Apple has started making the iPad available on its online education store in packs of 10 with an appallingly–stingy discount of only $20 per iPad. If Apple wants to start a computing revolution with the iPad, it absolutely must get the device into schools. But in […]


Apple has started making the iPad available on its online education store in packs of 10 with an appallingly–stingy discount of only $20 per iPad. If Apple wants to start a computing revolution with the iPad, it absolutely must get the device into schools. But in order to do that, it’s going to have to try a lot harder, and generous discounts are the easiest problem to solve. There are much bigger hurdles standing in the way.

Let’s start with costs alone. Assume a school wants to buy an iPad for each of its students. Assume the school is small with only 300 children enrolled. Assume also that the school wants to buy the cheapest iPad without AppleCare. At a little more than $450 per iPad, that’s a cost of almost $144,000. I imagine the average state-funded school enjoys less than half that in its annual I.T. budget.

“Aha!” you might argue, “Many schools in underprivileged areas get subsidies from the state and provide laptops for their pupils.”

And, of course, you’d be right. Many schools do provide their students with free or ‘nearly-free’ laptops. But not decent laptops. We’re talking cheap, disposable netbooks that cost far less to insure against loss or damage. (Let’s be realistic – the younger the student, the greater the chance of laptop-death!)

No Competition

I graduated from High School back in the early 90s, and even then my school was considered ahead of the curve when it came to the adoption of computer technology in class. Even so, there were no Macs in my school. They were just too expensive. Here in the UK, the fierce battle in the 1980’s between Acorn, Sinclair, Atari, Amstrad and Commodore meant that there were many perfectly capable, cheap microcomputers available to schools. The Mac was superior to those machines in almost every way, but it couldn’t compete on price.

It has been 16 years since I graduated from high school. And while I’m happy to report that my old school now has iMacs in most classrooms, sadly they only run Windows XP.

The reason for this comes down to two simple factors; Cost, and What’s Best for the Kids. It seems more educational titles are available at lower prices on Windows than on Mac OS X. And, outside school, the kids encounter more Windows PCs than Macs.

So I look at the upcoming iPad and, even though I can see the potential it offers to schoolchildren (and the wider education market), I can’t help but wonder if it has any real chance of making a dent at this time. HP’s upcoming slate PC has more chance of being adopted by my old school simply because it works with all their existing software and runs Windows — the platform the school believes the pupils are better served knowing, rather than Mac OS X, which they have concluded is just too obscure and “specialist.”

And as though these fiduciary and policy-driven decisions aren’t bad enough, there’s another glaring challenge to getting the iPad widely accepted in schools; at the end of the day, it’s just not a book.

Delicate Issues

You see, tablets-as-books is a great idea until the battery dies, and then the student has no textbook and no computer. She will have to plug-in to a power outlet if she wants either of those things back. But consider the delicate health and safety issues associated with cable-safety in a classroom environment. Not to mention the maintenance costs (that’s a lot of power outlets being used more than ever before) and don’t forget the school will suddenly incur higher energy bills. Say what you will about a paper-textbook, at least it doesn’t need plugging-in.

And then there’s the issue of damage. What happens if an iPad screen is cracked? A damaged book cover doesn’t render the book’s contents inaccessible, nor is it likely to slice into fingers. Plus, the cost of a replacement book is trivial. Remind me how much the cheapest iPad is?

Oh, and let’s not forgot that Apple isn’t perfect. Remember when the iPhone OS was updated to 3.1 in September last year? I wrote about it here, and the comments quickly ran to over 100. iPhones everywhere were freezing, crashing, and generally just refusing to work, and all as a result of an official update from Apple itself!

What happens when Apple does the same thing with the iPad? Even the most diligent students who take the greatest of care with their always-charged-in-time-for-class iPads will suffer if an update from Apple proves flaky.

And, finally, there’s the matter of crime. No one ever wanted to rob a kid from my school. The only thing we ever carried in our bags was biology books and the occasional Thundercats pencil case. But what if my school handed-out iPads to its pupils? Overnight, the school uniform would become an advertisement to any would-be criminal; “mug this kid – expensive computer on-board.”

