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Apple's March 2018 Education Press Conference - What to Expect

Apple has announced an education focused press event, scheduled to take place on the 27th March 2018. The announcement raises two questions - what will Apple announce and how will these announcements impact its position in the education market?

As a company, Apple has maintained a strong brand in education for decades. When 1:1 computing was first recognised as an emerging trend in schools, Apple was at the forefront of this development, holding a 50%> market share in sales of mobile computing devices* to US K-12 schools during 2012. More recently, competition in the sector has intensified with both Google and Microsoft increasing their focus on the education vertical, working in partnership with OEM’s like HP, Dell, Acer, Asus and Lenovo to offer compelling education focused solutions.

A review of where Apple has seen increasing competition in the school’s market offers some indication of what to expect from Tuesdays event.

Anybody familiar with Apple’s product line will know it is famed for its premium solutions and associated price points. Anybody familiar with the education sector will know budgets are an ongoing concern and increasingly pressured. Reconciling these two polarities has been a struggle for Apple and a challenge that has been compounded by increasing price competition from low cost Chromebook and Windows devices. With device adoption rising rapidly in recent years, it has not been uncommon for the price of Chromebooks in large US school district deployments to be discounted to $150 per unit. The lowest cost Apple devices start at nearly double that figure.  The comparatively high cost of MacBooks (typically $1000>) means Apple’s K-12 education proposition has focused primarily on tablets, with sales of iPad’s outstripping MacBooks by approximately 3 to 1. The introduction of a $299 iPad in 2017 saw some short term increases in demand amongst schools, and the rumoured introduction of a $259 iPad in 2018 may well be one of the key announcements at Tuesdays event. A lower cost Apple Pencil to compete with cheaper inking solutions offered by Microsoft and Google is also to be expected. When considering these reduced prices and the higher rate of residual value Apple devices hold VS competitor solutions, concerns around pricing are somewhat reduced.

But what about use case? One of the key drivers for device investment in the US market has been online testing. Low cost Chromebooks with their high level of manageability and clamshell design have enabled low cost and scalable deployments, as districts have scrambled to meet deadlines for digital assessment. Looking globally, similar trends can be seen in key markets like the Nordics and Australasia. Without an integrated keyboard, the iPad has struggled to compete with customers for whom online assessment has been a primary driver for investment.

Moves toward online testing put the tablet form factor increasingly in jeopardy. This threat is accelerated by the recent introduction of low cost convertible devices, notebooks with 360-degree hinges that offer the touch capabilities of a tablet and the keyboarding capabilities of a notebook. Windows and Chrome OS convertible solutions, specifically targeting the education vertical and priced at <$300, are already widely available and gaining an increasing share of the market. But what about MacBook? A sizeable proportion of Windows notebook business in the segment still sits in the $400-$600 category, largely servicing the secondary school market. Could a $600-$700 MacBook Air designed for education have an impact here? An announcement of this nature is possible, but more likely is a reinforced focus on the use cases for iPad in the classroom. This is where the richness of content within Apple’s App store provides the company some competitive advantages. Google’s moves to provide Android App’s for Chromebooks have been slowed down by technical issues, and the comparatively small size of the Windows phone market has limited investment in the Windows store by 3rd party content developers. Apple has invested heavily in promoting the use of iPad in coding and other STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math) related activities and working with content providers to develop creative use cases for computing in the classroom. Announcements concerning further partnerships in this area are something to look for on Tuesday.

Learning analytics and the role of data to inform personalised learning is another area where Apple has made early investments. Learning analytics is a hot topic and buzz word within K-12 education, but the adoption of dedicated platforms to support this at present is minimal. Apple is ahead of the competitive curve here, partnering with IBM to deliver the Watson Element App exclusively for iPad. The platform essentially works as a content recommendation platform for digital curriculum, considering a student’s learning style, academic goals and interests. In addition, Apple acquired institutional analytics provider Learn Sprout in early 2016. Institutional analytics solutions provide dashboards and reporting concerning the performance of a school, identify solutions to problems like dropout prevention and student intervention. Platforms of this type have been a high area of growth in the US market in recent years. Could we see a combined analytics solution evaluating both student and institution wide performance on Tuesday?

A discussion surrounding analytics feeds into a broader discussion about digital workflows in the classroom, Virtual Learning Environments and learning management. This is an area where Google, with Google Classroom and subsequently Microsoft, with an education focused version of Microsoft Teams have made significant investments. These platforms facilitate elements of classroom management, the distribution and collection of content and provide a digital interface for group collaboration between teachers and students. With its classroom App, Apple has focused on classroom control and device management and while the platform allows the sharing of links and content between students and teachers, group collaboration has not been a core focus of the platform. An updated Apple Classroom interface with advanced collaboration features and integrated with a learning analytics offering is something worth watching for on Tuesday.

Finally, Augmented Reality (AR) is another area of development that Apple is expected to discuss during Tuesdays event. Applications built using the companies AR Kit have been widely available since September 2017, and while a number of these are Education related, Apple is yet to communicate a clear strategy for the adoption of its AR Tech in classrooms. Contrastingly, both Google and Microsoft have set out stalls for the adoption of alternative reality technologies, Google through its VR and AR compatible virtual tour platform - Expeditions, and Microsoft, with its mixed reality solutions in partnership with leading educational publisher Pearson, amongst others.

So, to our second question. Could introductions such as these have an impact on Apple’s K-12 education market share? Theoretically, as the education technology market matures and the use case for devices in classrooms diversifies this should benefit Apples proposition. As the adoption of coding, digital tools for art and design and use of AR and Robotics becomes more common place, schools will be willing to pay for the richer feature sets that higher-end devices can offer. Conversely, as school infrastructure evolves, and schools gradually adopt cloud services, we could see the technical requirements for devices in the sector diminish, as the processing power sits increasingly within the cloud. Both Microsoft and Google are well positioned to take advantage of this development and are expected to promote further cloud adoption in future education strategies. In the long term, the rates of adoption for both digital curriculum and cloud services will heavily influence Apple’s position in the education market. In the short term, Futuresource believes that announcements like those outlined above will help Apple retain existing customers in the segment, and may bring some new schools to its stable, but it remains to be seen if these developments could create an immediate and significant shift in its competitive situation.

*Data included as part of report – K-12 market only, institutional sales not including 'Bring your Own'. Mobile devices only, (Notebook/Mac, Netbook, Tablet, Chromebook) not including Desktops. Please note, the term 'device shipments' refers to sales of devices at a certain point in time. It is not and should not be used as an installed based data point. 

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Megan Lovell

About the author

Megan Lovell

Megan Lovell is a Research Analyst at Futuresource Consulting and joined the company in 2018 after graduating from Loughborough university with a BSc in Economics.

Megan works within Education team and is responsible for researching and analysing the Global K-12 PC market. Megan writes quarterly reports tracking trends and developments within the mobile PC segment.

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