Last Thursday’s Apple event saw the long-predicted release of the iPad Pro – a super-sized version of the device designed to make the most of iOS9’s new features and to compete with more serious ‘business’ tablets like the surprisingly popular Microsoft Surface.
Usually a September post on here is devoted to deciding what Apple’s latest announcement means – is the fresh product hands-down better, or does the new lower pricing on the previous generation now make these the sensible choice? Well, not this year.
The iPad Pro is big, with a diagonal screen size of 12.9 inches – that makes it almost as big as two iPad Airs side by side – and it’s expensive too, especially once you add up the cost of the (optional, but actually pretty essential) Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. UK pricing isn’t available yet, but if you convert that little lot from their dollar pricing, a bottom-spec iPad Pro will cost around £700.
- Size matters in 1-to-1 environments. The thing has to fit into kids’ bags, for starters. Once that hurdle is overcome, children have to be willing to carry the thing around all day as well as to and from school, so weight is a critical issue. Finally, the device has to survive being slung into lockers and used as part of a lunchtime goalpost solution. All this means that a heavier, much larger and very expensive iPad will very probably upset the delicate balance that 1-to-1 schools find the ‘normal’ iPad manages to strike perfectly.
- £700?! Who’s got that kind of money for a tablet? Most state-sector 1-to-1 schemes rely heavily on parental contributions, spread over three years as part of a lease. The cost of an iPad Pro would push the typical monthly contribution up from the £9-14 mark to over £20. I think that would kill any such scheme dead in the water.
There is a niche argument that schools which currently give their sixth formers a different device entirely because of the need for a keyboard and true multitasking will now be able to offer the Pro as an alternative, whilst retaining the benefits accrued from a common app set, workflow and user skills. It’d have to be a pretty well-funded 6th form, however.
This is the area where I can see this device, and the new things it makes possible, having the greatest impact:
- The Apple Pencil is the accurate, ergonomic Interactive Whiteboard killer iPad schools have been waiting for . Even with a great whiteboarding app like Explain Everything, the standard iPad’s finger input is just too clunky and chunky to properly replicate the precision achieved on IWBs. Handwriting is really not comparable. A teacher equipped with an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, AirPlaying their screen to the classroom projector need never touch the whiteboard again and would be truly untethered from the front of the room.
- Most teachers like keyboards – it’s the text entry tool they’ve known longest. The need to write reports and other long forms of text often forces the most skilled iPad teacher to resort to a ‘proper computer’. The clever magnetic Smart Keyboard changes that. Gone are the 3rd party and 3rd rate Bluetooth ones some of us have struggled with; the switch from tablet to pretty close to laptop experience will be quick and good enough to mean that teachers (and classrooms) could lose that second device. Bye bye laptop, PC and separate ecosystems and all the frustration those bring.
- iOS9 has some very nice features that many teachers struggle to do without, such as the ability to have two programs open side by side so that you can see and work between both. The PC has done this forever, and it’s a major productivity benefit. The Pro’s screensize and new powerful chip mean that iOS9 can replicate the ability of a traditional computer when it needs to. Copy and Paste (a massive burden in iOS, in my opinion) should be much easier with the Pencil and Split View/ Slide Over.
When you consider that the biggest challenge for schools to overcome when making the shift to digital methods is change management of staff, the list above is actually rather important. £700 needn’t be quite the unscaleable barrier it first seems if you’re not purchasing any more PCs or laptops for teachers’ use. You could fairly comment that all that stuff is also possible on a Microsoft Surface, but I’ve yet to see a successful Windows tablet 1-to-1 and having teachers use the same tech that the children have access to is absolutely essential.
Overall, I don’t think the iPad Pro will trouble too many school IT departments in the near future, but for schools already making heavy use of the iPad, there are significant benefits to teachers and to teaching to consider. See you next September for the launch of iOS10 and the iPad Ultima (50″ diagonal, featuring back-straps and kick-stand).