APPLE’S latest announcement looked like something out of a teen movie.
Rather than holding the event in a pristine, glass auditorium, chief executive Tim Cook chose a historic Chicago high school.
And rather than showing off its new iPad on white marble slabs, it handed out class schedules to attendees and asked them to participate in coding, music and video classes with the new product.
The unusual approach certainly demonstrated Apple’s point: this is a device designed for schooling and, used the right way, has the potential to make maths, science, English and music more interactive and less scribble-in-the-corner-of-your-notebook-while-waiting-for-the-bell-to-ring.
It also quietly addressed Apple’s thinking behind the new iPad: It’s an entry-level device designed for students, and not a redesigned, revamped, souped-up portable computer.
The biggest change to Apple’s new student-friendly tablet computer is that it can be used with an Apple Pencil for notes, fine control, photo editing and graphic design.
The Pencil is not new to all iPads, of course, but the fresh addition will mean you no longer have to buy a more expensive Pro edition to scribble digital notes.
The new addition 9.7-inch iPad also features an A10 Fusion computer chip that will deliver more multimedia-heavy experiences.
These include augmented reality apps like the one that lets students digitally dissect a frog — an important addition for amphibians and squeamish students alike.
Students will also be able to create digital books on this new Apple iPad for the first time, complete with Harry Potter-style embedded videos and photo galleries — something that until now had been the exclusive domain of Apple laptop and desktop computers.
And that’s the real key with Apple’s big education push — it’s not really about the hardware, but the software.
The new iPad is the same size, has the same screen, uses the same sensors, and boasts the same eight-megapixel camera as the model it replaces.
It even has the same price, from $469, which is probably the biggest disappointment for potential iPad buyers and put-upon parents.
But what appears on screen of this bookish iPad is more likely to impress.
The company has more than 200,000 educational apps in its store.
Its newly announced Classbook app will let teachers assign students specific tasks within an app — no more faded, photocopied worksheets crammed into backpacks.
The Classroom app will also let teachers open or lock down a room full of iPads, or check on students’ progress.
And the free Everyone Can Create curriculum has the potential to make projects much more interesting than cutting and glueing paper collages.
Together with keen teachers, these apps have the potential to change the way students learn, and even what they carry to school.
If you’re not a student, not seeking to equip one, and you’re not sold on the Apple Pencil, however, this low-key iPad upgrade is not for you.
Its hardware additions are modest, and you’re probably better off looking for a discounted version of the tablet it replaces rather than the new one. You might not even be able to tell them apart in a line-up.