iPad Leads Apple’s Aggressive Expansion in Education Market

For those attending college in the US, a campus store stocked with Apple computers — and staffed with employees who are willing and happy to help with any and all Mac-related questions and problems — is an increasingly familiar sight. For over a decade, Apple has been paying attention to the education market and providing generous student discounts as well as training Apple “evangelists” to help and recruit new customers.

In light of its history, Apple’s recent and more aggressive move into the education arena isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise is the tool they used to achieve this increase in visibility. Ever since the iPad revolutionized portable computing, Apple’s tablet has been transplanting the Mac as the machine of choice for academic institution from elementary schools all the way through university.

The importance of the iPad was underscored during Apple’s earnings call last week, with CEO Tim Cook saying that the rate of adoption of iPads by educators was unlike anything he’d seen in tech before. The company sells twice as many iPads to schools now as it does its Mac laptops and desktops — over a million units of the digital gadget were sold just last quarter. Some attribute the strong sales to the canny move by Apple strategists to discount the older iPad 2 instead of discontinuing it when the newer iPad 3 came out last year. The savings of $100 a unit makes the tablets more attractive to financially pinched schools and colleges.

“The adoption of the iPad in education is something I’ve never seen in any technology,” Cook said on a call with investors. “Education tends to be a conservative institution, but we’re not seeing that at all on the iPad. It’s been a big help for us.”

Besides price, one of the reasons students and schools are drawn to the tablet is that Apple isn’t just selling them hardware, but apps and services too. Apple introduced its iBooks education initiative in January, which included an updated iBooks app that specifically supports digital and interactive textbooks, a textbook authoring tool, and a dedicated iTunes U app.

iBooks wasn’t the first foray into educational content by Apple. Even before launching its e-publishing platform, the company also offered academic material, like lecture videos and course materials, via iTunes U. Anyone with an account on the Apple iTunes store had access to courses from some of the best universities around the world. Successful for years, iTunes U is now also getting an update to keep it in line with Apple’s other education-related products.

As of Wednesday, any teacher can sign up to distribute courses via the service, instructors can set up private courses and invite specific students, there’s an updated note-taking feature that lets students easily track back to places in their notes that reference audio or video clips. And, since Apple is adding sharing to everything else, naturally you can also now share courses via Twitter, email or the Messages app.