to Apple’s decline in education. Google has won loyalty from school districts with online tools such as its Web-based G Suite productivity apps along with cloud-based tools for teachers and IT managers.

Apple needed to respond and, this week, it did. In addition to announcing a new iPad with Apple Pencil support (see “Apple Releases Sixth-Generation 9.7-inch iPad with Apple Pencil Support,” 27 March 2018) and updated versions of its iWork apps (see “iWork Apps Add Apple Pencil Support, Pages Gains Ebook Creation Features,” 27 March 2018), it fired off a barrage of education-focused initiatives meant to win the hearts of educators.

Ebook Publishing

Since the iPad’s inception in 2010, Apple has made much of tablet-based interactive textbooks. It even tried to spark an electronic textbook revolution in 2012 when, at another education-related press event, it released the Mac-based iBooks Author app for creating iPad textbooks (see “Apple Goes Back to School with iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U,” 19 January 2012).

Then, oddly, Apple’s textbook initiative stalled. Publishing industry observers such as Score Publishing’s Bradley Metrock have lamented how Apple failed to regularly update iBooks Author or even display public enthusiasm for digital textbooks (see “iBooks Author Conference Highlights Worries about iBooks Ecosystem,” 24 October 2017). Besides, it always seemed odd that iPad textbooks couldn’t be created on a, well, iPad.

Now Apple is trumpeting textbooks again… with a twist. The iBooks Author app isn’t being retired (at least not yet) but Apple is launching a parallel effort by building book authoring and publishing features into its Pages app for the Mac and iPad. The app could already export in the popular EPUB ebook format, but Apple has added additional book-design capabilities.

Greg Joswiak, Apple’s VP of Product Marketing, said the Pages update is intended to boost teachers’ enthusiasm for ebook creation with fresh templates along with Apple Pencil support for those wanting to add custom illustrations. Pages incorporates real-time collaboration features, too, for educators and students wanting to work in groups on book projects, something that wasn’t possible in iBooks Author, as Adam Engst noted in TidBITS coverage when iBooks Author was first released.

Despite the welcome addition of the ebook publishing features in Pages, the app is far from a full iBooks Author replacement, lacking as it does many of the Mac app’s advanced authoring and book creation features. Nor can its book project files be opened in iBooks Author. On the other hand, iBooks Author can import Pages files as chapters into an iBooks Author project, and it can create a new project based upon an EPUB exported from Pages.

Apple Schoolwork

Apple released an all-new educator app called Schoolwork to help teachers stay on top of their classroom projects.

The app functions as a cloud-based workspace for teachers to create student handouts, manage kids’ assignments, point them to documents or Web-based resources, remind them about field trips, and so on.

Unsurprisingly for Apple, there’s an app angle, too. Teachers can point students to a variety of educational apps, They can even set the kids up with specific activities within those apps while monitoring their progress — all within Schoolwork.

Such app integration with Schoolwork isn’t automatic. Apple announced yet another of its development frameworks, ClassKit, for tweaking education apps accordingly. It also pointed to a number of education apps that have already been made Schoolwork-ready.

Schoolwork is being positioned as a direct competitor to a Google service called Classroom that lets educators create curricula, distribute student assignments, communicate with students and their guardians, incorporate apps into classroom programs, and more.

The cloud-based nature of Apple’s Schoolwork is key here since Google’s Classroom is — like almost everything Google does — a Web-based service.

Schoolwork is due in June 2018.

Apple School Manager

Managing fleets of classroom iPads has traditionally been a challenge. This is why school districts have often turned to companies like Minneapolis-based Jamf, which specializes in executing and overseeing mass deployments of Apple devices. In fact, Jamf just announced early support for the upcoming releases of macOS 10.13.4, iOS 11.3, and tvOS 11.3.

This is where Google found an opening to pummel Apple. Chromebook deployments have been comparably easy to implement. What’s more, communal Chromebook use in the classroom is simple since any student can log in to any Chromebook and get to work; all of their stuff will be right there. By comparison, each school iPad user’s identity has traditionally been tied to a specific machine, allowing for less flexibility.

Now, with an update to a classroom technology called Apple School Manager, Apple is aiming to make iPad deployments less of a headache.

