Is It Time to ‘Think Different’ About the Back-to-School Promo?

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Apple’s back-to-school promotion, during which new Mac buyers can get a free or significantly discounted iPod, has run the last several years, from the last week in May to the first week in September. However, as the growth of iPod sales has slowed, it might be time to rethink the promotion. Sure, an iPod touch is Apple’s “funnest” iPod ever, but Apple has a few other products that might suit the bill for the college-bound kid this summer.

It’s no coincidence that new iPods are usually introduced right around the time that the back-to-school promo ends. The promotion helps Apple move old inventory and ensures a large number of white earbuds on display at campuses in the fall.

But maybe an iPod (even an iPod touch) isn’t the marquee item to lure college students that it once was. A discount on an iPad might be a better option. Microsoft has come up with its own plan capture the hearts and minds of American college kids — a free Xbox 360 4GB with the purchase of a Windows 7 PC priced $699 or higher. This Xbox model usually sells for $199, making it an equivalent value with the Apple promotion.

But an iPad has a lot going for it as both an entertainment device and an educational tool. It works as a lightweight companion device to bring to class for taking notes, checking online references, or maybe even reading textbooks. It’s also quite a bit of fun, maybe even during class if you happen to get a math prof that talks to the board for 90 minutes twice a week like the one I had.

Taking $200 off the list price would be a strong enticement for many customers to walk out of the Apple Store with both a Mac and an iPad. It could only help Apple in the education market to send large numbers of kids to school with an iPad. It might be part of the pitch to get more textbook publishers to go digital.

An iPhone is another alternative, but I don’t see Apple doing that because of the cost of the device and carriers involved. The only other Apple device that makes sense with a back to school promotion is an Apple TV. The perfect companion product to a Mac with iTunes, the Apple TV would be a big hit in dorm rooms. You can watch movies and play music, and it even ties into some online services like Netflix, NBA League Pass, and MLB.tv. Add support for Hulu Plus, and a rumored Apple cloud-based music and video streaming service, and that would allow college kids to completely cut the cord on cable television. Now, doesn’t that sound like a great way to go back to school?

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