I’d dearly love to see all school kids and college students everywhere take-up iPads as their favorite learning tools. Sadly, I just don’t see how that can happen as long as they remain significantly more expensive than textbooks, more sophisticated than simple e-book readers and less resilient than the existing, proven toolset — traditional, dead-tree textbooks.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Forecast: Tablet App Sales To Hit $8B by 2015

  1. No offence but you obviously don’t work in education. Some of the article is interesting but a lot of it is just imagined scenarios that don’t have any application to real classrooms. The whole part about the battery dying and cable safety and possible cuts from broken screens is just ridiculous for example.

    1. No it’s not. It’s a totally realistic scenario.

    2. So its ridiculous to think that in a class of 30-40 kids with only 6-8 open outlets against the wall (some probably under the chalk board) that there would be issues when it comes to charging them in the middle of class? Not to mention that study halls pack large number of kids in rooms with even fewer outlets then that!

    3. The iPad works for ten hours on a charge. Even if you say it only gets seven or eight realistically, that is more than enough time. Students are in class six or seven hours at the most and two or three hours of that will be in recess, lunch, special classes. The power issue is bogus. Get a few power strips, plug them in at the ned of the day.

    4. So all students can’t take them home and are all responsible enough to charge them at home every night. lol students cant even remember to bring their book to class.

    5. I DO work in education and the points brought out are indeed very real issues. The dependability of the students on the iPad may vary from school to school but i can see so many students sitting idle because they forgot to charge their iPad at night. Something i have also mentioned in my blog is that the availability of docks in the classroom will help, maybe Apple can sponsor those for education.

      1. Well I work in education also and I disagree with you 100%. Also, I don’t really know what you are talking about since you say they are real issues then you kind of argue that they aren’t or that they can be mitigated easily. If you actually read closely, you’d know that the argument i was criticising was the idea that classes would necessarily be filled with extension cords, that kids would be in some kind of horrible “danger” of tripping over them, or that little fingers would be sliced off by hypothetical cracked screens.

        The idea presented is just an outrageous fantasy backed up by nothing. I could as easily make up some nonsense about pencils being dangerous because kids could run and fall on them or stick them in each others ears or some such nonsense.

  2. “HP’s upcoming slate PC has more chance of being adopted by my old school simply because it works with all their existing software and runs Windows”

    That’s absolutely wrong. Teachers get excited about new technologies just like us and the idea of a “Windows” slate is not going anywhere. Most of our teachers are already using cloud based apps anyways and most “hate” Windows, or at least all the support issues they have with their Windows laptops.

    1. I agree with James.

      Further, I have never seen a school that uses Apple computers. Granted all the schools I have attended and worked in have been low-income.

      1. I work in a school in Somerset and we have over 50 Apple computers, integrated into a network running Windows and Linux machines also. In fact all the school surrounding us have some Mac presence.

    2. If the teachers get to pick, they will almost always pick an Apple over PC. My uncle sits on the board of education in a large city, and they almost exclusively pick Apples.

      I see James and Brett have never visited a college campus bookstore. Please go to the computer section and watch for a few hours which laptops get tested and bought the most. Freedom of choice and capitalism are a fun thing to watch!

      James and Brett come join the real World, and step out of your PC fantasy land. You must be your school buyers of the computer equipment? I feel sorry for your school kids having to live your twisted view of reality.

  3. iPad has 10 hour battery life. Charge them overnight!!

  4. I find your opinion that a device (which you have never seen or touched or been within a mile of) is of no use (in a place that you have not been to in over 15 years) fascinating, and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    1. Nice Biglig! Love It… Totally agree though. This viewpoint of iPads is shallow and somewhat upsetting/ awkwardly funny. Spelling mistakes and so many inaccuracies… Like Jerry mentions below, you don’t have a clue. Are you one of those people who don’t want children to experience what you didn’t when you were young? Does someone have some underlying issues?

