Apple has revealed a low-cost iPad aimed at schoolchildren, together with a host of new educational offerings, in its boldest attempt yet to challenge Google's success in the classroom.
At its first major event of 2018, held on Tuesday at a Chicago high school, Apple unveiled a much-anticipated version of its 9.7-inch iPad, describing it as its "most affordable" model yet. It is priced at $299 for schools and $329 for consumers.
In the UAE, the starting price is Dh1,349, while schools can purchase it for Dh1,294.65.
The new iPad supports the Apple Pencil, making it the first iPad that is not a "Pro" to do so since the stylus was introduced two years ago. The Apple Pencil costs Dh399.
Other specs include a large Retina display, an A10 Fusion chip, sensors for augmented reality, an 8MP rear camera, GPS, Touch ID and 10 hours of battery life. According to Apple, the new iPad is "faster than virtually any Chromebook".
"This is an important day for Apple, and we hope it's an important day for students and teachers around the world, too," said Apple chief executive Tim Cook. "At Apple, we care deeply about education because we love kids and we love teachers."
Apple's vice president of product marketing, Greg Joswiak, said that the iPad is a "magical sheet of glass that can be anything we want it to be". Playing to Apple's credentials in the educational market, he said the tablet has about 200,000 apps for study and reference.
“This new 9.7-inch iPad takes everything people love about our most popular iPad and makes it even better for inspiring creativity and learning,” he said.
The iPad, which comes in silver, space grey and a new gold finish, is available to order now. Deliveries to customers and stores in more than 25 countries and regions, including the UAE, will begin later this week.
Apple will be hoping the new products will help it win back its leadership in the classroom after its position was usurped by the likes of Google and Microsoft.
Apple’s late founder, Steve Jobs, had prioritised education in the company’s early years, and its products – including iPads and Macs – initially had a firm foothold in schools. However, Apple has found it harder to compete in recent years as Google’s cheaper, simpler Chromebooks grew in popularity. Microsoft’s Surface laptops have also made inroads with students, due to their favourable pricing compared to Apple’s premium products.
Apple is right to be concerned about its dwindling influence in schools. A report from Frost & Sullivan, seen by Bloomberg, shows that showed that the global educational technology market generated almost $18 billion in revenues in 2017. That is a market that Apple does not want to miss out on.
Schoolchildren are key target audience for tech companies because if they can win loyalty at an early age, they are more likely to retain them as adult customers.
Analysts said that Apple’s decision to hold Tuesday’s event at the Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago, rather than on its home turf in California, indicates how serious it is about regaining its dominance in this market.
"Apple usually holds its big unveils in California, so the decision to host this event in Chicago, one of the largest public schools districts in the US and a city at the forefront of the shift to more modern schooling, is telling," George Salmon, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, told The National.
"This is a clear effort to muscle into a market dominated by fellow Silicon Valley giant, Google. Around 50% of American youngsters use Google education apps so breaking this dominance will be a challenge for Apple, especially since Google is unlikely to put the project on the back burner," he continued.
However, Mr Cook sounded a confidence note when addressing the audience on Tuesday. “We believe our place at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts makes it possible for us to create powerful tools that amplify creativity,” he said. “This is something that only Apple can do.”
The event also involved the announcement of education software designed to spark student creativity.
Everyone Can Create is a new, free curriculum that makes it fun and easy for teachers to integrate drawing, music, filmmaking or photography into lesson plans. It the Everyone Can Code initiative, aimed at getting more young people to learn computer programming skills.
Apple also announced Schoolwork, an app to help teachers manage assignments and class content. It builds on its Classroom app, a teaching assistant which Apple said will start working on Mac computers in June.
Starting today, teachers and students will also have 200GB of free iCloud storage, compared to the regular 5GB, Apple said
The new iPad will have new digital book creation features, Apple said. It also said it is releasing new versions of its iWork productivity app, while ClassKit, an education framework, will make it easy to assign activities and view student progress.
Those at the event were treated to live demos of the new software, including a chance to try its Swift Playground (Apple's coding app for children) which is getting a new augmented reality module.
No new MacBooks were announced at the event, despite rumours that a new range of affordable laptops may be on the way.
Out on the streets of the Windy City, word was out that Apple was in town, and tech-savvy kids and their parents welcomed the latest announcements.
Jawed Valliani, a parent of two, told The National that his four-year-old son Gabriel already plays many educational games on his iPad. "We're excited to see Apple's new classroom offering and how schools in our area will adopt them," he said.
Tuesday’s event came at a time when the entire tech sector is under heavy scrutiny in the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
Apple did not miss the opportunity to boast about its commitment to privacy compared with that of its rivals. "It's important to us that you understand this data stays private," Apple's executives said. "Privacy is integral to everything we do at Apple."
This was Apple's first education-themed event since January 2012, when it launched digital textbooks.
Last year, Apple surprised the market by lowering the base price of its 9.7-inch iPad. But today’s announcement goes a step further for students, and the tech firm will be hoping that it will help spur sales and drive a recovery in its tablet business.
Mr Salmon said that as the big US tech firms jostle for position, there’s potential for everybody to win. "The teachers and school children get access to some great new learning methods, while the tech companies get to put their operating systems in front of the next generation,” he said.
Apple also used the event to promote its recent community work with schools in Chicago. The city’s mayor Rahm Emanuel tweeted that he was proud to host Mr Cook for Tuesday’s event.
Mr Cook concluded his presentation by highlighting the company's roots in the education sector, from the time it introduced its first Mackintosh.
“We love creativity and curiosity and we know that our products can bring out the creative genius in every kid,” Mr Cook said. “That’s why education is such a big part of who we are as a company, and has been for 40 years.”
“We’ve always believed people with passion can change the world,” he said. “We’ve never stopped believing in this.”