With the impending introduction of Windows 8 for tablets at the end of this month, and the growing popularity of digital gadgets running Google’s Android operating system, Apple’s lead in the tablet market is being challenged from all sides. In one place, however, the supremacy of the company’s iPad remains mostly untouched: the classroom.
From its birth as a manufacturer of personal computers, Apple always took the education market more seriously than many of its competitors. And now, while these competitors are nipping at its heels in the consumer and business markets, the company continues to increase its lead in sales to education institutions.
With that in mind, many are closely watching the the arrival of the cheaper, smaller iPad Mini line. The new smaller tablets will compete directly with the recently released Google’s Nexus 7 which, at $199 for the lowest-priced model, was considered the best of 7 in tablet form-factor.
Although the pricing estimates released by the Barclays Plc prior to the announcement didn’t pan out – the cheapest model will cost $329 rather than $249 – the Mini could still make a substantial impact on school market.
Beyond the school market of course, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook will use the device to try to widen Apple’s lead over Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc. and fend off a more recent threat from Microsoft Corp. in the market for tablets, which NPD DisplaySearch predicts will more than double to $162 billion by 2017. Cook will unveil an iPad with a 7.85-inch screen diagonally, people familiar with its development said in August. The current iPad has a 9.7-inch screen.
Those hoping that education would get a mention during the announcement event which took place this week weren’t disappointed. Even if the higher-than-anticipated price point for the Mini proved a disappointment, an overhaul of the iBooksAuthor platform to make it easier for individuals to design and market their own e-textbook provided plenty of excitement all its own.
Meanwhile any evolution in tablets is good news to school districts that are increasingly looking to transition away from stationary PCs or even laptop computers. James Ponce, the superintendent of the McAllen Independent School District in Texas, admitted as much when he said that 90% of students’ work is now done in mobile digital devices.
Besides budgetary constraints, a major challenge for schools is training teachers and managing all the new equipment and software. If a teacher wants to use an iPad math application, synchronizing a classroom of devices and monitoring all the students’ work can be time consuming. In San Diego, a team of eight employees helps train teachers and manage new technology.
Apple’s decision to invest in the company’s relationship with educational institutions paid off when McAllen made the decision to equip its students with tablets rather than continue using the more traditional laptops and PCs. Ponce’s first stop was Apple, which helped the district map out its deployment strategy and set up financing to fund it. In the end the district purchased more than 25,000 iPads for its students — a deal worth more than $3.5 million annually.
“We included them because they have revolutionized the world,” Ponce said. “We had people in the room who were thinking bigger than we could.”