School IT managers will now be able to create student accounts en masse with greater ease. In fact, Joswiak bragged that such an administrator can create 1500 student Apple IDs in less than a minute.

What’s more, Apple is going after Chromebook capabilities directly by making iPads largely interchangeable in the classroom via a feature called Shared iPad. Joswiak noted that Apple School Manager will now “let a student pick up any iPad, type in their name to log in, and the iPad becomes their own. All their own apps and books are ready to go.”

Apple, which has traditionally been a bit stingy with online storage, also announced that every student registered via Apple School Manager will now have 200 GB of iCloud storage, up from 5 GB. (No word on whether the general public will see a similar storage upgrade at some point.)

Apple Classroom

Another of Apple’s pre-existing school systems, called Classroom, has been a boon for teachers wanting to keep tabs on how their students are using their iPads.

“Teachers love it,” Joswiak said, “because it lets them guide their students and keep them focused and on task.”

For instance, teachers can peek at what any of their students are doing on their iPads, offer group-lesson guidance, distribute class materials, reset students’ passwords, and launch apps, books or Web sites on multiple tablets simultaneously.

Until now, teachers have had to do this on iPads. At the event, however, Apple unveiled a Mac-based version of Classroom catering to the vast number of educators who run their classrooms on Apple laptops.

Classroom for Mac is due in beta form in June 2018.

Other Announcements

Apple made a number of other education-related announcements that tie into classroom iPad use.

  • GarageBand and Clips: Apple released updates to two of its multimedia authoring iOS apps, Clips and GarageBand, partly with educational users in mind. Clips updates include blackboard- and notebook-themed posters to use as video backdrops. GarageBand has a “Toy Box” audio pack with animal and vehicle sound effects along with voices that count in different languages. (The Mac version of GarageBand hasn’t been updated accordingly.)
  • Augmented Reality: This technology, which overlays virtual content on the real world, is seeing a bit of a boom due to Apple’s ARKit. Apple said AR is important in education, giving examples of kids dissecting frogs, touring virtual art museums, and building virtual science projects atop real-life tables. Apple is also enhancing its Swift Playgrounds app for learning how to code (via Apple’s own Swift programming language) with AR elements.
  • Everyone Can Create: A companion program to Apple’s recent Everyone Can Code classroom initiative, Everyone Can Create gives teachers tools to coach students in four areas: music, video, drawing, and photography. The program is coming in the fall.
  • Apple Teacher: An online professional development program, Apple Teacher helps educators learn how to use Apple products for teaching and learning, compare notes with peers, and earn badges to mark their progress. About a million such badges have been issued, Apple said. The site is adding content related to Apple’s Clips video-authoring iOS app (see “Apple’s New Clips App Is iMovie for the Social Age,” 26 April 2017).

Is It Enough?

With Google maintaining a 60 percent share in the education market, the question is if Apple’s education announcements outlined here, along with the sixth-generation iPad and its Apple Pencil support, are sufficient to cut into Google’s dominance.

Everything announced today is a good move in that direction.

Schoolwork is one big piece of the answer since it ties together a lot of previously existing capabilities in a form that a teacher can actually use. Apple needs a good alternative to Google’s Classroom.

Long-suffering IT managers also get goodies in the form of more-robust iPad deployment tools. This is key since Chromebooks have been a comparative breeze to manage en masse.

Also essential is something like the Apple Teacher program, since the only way that school districts will even consider a major technology deployment is if there’s training available for teachers at all levels.

But we’re not educators and have only watched K-12 technology programs as involved parents. So we’d like to open it up to those of you who work in education — are Apple’s announcements sufficient to turn the tide away from Google?

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Comments About Apple Strikes Back at Google with Education Initiatives

Notable Replies

  1. How true. It’s been many, many days, the mid 1980s I think, since Apple held better than 50% of the education market with the venerable Apple ][+ and the Apple ][e.

  2. And now there’s news that Google is equipping school buses with Wi-Fi and Chromebooks. That’s the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that Apple needs to do if it wants to regain ground in education.

    Speaking as a kid who grew up in the country and rode the bus for an hour each way, I would have loved having full Internet access during that time.

