If you thought Apple’s new iPad would be the one to finally challenge Google’s Chromebooks in the education market, you’ll probably be disappointed with the new 9.7-inch iPad that Apple announced Tuesday.
Although the new tablet adds support for Apple Pencil at a fraction of the cost of the cheapest iPad Pro ($650), the new 9.7-inch iPad doesn’t beat Chromebooks on the one thing that matters most to schools: price.
To recap, here are the main differences between the new 9.7-inch iPad and the previous generation:
it supports Apple Pencil
it has the A10 Fusion chip
it comes in a new shade of gold that’s slightly pinker (though not as pink as the original rose gold)
To be clear, these are all good features (even the new gold color is nice), but none fundamentally change the iPad in a way that suddenly makes them a must-have device for schools.
Instead, Apple made it abundantly clear that rather than compete on price, it’s placing its apps front and center. Sure, your Chromebook can handle the basics (and even a few apps), but even higher-end Chromebooks lack the flexibility of an iPad.
All that may be true, but Apple neglected the one detail that’d make its argument actually convincing. The iPad still costs too damn much. The new iPad will cost schools the same $299 (and $329 for regular consumers) as the last generation.
Worse still, the Apple Pencil only gets a $10 discount at $89 if you’re a school buying one. Add in a $99 Logitech keyboard case and that $299 iPad (which is just for the base 32GB model, by the way), quickly becomes a nearly $500 investment per student. That may not be a bad deal compared to the iPad Pro, but it is for anyone on a tight budget, especially schools.
Assuming you fall into the camp of those that can justify the cost, though, the new iPad does have a lot of potential.
Pencil support on a non-Pro iPad is a welcome addition and one that’s obviously a good fit for students and teachers. The pressure-sensitive Apple Pencil makes apps more interactive and engaging.
In my brief hands on, I tried out the Apple Pencil in Keynote as well as a third-party app. Features like palm rejection and pressure sensitivity worked just as well as they do on the iPad Pro. And, if you don’t want to shell put for Apple’s stylus, you could opt for Logitech’s new $49 Crayon stylus.
Under the hood, adding the A10 Fusion chip should make the latest iPad measurably faster than previous models (Apple says it boosts CPU performance by 40 percent and graphics performance by 50 percent).
And that extra efficiency would be put to good use with all the new classroom-centric apps Apple announced (and there are a lot). Speaking of software, Apple is obviously miles ahead of all the competition. It has hundreds of thousands of educational apps and new services like the Schoolwork app and features that make it easier to set up student accounts could easily be game-changing for teachers who do use iPads.
Still, it’s no iPad Pro. It’s equipped with first-generation TouchID tech and lacks support for 4K video, optical image stabilization, and a Smart Connector accessory port — all of which could make the tablet much more compelling. But, at $299 for schools (and $329 for regular consumers), it’s not quite budget-friendly either.
The new iPad is a solid tablet, and definitely worth considering if you’re due for an upgrade and don’t want to shell out for a Pro. But it’s not priced to compete with actual low-cost alternatives, even if it does have superior software.