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Apple expected to unveil lower-priced devices to compete with Google in education

  • Apple is hosting an education-themed event in Chicago on Tuesday.
  • Apple could unveil a 13-inch Retina MacBook and a cheaper 9.7-inch iPad.
  • While Apple products still get prominent placement in university bookstores, Google's low-cost Chromebooks have surged to over half of all computing devices shipped to schools.

Apple is expected to reveal a lower-price laptop and updated iPad at an education-themed event in Chicago on Tuesday, which could shore up Apple's defenses against Google's increasing presence in U.S. schools.

Apple is notoriously secretive about future product launches, and Tuesday's event is typically slim on details — no new products have been confirmed by the company yet. But bloggers at 9to5Mac have discovered code for a new developer framework called ClassKit and speculate that supply chain rumors of a cheaper iPad and MacBook make sense for schools buying in bulk.

In particular, 9to5Mac reports, Apple could unveil a 13-inch Retina MacBook and a cheaper 9.7-inch iPad. Less well-known are Apple's plans for the Apple Pencil, as well as usual spring updates to the iPhone SE and Apple Watch franchises. Another shoe left to drop for Apple is the announcement of a location for its newest campus.

Still, ClassKit, plus cheaper hardware, would show a big push from Apple in the education market, which has historically been a major investment area for the company. Bringing computers to college campuses was a project for Apple co-founder Steve Jobs inside and outside of his work at Apple, and digital textbooks was one of the original use cases that inspired the creation of the iPad, according to biographer Walter Isaacson.

While Apple products still get prominent placement in university bookstores, Google's low-cost Chromebooks have surged to over half of all computing devices shipped to schools. Apple says Tuesday's event is the company's way of listening to teachers.

The iPhone maker has also doubled down on other education-related initiatives. Apple's "Everybody Can Code" program, focused on mobile apps, recently expanded to 70 more colleges, and iPad devices host Swift Playgrounds, a code education platform. Apple also said in January it would fund 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai's women's education advocacy.

Tuesday event is also an opportunity to raise the curtain for WWDC, Apple's June software developers conference, where the company may announce updates to Siri and augmented reality tools.

SoundHound vice president Katie McMahon — formerly of Shazam, which was later acquired by Apple — said education has the potential to be one of the most important markets for smart assistants.

Augmented reality is another emerging technology that has potential in the educational market, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Cortney Harding, co-founder of the VR/AR agency Friends With Holograms, said that vocational training is already where many of the most promising apps are being made.

And that's yet another area where Apple needs to keep up with the competition. Google is already rolling out AR and VR content to teachers through its Expeditions program.