Even with all of its brand recognition and affinity among young people, Apple has "fallen way behind Google Chrome and Microsoft" in K-12 schools, says Steven Kantorowitz, president of New York-based CelPro Associates.
Apple's new entry-level iPad for 2018, however, is aimed squarely at helping to close the gap. And it's a "great strategy," Kantorowitz said. Apple new iPad features support for the Apple Pencil digital stylus, significantly enhanced performance from the addition of the A10 Fusion processor and improved capabilities around education-friendly technologies such as augmented reality.
[Related: 5 Things To Know About Apple's New iPad]
"I think it's a great step for them. Students are so keen to want to use iPhones, as opposed to Android [phones], in the U.S. It's a very easy handoff to the iPad," Kantorowitz said.
At Boston-based iCorps Technologies, CEO Mike Hadley said the new iPad announcement represents Apple "starting to find their way" in the education market again.
"I think they're starting to maybe 'get it' – that it's time to catch up" in education, Hadley said. "It's nice to see Apple starting to catch up with the Chromebook and even the [Microsoft] Surface and those type of technologies. I think for a while, they haven't been too innovative. So it's a good step along the way."
While Apple will be keeping the same pricing for the new iPad as last yea – starting at $329 for consumers and $299 for schools – the company is aiming to differentiate from Chrome OS and Windows 10 devices with support for more education-oriented apps and a big boost in performance.
Apple said the inclusion of the A10 Fusion chip would provide a 40-percent leap in CPU performance and a 50-percent boost in graphics speed over the previous entry-level iPad, which featured the A9 chip. The performance increase should be a meaningful change for schools, Kantorowitz said.
"The faster, the better. Everyone wants faster. Everything is expected to be instantaneous now," he said. "Faster [performance] is very important … Maybe iPad is a little more expensive [than Chrome devices], but it offers much more and it's faster."
For the first time, Apple's entry-level iPad will work with the Apple Pencil digital stylus. Apple said the new iPad would feature the same support for Apple Pencil as the higher end version of the tablet, the iPad Pro.
The company also announced it would be building support for the Apple Pencil into new versions of the company's productivity apps--Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Apple didn't announce any updates for the Apple Pencil, which is sold separately for $99. But drawing and annotating with Apple Pencil should have plenty of applications for classroom activities and homework, according to Apple.
Meanwhile, the new iPad is also being targeted for use with other new education software. Apple said the forthcoming Schoolwork app, which will be released in June, will enable teachers to create assignments and view the progress of their students. Features in the Schoolwork app will include an easier method for creating and distributing assignments, called Handouts.
Overall, Apple said there are more than 200,000 iOS apps available for serving educational needs.
"The more apps you can use for your educational purposes, the better. That's going to appeal to the educators themselves, and the people that make decisions for these Apple products – that [the iPad] has the apps they're looking for," Kantorowitz said.
Additionally, Apple said it will provide 200 GB of free storage in iCloud to any student or teacher that has a Managed Apple ID.
Apple said the 9.7-inch screen on the new iPad will feature Apple's popular Retina display technology, while the tablet is specially outfitted for use with augmented-reality apps, thanks to an 8-megapixel camera and motion-tracking sensors such as an accelerometer and gyroscope.
Other key features include 10 hours of battery life, fast wireless capabilities (up to 300 Mbps over LTE) and support for Touch ID fingerprint recognition for authentication.
The new Apple iPad is available to order now in the U.S. and Canada, and shipping will begin "later this week," according to Apple.
About 58 percent of devices purchased by K-12 schools in the U.S. ran Chrome OS, according to research firm Futuresource Consulting. On Monday, Acer and Google announced they are teaming up to introduce the first Chrome OS-powered tablet, the Acer Chromebook Tab 10, which will target the K-12 education market and also be priced at $329.
"Given that Google and Acer announced a Chrome tablet, I see this move by Apple as definitely a necessary defensive move to preserve their market share in K-12 education," said Allen Falcon, CEO of Westborough, Mass.-based Cumulus Global.
"Historically, with the over 2,000 schools we've worked with, iPads have really remained in the pre-K through grade three or four level--sort of the pre-keyboarding age, with the move to Chrome and other devices as the kids get older," Falcon said. "The announcement that Chrome would now come in this touch tablet form, with the ability to run Android apps, was a threat to Apple, and it looks like Apple is responding."