Apple’s Education-Focused Updates

Apple introduced a good round of minor updates to its 9.7-inch base model iPad, iWork suite, and education-focused software today. There’s nothing groundbreaking here — you’ve probably seen either the keynote or the highlight reel — but today’s event was interesting to me for two reasons:

  1. it was Apple’s first education-focused event in six years; and,

  2. it was Apple’s first ever product event to be held in Chicago — at least, as far as I can figure out.

Both of these factors signified to me that Apple was likely framing this event as meaningful updates with a cohesive story, but not brand new products. If they had major products to introduce — like, say, an Apple Pencil with support for wireless charging, or an iPad with Face ID — I feel like they would choose to have this event at the Steve Jobs Theater instead.

Coincidentally, minor spec bump-like updates like these are some of my favourites. They show incremental progress that may not look as important, but indicates ongoing attention and effort.

The updated base model iPad introduced today, for example, combines the processor from an iPhone 7, the LTE capabilities from an iPhone 6S, the first-generation Touch ID sensor from the iPhone 5S, and the Apple Pencil support from iPad Pro models, all inside a body that’s basically unchanged from the first iPad Air. That’s not a complaint; the base model iPad is an exceptional value, especially now with support for the Apple Pencil. I only wish that its display were laminated, and that every iPad came with LTE as standard.

Apple’s iWork updates are also pretty solid, with the addition of more advanced ePub creation features, though Apple insists that it is not a replacement for iBooks Author — for now. There are also some sweet new drawing features in the iWork apps that make use of the Apple Pencil.

New for teachers is an app called Schoolwork. Coming in June, it appears to be Apple’s take on an LMS specifically built for iPads managed via Classroom. They also introduced a companion framework for developers called ClassKit that allows apps to offer assignments and activities for use with Schoolwork.

The combined story here is that Apple has a more compelling narrative for how they’re building their vision for the future of education. Whether they’ll be able to claw back significant influence in the space is a good question, though — budget-restricted school districts may simply be swayed by the much cheaper price of Google’s Chromebooks, regardless of the iPad’s features. But there’s a lot here to love even if you aren’t a student or teacher: Apple Pencil support on the base model iPad and updates to the iWork suite are great news regardless.