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Apple aims to school rivals with new iPad, education apps

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    Apple CEO Tim Cook smiled as he watched a demonstration on the new iPad at an Apple educational event at Lane Technical College Prep High School, today, in Chicago.

CHICAGO >> Apple wants to play a more prominent role in education, but it isn’t willing to cut prices to make the grade.

Instead, Apple is clinging to a thesis that has helped turn it into the world’s most valuable company: Our products are more expensive, but they’re worth it.

The company today introduced a variety of features tailored for teachers and students while keeping the price for its cheapest iPad tablet unchanged, even as budget-strapped school administrators have been turning to cheaper devices powered by software from Google and Microsoft.

The new iPad starts at $329 for the mass market and $299 for schools — the same as last year’s model. Apple is adding the ability to use its digital pencil to write and draw on the screen of the new iPad — something previously limited to its more expensive line of iPad Pro tablets. The pencil costs $99 extra, or $89 for schools.

By contrast, most Google Chromebooks sell for $200 to $250, though there’s no pencil option.

Apple is also rolling out a new educational app called Schoolwork to help teachers make assignments and monitor their students’ progress.

And it’s offering teachers and students 200 gigabytes of free storage through its iCloud service so they can access documents, photos and other digital content from any internet-connected device. Apple normally offers 5 gigabytes for free and charges $3 per month for 200 gigabytes.

As it often does, Apple resorted to some theatrical staging to help convey a message. In an unusual move, the Silicon Valley company held its annual springtime event at a Chicago high school to highlight its renewed emphasis on education — a niche that Apple has long focused on to get kids hooked on its products with the hope of converting them into life-long customers.

In 2017, laptops and tablets running Google’s Chrome or Android system accounted for nearly 60 percent of the mobile computing devices sold in classrooms from kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the research firm Futuresource Consulting. Microsoft’s Windows devices ranked second with 22 percent of the market, followed by Apple’s iPad and Macintosh laptops. That’s a reversal of fortune from 2013, when Apple held a 50 percent share of mobile computing in U.S. classrooms.

Technology analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights believes Apple will have to lower prices to reclaim its perch because “schools want low-cost solutions that are very simple to use.”

“I think Apple moved the ball forward, but I don’t see districts swapping out Chromebooks or PCs en masse,” Moorhead said.

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