Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Key Notes: Apple’s Field Trip event

As if you didn’t hear already, Apple announced a bunch of stuff today focused on education. With an upgraded iPad and new software, Apple presents its renewed plans for tech in the classroom.

An important distinction to make is that the new iPad is not a ‘School Edition’ iPad, if you will. There may very well never be a specific edition aimed at schools until if and when adoption rates spike along with radical education changes. Today’s event is framed as educational, but when it comes to iPad itself, the truth is that it will also be bought by millions of regular people and non-educational organizations. This product still has to be universal. It’s an iPad for the masses that also has benefits for schools, one of which is a price reduction.

Now, the new software on the other hand … that’s where the education piece really comes into play.

New iPad

There is no new technology in the new 9.7-inch iPad. It’s all spec bumps using existing technology Apple already has at its disposal. If you were to compare to the previous model, the only new benefits are:

  • Apple Pencil support
  • A10 Fusion chip

The features aren’t education-specific, but they help. Students will be able to take handwritten notes more easily with first-party Pencil integration. Performance is sure to be high, and split-view apps will run very well thanks to the insane power of the A10 Fusion.

So, a little bit new boss/old boss here. At $299 for educational systems, it’s a steal that beats out Chromebook. Combined with Apple’s new software, it’s sure to entice. At $329 for everyone else, it’s still a really affordable way to get your hands on the best tablet brand in the market.

There are a number of features this iPad is missing, reserved only for its big bro, iPad Pro. I won’t list them all out here. For that, I’ll direct you to Apple’s iPad comparison page. I will call out a couple that I believe Apple should have included, though:

  • Fully-laminated display. This is the process by which the display is laminated to the cover glass, making for less of a perceived gap between said glass and your content. For any modern device made in 2018, this is a must. Even if aimed at education, many general market consumers will buy this device. I can’t imagine the lamination process being so expensive that Apple had to cut this, but it’s a shame.
  • Smart Connector. On iPad Pro, this is the left-edge series of contact pads that enable the ‘hardwired’ connection of a keyboard. Instead, you’ll have to use a Bluetooth keyboard like a caveman. Supposedly, cost was the determining factor as to why this was cut, but it really makes no sense. From what I understand, schools don’t even allow the use of Bluetooth keyboards in fear of signal hacking and test manipulation. That said, because of Apple’s decision to cut it, Logitech addressed the issue in a really interesting way (see below).

Accessories

Apple had Logitech do its dirty work for them. That is to say, Logitech made accessories Apple would never make themselves, as it would be too off-brand. Also of note, these products are only available for educational customers.

Crayon

Logitech Crayon
Logitech Crayon

At $49, the Logitech Crayon is clearly designed for use by kids. It’s blocky, has no pressure sensitivity, and charges via a regular Lightning cable, instead of plugging into iPad itself like Apple Pencil. This makes perfect sense, as students wouldn’t randomly need to plug in the Crayon during a normal school day — teachers can batch charge them overnight. Plus, this completely avoids and snapping-off issues that may occur by accident. 1

The Crayon also doesn’t use Bluetooth. It uses some other frequency to communicate with iPad, and pairs with the push of a button. In fact, the Crayon only works with this model iPad (sorry/not sorry, iPad Pro).

Can you see why Apple didn’t make this themselves? Still, it should make for a great experience in the younger classrooms.

Rugged Combo 2 Case

Logitech Rugged Combo 2 case
Logitech Rugged Combo 2 case

Boy, is this thing ugly. It really makes iPad look like a Surface Pro that let itself go. Although, what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in functionality and utility.

It has four-foot drop protection, a multi-angle kickstand 2, a loop to hold the Crayon, a detachable spill-resistant keyboard, and a huge, but necessary window to accommodate an asset tag sticker.

The keyboard doesn’t communicate over Bluetooth, though. As I hinted at earlier, Logitech has a workaround for the lack of a Smart Connector built into this iPad: they built their own into the case! I kid you not. The case itself has Smart Connector pads on the left edge that magnetically connect to the detachable keyboard — exactly like Apple’s Smart Keyboard. The case is always plugged directly into iPad via the Lightning jack, which makes for one complicated, if not ingenious hardwired solution.

So, by omitting a Smart Connector in this iPad, Apple has kept the initial device cost low for education. Everyone else seeking this type of hardwired keyboard is out of luck, since a) you can only get this case through education channels, and b) no other manufacturer makes a similar case with Smart Connector for the 9.7-inch iPad.

Software

This is where Apple is really planting its flag in the ground when it comes to in-classroom learning.

Classroom

Apple’s existing Classroom app for iPad will soon have a Mac version. As the name implies, this app allows teachers to manage and administer their fleet of classroom iPads. A version for the Mac should allow teachers and staff for some flexibility.

Schoolwork

This is a new app coming in June, and will be the core of how students and teachers work together on their iPads. It allows for teachers to assign work, track it, and collaborate together with students. Handouts, for instance, can also be shared digitally instead of printed on paper.

This kind of workflow surely exists in other forms, but it’s long overdue from an official perspective. These are the building blocks of classroom education, and may sound a bit boring, but if Apple keeps iterating on this model, great things can happen.

ClassKit

ClassKit is a new framework due out with iOS 11.4 and Xcode 9.4. This will allow developers to write apps which interface directly with Schoolwork, opening the door to a tightly-integrated teaching and learning ecosystem.

Curriculum

Apple’s ‘Everyone Can Code’ curriculum, used to teach its Swift programming language, is being updated to include ARKit support via the Swift Playgrounds app. Apple has performed similar updates in the past as new technologies become available, so it’s great to see the curriculum regularly updated for the next generation of young programmers.

They also announced a new curriculum called ‘Everyone Can Create’, focusing on drawing, music, filmmaking, and photography. It’s in preview right now, but new materials will be added soon.

Hardware and software are nice, but I think Apple is really onto something with their curriculum initiatives. They need to keep this up to show what their technology can enable.

Final Thoughts

Alright, let’s get real for a minute. Education in the United States is a largely sad affair. Instead of focusing on teaching and learning, we can barely deal with the safety of students within our schools. It’s a blight upon this country, and one that can’t be resolved soon enough.

Having said that, upgrading our methods of teaching and learning across the board are long overdue. For better or for worse, kids grow up glued to the screen these days. Why not take advantage of it? Apple has had false starts in education before, so they are both early and late to this game. Hopefully this restart of sorts will be just the thing we need to bring our every day teaching methods out of the 1960s.

I think iPad is the right choice for the classroom. It’s light, powerful, adaptable, and easily integrated. Plus, if you haven’t noticed, kids love iPad. I mean, you wouldn’t buy them their own iPhone for many reasons, and an iPod is old school/outdated, so an iPad may most likely be their first Apple device. Chromebooks may have the lead in education, but they’re bulkier, too simple, and are far less adaptable.

Beyond iPad, I can see technology having infinite uses in the classroom. Imagine putting on VR glasses and witnessing famous speeches in history, beautifully recreated. Or being dropped into the middle of World War II and seeing history for yourself, without the gore of ‘Call Of Duty’.

AR could also be huge in this space. Imagine going on a field trip to the zoo and seeing all kinds of information pop up right in front of your eyes about the animals around you.

These technologies have the ability to open up entire worlds of possibilities. It would be criminal not to use them in the classroom.


  1. Or on purpose, based on some of the kids I went to school with. 
  2. Logitech has the best-in-class multi-angle kickstands by far. I’ve owned a few in the past, and I’ve never had one give out on me.