Apple has been all over the financial news lately because of a lower-than-anticipated 4th Quarter financial report and a slow start to 2013 which has seen them cut their orders for iPhone 5 components in half. There is a lot of speculation about the reason for the drop off in Apple's growth ranging from increasing popularity of Android devices, to the lingering effects of the passing of Steve Jobs and an inability of Apple's new leadership to pull off new product reveals with the same level of anticipation and drama.
While I have no real insight regarding Apple's financial state, consumer preference, or the effects of losing Steve Jobs on the company, I do have some insight into one possible reason for Apple's declining sales and somewhat waning popularity. In my opinion, Apple has failed to make their products available for education in a way that would not only improve their image and sales, but that would allow them to capture generations of new learners. This lack of foresight, as much as anything else, is responsible for Apple's current lag in sales.
Here's how Apple has missed this valuable opportunity and a suggestion about what they could do to recover their image with educators while helping to change education forever at the same time.
The Price is Not Right!
It is common knowledge that Apple's devices are more expensive than machines from other vendors with comparable specifications. As a former video producer and media developer, I am well aware of both the excellence of Apple's products and the cost. That said, I have had a very specific platform divide in my life, using Apple products for business and PCs for personal use, simply because of the level of technology I can get for the same price on the PC side. For example, my current desktop replacement laptop with an 18" screen cost me more than $1,000 less than an Apple machine with comparable specs.
Take that cost difference and multiply it by the thousand or more machines needed to fill a school district's computer labs and the cost very quickly becomes an impossible obstacle in all but the wealthiest districts. One alternative is for districts to go to less expensive tablets for their main computer, but, despite great advances, iPads simply are not perceived as equal to working on a full-function PC. Even if schools were to consider going to tablets over traditional computers, there are less expensive options than those produced by Apple.
I recently took an opportunity to use a Samsung Galaxy Tab for several weeks and was able to compare it to our family iPad. While I prefer the iPad, the price difference between the two platforms is significant, with the Samsung costing more than $100 less than the entry level iPad. And the Samsung line is one of the more expensive Android tablets. By comparison, a Nabi 2 tablet costs as little as $130 on sale, runs the full Android operating system and performs comparably to the Samsung. In short, schools can purchase almost any device or computer for less than a comparable Apple device. In a time of school budget cuts and oppressive reductions in funding, saving hundreds of dollars per device is an absolute necessity for schools.
Don't Make Us Feel Bad!
Every person who is about to purchase a new tech toy has wondered if they should wait for the next version to come out. Invariably we make the purchase and are frustrated weeks or months later when the newer version of our had-to-have-it device comes out and is much improved. Apple has mastered this process, possibly even raising it to an art form with their highly anticipated release announcements and rock star like events. There is a name for what they do, it is called planned obsolescence, and it is simply the idea that the company producing a product has an actual agenda to make your product no longer work or to make it unfashionable within a limited amount of time. Schools simply cannot play this game.
One facet of planned obsolescence that affects both PCs and MACs is the very real problem of performance slowdown caused by software bloat. This is fairly complicated, but the short version is that, as new computers are released, software developers update their products to utilize new capabilities. This constant updating makes older machines obsolete or painfully slow to use. For example, I recently attempted to install an app on my 4-year-old iPod and received an error message telling me that my "retro" device could not run the program. In schools that are already operating on a tight budget, this is a major problem and the combination of the higher initial cost of MACs and the challenge of modifying their internal components makes them extremely impractical for the education sector.
Another issue that Apple is particularly guilty of with their latest release of new devices with "updated" connection ports, is that they have made other peripherals obsolete. In my case, having purchased a new iPod Touch has rendered three docks that I already had in my home useless UNLESS I spend $30-40 for adapters to allow my new device to connect to this now outdated technology. I could conceivably need to spend an additional $120 just to make my new device work with perfectly good speaker docks that are now worthless. Multiply this kind of expense by the hundreds or even thousands of devices in any school district and you see a perfect example of why most schools simply cannot embrace Apple as their technology provider.
Save Yourself! Save the World!
The sad part about Apple's inability to operate within the financial limitations of education is that I absolutely believe that Apple produces a better product for learning and schools. They tend to be more straightforward to use in most instances and have a plug-and-play ease-of-use that makes them ideal for those who may not be tech savvy. They also provide nice packaging and features which make them appealing to young and old users alike and an ability to create custom apps given a little basic know-how. Fortunately for both Apple and education there is a simple solution to this problem.
Apple can solve their own image issue and simultaneously win the hearts of every administrator, teacher, and student with one simple step – give every American student an iPad or iPad Mini. This is, of course, an outrageous proposal in a capitalist economy, but hear me out. It is obvious how this would help education and students: lower technology overhead for schools and increase technology literacy for students, and it could be a realistic possibility for the world's most profitable company if they roll out the initiative over the course of the next ten years.
For starters the donations of this technology would be tax deductible to some extent. Secondly, every teacher and administrator would become hooked on the Apple App Store and the products in general not only because of the inherent fun and coolness of the things you can do on an iPad, but because of the overwhelming feelings of gratitude and loyalty that the donation would inspire in these folks. Finally, providing every American child with their own "i" device would set the stage for many of them to become lifelong Apple devotees. In fact, such an idea probably should be illegal, as it would create an unfair competitive advantage over every other technology manufacturer.
Apple may be going through some tough (by their standards) times at the moment. This is probably part of the normal ebb and flow of business. But they might consider taking this as a sign to boost their overall health as a company and make the United States the most connected country in the world all in one fell swoop. It would be the kind of bold and imaginative move that former Apple genius Steve Jobs would have come up with.