  3. A lot of the comments I’ve heard from many people keep comparing chromebooks and iPads, almost exclusively on price. There’s a lot of problems with these comments.

    1. These people do not actually work in education, and the cost numbers they are giving for chromebooks are not just wrong, they are laughably wrong ($150? In your dreams!). Chromebook purchases for a school will go through a service contract with HP or Dell and will cost about the same as a $300 iPad for a really terrible Chromebook. I happen to know the terrible barely functional chrome books at my kid’s school have a $440 replacement cost, and I wouldn’t spend $40 on one. the screens are so terrible that I cannot read them, though my 16yo can.

    2. The chromebooks are far less useful and capable than an iPad. No cameras, not recording, basically no storage. In addition, no editing video or sound, no drawing, photo manipulation. really, they are glorified typewriters and web browsers, and that is all.

    3. Chromebook purchases by schools have far less flexibility in terms on quantity and at least here, chromebooks all go through the central computer/IT department while iPads can be purchased in much smaller lots and generally arrive directly into the classroom.

    4. The student’s opinions on the chromebooks are universally bad. My son ends up having to do a lot of his work on one of our Macs and then back-end the finished product through his teacher since getting files onto the chromebook is basically impossible. I have a workaround where I stick the file on my web server and send him a link, but that is not something most people could figure out.

    I’d love to hear someone who is actually a school admin talking on these topics because i think we’d get a far different picture.

  4. Tristan used a Chromebook at Ithaca High for the last few years, and he liked the experience overall, but he was using much nicer hardware (a Chromebook Pixel 2) than most students. The Dell Chromebooks that IHS gave out were nowhere near as good. The school system does provide iPads for K-4, and Chromebooks for 5-12, but since that started well after Tristan was in elementary school, we have little sense of how the iPads have worked out.

    As far as the software, though, it was basically Google Docs, and things were handed in online. If I remember right, the hard part was that he had to use his school account for homework stuff, rather than his personal account, so there was some confusion there.

    Despite having iPads around the house, he’s basically never used one for anything, and laughed at us when we asked if he wanted to. The lack of a keyboard was a complete non-starter, and until recently, the Google apps weren’t that good on the iPad and he didn’t need to use anything else.

    The non-stop drama surrounding the Chromebooks was actually related to Internet content filtering that the school applied to the Internet connection. It was some service and was relatively stupid, so it blocked lots of stuff kids needed legitimate access to, like the BBC, and failed to block the time-wasting Flash game sites that popped up like mushrooms.

  5. Oh, another huge issue we’ve had with the chrome books is that they often cannot access the class assignments, teacher links, or other documents unless they are connected to the school’s Internet connection, which of course makes homework impossible, but I don’t know how common that is. My son blames the content filter for that and says it even happens at school on occasions, but much more at home.

    His chromebook can also only receive emails from school accounts, so he cannot even mail things to himself (thus my ‘put it on the web server’ work-around).

  6. So he’s using a Chromebook but not Google Docs?

    The Internet connection was the primary source of complaints among Tristan’s friends too.

  7. He isn’t using Google Docs for keynotes or videos.

  8. I have to wonder if a lot of this technology deployment (whether Chromebooks or iPads) is just through a simplistic belief that technology = good. I mean, why not let high school students use their own devices (you can still provide online submission, etc.)? Sure, provide Chromebooks or iPads for those that don’t have access to a computer or tablet, but many will. And I honestly don’t know why early years students need any form of computing device at all.

  9. Tristan may have used Google Slides one or twice, and videos never came up. Then again, he was taking a full slate of AP classes, mostly STEM stuff, and the humanities classes he did take just required papers. Even his film studies class had papers for homework, not video production.

  10. You can’t assume that everyone has a device, and there are certainly advantages to knowing that everyone has a certain level of capabilities.

    Since some people need a device, if you want everyone to have a device, you have to be prepared to provide on.

  11. I don’t know, when I was at school we managed fine with different people having different devices, including some using those provided by the school. I think the advantages of providing devices for all students have been overstated, and probably not the best use of limited funds. And I say that as someone who loves technology.

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