The Sixth-Generation iPad

30 March 2018

Apple:

Apple today updated its most popular iPad with support for Apple Pencil plus even greater performance, starting at $329. The new 9.7-inch iPad and Apple Pencil give users the ability to be even more creative and productive, from sketching ideas and jotting down handwritten notes to marking up screenshots. The new iPad is more versatile and capable than ever, features a large Retina display, the A10 Fusion chip and advanced sensors that help deliver immersive augmented reality, and provides unmatched portability, ease of use and all-day battery life.

At the event this week, Apple heavily pushed this as the iPad for education. If you escape Apple’s carefully crafted PR bubble, though, I don’t think the statement holds its weight. This is the iPad that education will lean towards buying en masse, but it’s not really designed for education use.

The new entry-level iPad is not that different to the model it replaces, the first $329 iPad from a year ago. The new model adds Apple Pencil support and upgrades the SoC to the A10 chip. These changes don’t address what schools want; ruggedness, reliability, lower prices. The Pencil stylus has some potentially cool uses for student learning but how are schools with stretched budgets expected to shell out a hundred dollars for an accessory that can’t even clip onto the tablet for safekeeping. These things are prone to getting lost and damaged.

If Apple truly made an education iPad, it would take on a different form. Maybe the edges of the device would be rubberised to protect against drops. It could have permanent ridges for a screen cover to attach, in a way that is more permanent and secure than the Smart Cover magnets. Maybe it would be made of plastic to bring the price down a bit lower.

The new iPad is a great update for general consumers. I cannot wholeheartedly say that Apple is going out of their way to address the needs of the education sector.

Look at what Logitech did with the Crayon. This is an Apple Pencil at heart, it uses the same sub-pixel precise technology, wrapped in a shell that is designed to be handled by a haphazard child. Unlike the Pencil, the Crayon can’t roll around a table because it is a more squared shape. The Crayon is made of rubber and plastic, it doesn’t have an exposed Lightning connector, the cap remains attached at all times, the delicate nib is protected by a rubber surround and can’t be replaced without the use of a special tool that presumably only teachers and the school IT department would possess.

Whereas the Pencil pairs to a specific iPad over Bluetooth, the Crayon uses a single RF frequency that allows it to connect ad-hoc to any iPad sixth-generation in proximity to it. A teacher can walk round a classroom of iPads and annotate someone’s work using a single Crayon, and then instantly move on to the next student and do the same to their iPad. That’s a major usability benefit for a classroom setting.

Oh, and the Crayon is $49, half the price of an Apple Pencil. The Crayon is a digital stylus for education. It incorporates what schools desire from a tablet stylus and ticks almost all the boxes.

The new iPad is cool and great all-rounder but I think there’s plenty of scope for Apple to make an iPad SKU that is even more different, a design that prioritises the needs of schools as a top objective, the iPad equivalent of the Crayon.