  5. Did you purposely write this with so many inaccuracies so you would get a lot of comments/page views ($$) or are you really this obtuse? You didn’t check any facts at all. You guess at what an IT budget is (and are pretty substantially wrong), you don’t have a clue on textbook prices. You sensationalize or try to make a point. “OMG that kid has a $450 iPad!” — He probably has a $600 iPhone, $300 iPod, $150 sneakers, etc.

  6. You said: “Many schools do provide their students with free or ‘nearly-free’ laptops. But not decent laptops. We’re talking cheap, disposable netbooks that cost far less to insure against loss or damage.”

    Perhaps you ought to check with the State Education Department of the State of Maine (that would be in the northeast United States) where EVERY 6th grader gets an Apple MacBook. The cost are paid through some subsidies (both state and Federal) but much of the funding comes from the reduced costs associated with not having the scores of technicians, repair people, and parts inventory that were needed to keep their Windows computers up and consistently working.

    It’s not a far leap for school districts, along with text book publishers, to load an entire year’s text books on to an iPad. I’m sure that your kids will appreciate NOT having to lug 50 pounds (that’s be about 23 kg for you metric folks) to and from school each and every day. Then at the end of the school year the iPads are turned in and during the summer are updated with the child’s 7th grade text books. Then 8th grade, etc., etc., etc. Just think of it. The school district would significantly reduce the cost for text books, text book warehousing, perhaps enough to pay for the iPads. And they’ll get a far better text book because it’ll be interactive!

  7. Can we hop inside the Wayback® Machine and go back to January of 2007? Go read all the initial post from pundits, nitwits, and folks just like you, who belched that there was no way, no possible way, that Apple was ever going to make it in the smartphone business. Go back a few years earlier and read how Apple was going to crash and be burnt to a crisp upon entering the MP3 player market.

    You might not have noticed but Apple is a major player in the MP3 player and smartphone business. They sell more music than any retailer in the world. Their smartphone app store, with over 160,000 apps, has sold/downloaded over 3 Billion apps. The iPad is built on the shoulder of those two outstanding products. [Yes, we already know how you feel about Apple, it's products, and it's methods of conducting business. But the public has spoken, loudly, about which company it wants to buy it's electronics from.]

    The iPad’s price point is right. The form factor is right. The applications are in place as of today. Apple is going to sell millions of these things—even if you think they’re trash. My advise: You may not buy the iPad, but I would scamper down to my stockbroker and buy as much Apple stock as possible. This is yet another opportunity for Apple shareholders to rake in money.

  8. The high and middle schools in our district (reasonably affluent) use primarily Apple computers. The parent organization has already brought up the topic of raising funds to help supply iPads to the school. Given the preponderance of iPhones amongst the student population, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine the iPad doing well. Few students currently carry laptops because the form factor isn’t friendly to the way they work.

    As to whether Apple has much of a presence in education…


    Perhaps you’ve never been in a school that uses Apple computers. Perhaps you’ve never been in a top ten university. Perhaps you’ve never worked at an innovative company. Absence of proof is not proof of absence.

  9. You might be naive if you think:

    a theoretical ten hour battery life means much more than six in practice.

    kids will safely handle their expensive gadget, or that a larger, heavier $500 iPad will crash to the floor and bounce back like a giveaway phone from your wireless company.

    schools will actively procure replacement iPad textbooks a minute sooner than their print stock lifecycle allows, that they could if they tried, or that the dependence on iTunes won’t make licensing a nightmare.

    1. Not naive, practical.

      School districts throughout the US are reaping the benefits of moving to a more digital environment. In most districts, the schools purchase laptops (and possibly iPads), the parents are accountable for the time that their kid uses it (and the parents pay for insurance in case the device gets broken or stolen).

      As we move further down the digitalization of American schools, I think you’ll see both corporate and governmental support and subsidies for low-income families so that they can share the benefits, too.

  10. “Here in the UK, the fierce battle in the 1980’s between Acorn, Sinclair, Atari, Amstrad and Commodore meant that there were many perfectly capable, cheap microcomputers available to schools”
    Acorns cost a fortune and were the staple in British High Schools till around 2000


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