Yesterday, Apple released the new iPad Pro (along with a new MacBook Air and, at long last, a new Mac Mini). This update is just another step in the iPad’s steady takeover of not only the tablet market but the portable computing market in general. During the keynote, Tim Cook called the iPad “not only the most popular tablet, but the most popular computer in the world” based on annual sales figures. Apple’s not wrong that the iPad is capturing the general tablet and laptop market, but if there’s one arena where the iPad has failed to dominate, it’s the classroom.
Digital classrooms have been on the rise for some time, with Google, Apple and other hardware companies vying to get their laptops and/or tablets into the hands of elementary school students. A contract with a school or district is inherently valuable, but also has far-reaching value in terms of consumer loyalty. Children begin forming brand loyalties as young as three years old, so teaching elementary school students to use technology from within their ecosystem is a tempting prospect for companies like Google and Apple. Even as schools tighten their budgets and teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies, spending for education technology continues to rise.
In March, Apple introduced updates to their cheapest iPads while launching Everyone Can Create, an initiative designed to boost the adoption of iPads in K-9 classrooms by providing free lesson plans and guides for using free iOS apps like GarageBand in the classroom. This is very on-brand for Apple, which has long positioned itself as a leader in the creative industry, with ads highlighting creative professionals from DJs to visual artists and videographers using Apple products. The launch of Everyone Can Create prompted Wired magazine to publish an article, “How Apple Lost Its Place in the Classroom,” which pointed that even Apple’s cheapest tablet (priced at $299 for educators) is significantly costlier than the alternatives.
The main alternative, by the way, is the Chromebook. Not only are Chromebooks cheaper (starting at $149), they are harder to break or damage, already come with keyboards, and automatically share and host files in the cloud. While Apple was showing teachers how iPads could be used to digitally dissect frogs or compose music, Google was promoting Chromebooks for writing essays, receiving teacher feedback, and collaborating on shared documents and presentations. Google has hardly sat back and let this happen, either — they have been courting teachers for years through conferences, online communities, and widespread beta testing of Google Classroom.
But it’s not just cost that’s keeping iPads out of classrooms. As a private college consultant, I work with many students who attend elite private schools and selective public schools, and almost none have tablets or laptops in the classroom. On Friday, the New York Times published an article called “The Digital Gap Between Rich And Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected.” The article discusses how hyper-aware the wealthy, especially in Silicon Valley, have become of the dangers of technology use and screen time on developing minds. Reducing their child’s screen time is a huge priority for the wealthy parents I work with, and more than one of my students did not have a smartphone until high school. The parents and schools that could afford to provide kids with iPads, ironically enough, are the ones least likely to approve of the idea.
Although I still think tablets and smartphones should not be a focal point of any child’s life, it would be unfair of me to say that Apple hasn’t taken steps to address this. Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 12, has many new features, but the biggest changes are the introduction of Screen Time and updates to Do Not Disturb. Screen Time limits your access to certain apps either after you’ve used them for a certain amount of time, or during “Downtime.” Do Not Disturb is in the current iOS but is expanded in iOS 12, and works to block notifications during “Bedtime” or when you turn it on manually. None of these features seem like they were designed with the classroom in mind, but they can without a doubt be invaluable to parents hoping to impose some limits on their child’s use of technology.