Why Window 8 Tablets Will Lose To The iPad In Education [Feature]

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Microsoft may try to challenge the iPad's place in the classroom, but time isn't on its side
Microsoft may try to challenge the iPad's place in the classroom, but time isn't on its side

The iPad became a big hit in the K-12 education market over the past year. Pioneering schools that brought Apple’s tablet into the classroom last school year proved that the iPad can be a excellent learning tool – one that has immense power to transform education.

As the new school year begins, and hundreds of thousands of students across the U.S. become iPad users thanks to one-to-one iPad deployments, there’s already talk that the iPad’s success in schools will be short-lived. The belief is that iPads will quickly be replaced by tablets running Microsoft’s Windows RT or Windows 8.

That assumption is absurd and delusional.

The iPad is an established product

The iPad has been around for the past two and a half years. It has been through its shakedown cruise. It has been vetted in the education, business and consumer markets. Ask someone on the street (or in a classroom) to tell you what an iPad is and even people who have never used one will be able to give you some description of it. Ask what Windows RT is and many consumers won’t have a clue (asking what a Surface is might net you somewhat better results). Even people who aren’t iPad users have probably encountered the device as a digital menu, as a cash register, in a doctor’s office, in church as a notebook or prompter for a minister, as a digital kiosk in a hotel, as an in-flight entertainment system, or in any number of other contexts. That’s tremendous brand awareness and appreciation and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

Plenty of robust iPad management solutions

Schools can tap into any of the dozens of mobile management suites.

One of the brilliant moves that Apple made with regards to iOS is that the company built a range of management and automatic configuration options into iOS but let other companies develop management and security tools that plugged into that framework. The result is a vibrant market of solutions that have been proven effective in the education and business world.

Schools can tap into any of the dozens of mobile management suites out there to ensure student iPads are secure and comply with school policies and government regulations. These tools can be used to deploy configuration changes, apps, and digital content as well as to secure iPads. A handful are even free and available for cash-strapped schools. All have robust documentation and support options.

That’s an incredible range of options and it means that schools have a wide range of choices to meet their needs, budget, and environment. At present, it isn’t even particularly clear what management options for Windows RT devices will be available. Microsoft has indicated there will be options, but they won’t include traditional tools like Active Directory policies (Windows RT can’t even join an Active Directory domain). What is certain is that, at least initially, the best management options will be those built by Microsoft. That means schools probably won’t have a lot of choices or price points for some time when it comes to managing Windows devices used by students.

It’s also worth noting that some of the iPad management options are also from companies that offer excellent Mac management technologies. Centrify, FileWave, and JAMF come immediately to mind – and all three companies offer truly superb solutions.

Education IT Familiarity

Teachers are the first line tech support for their students.

Given that the iPad is an established product, that it has been vetted by school districts, that it offers a range .of tried and true management solutions, and that it easily integrates with other Apple technologies like the Mac, OS X Server, Apple Remote Desktop, and Apple TV, it’s pretty easy to see that many school IT folks will be comfortable supporting the iPad. It will be a while before Windows RT or Windows 8 devices reach a similar level of comfort.

Teacher acceptance

Even more important than a school’s IT department feeling comfortable about the iPad is the question of how comfortable teachers are with the device. Teachers need to feel comfortable planning lessons, delivering content, and designing class projects around whatever device students are using – MacBooks, PC laptops, iPads, or other tablets. More importantly, teachers act as first line tech support for their students, something that requires an even deeper understanding of technology deployed in the classroom.

A new device with a new operating system and an unfamiliar interface isn’t going to be something teachers embrace easily. Professional development efforts will help. For schools the money and time require to ensure teachers are comfortable working with a device and can integrate it into their teaching style may be significant and cost prohibitive.

Teacher resources

One big advantage the iPad offers teachers goes hand in hand with professional development. There are tons of resources out there that teacher can access to learn how to make the most of the iPad as a learning tool. Those resources include forums and mailing lists, lesson plans, apps, ebooks, projects, and experiences of what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the classroom. These resources help teachers make the most of the iPad without requiring them to reinvent the wheel through trial and error. Similar resources around Windows tablets will almost certainly develop, but it will take time.

Education apps

One strength that iOS has afforded Apple since 2008 is the range, diversity, and sheer number of apps available – including the number of iPad apps. There is an incredible wealth of education apps out there for the iPad – more than 33,000.

There are more than 33,000 education apps for the iPad

Education apps include reference apps, study apps, note taking and sharing apps, learning games, and even classroom and class work management tools. They cut across every possible subjet and grade level. Are all of them going to be classroom must-have apps? Probably not. However, that wide a selection means that a number of them will be stand-outs.

Of course, that doesn’t take into account apps in other categories that have a lot of classroom potential. Categories like Reference, Productivity, Health and Fitness, News, Phone and Video, Music, and Business are all almost certain to yield dozens or hundreds of apps that also fit nicely into the classroom.

Windows 8 devices will be able to run legacy apps – including a range of education software. Windows RT devices, which are expected to be priced closer to the iPad, will not. It will take time before the range of apps designed for Windows RT gets anywhere near the selection available for the iPad. Even Windows 8 legacy apps may fall short when used on a tablet since they aren’t likely to be designed for a touch interface.

Digital Textbooks

iPad isn’t a clear standout when it comes to textbooks

Ironically, despite Apple’s education event in January and its move into the digital textbook (or e-textbook) market, this isn’t an area where the iPad is a clear standout over competing options. There are other K-12 e-textbook vendors that deliver multi-platform capabilities. Amazon’s textbook arm and Kno, which is making its first foray into K-12 e-textbooks, are two excellent options that can work on the iPad as well as on Windows devices. The Nookstudy service from Barnes & Noble runs on a Mac or PC but not on an iPad (iPad support is planned but with no time frame). At this point, these services offer only applications for Windows 7 and earlier, though that will probably change quickly.

Where Apple does have some leverage, however, may be in the ease of deployment of e-textbooks. JAMF’s Casper Suite, for example, can deploy titles from Apple’s iBookstore to iPads almost as if they’re apps. Apple also facilitates volume purchases distribution of ebooks and e-textbooks through its Volume Purchase Program for education. That simplifies the challenge for schools compared to other options and it essentially treats books as apps. While schools can use multiple options, for simplicity’s sake, many will likely standardize on one source of e-textbooks for simplicity’s sake.

Many schools have a long history with Apple products

More so than in most industries or professions, schools have a long history of being Apple customers. From the days of the Apple II through the various Mac models, many schools have remained loyal Apple customers. One impact of that long relationship is that Apple truly knows the education market and educators tend to trust Apple solutions.

Cost and procurement options

Apple’s education channel extends well beyond volume purchases of ebooks and apps. The company offers a range of finance options that include direct purchases, short and long term leases, and lease to purchase options. Having worked with many schools for years (or even decades), Apple has a keen insight into the financing needs and restrictions that are unique to the K-12 market.

Beyond the mechanisms of selecting and purchasing/leasing, Apple may have a cost advantage as well. At this point, Windows RT device pricing remains uncertain. It’s quite possible that the iPad 2, which Apple sells for $399 may be a cheaper option as well as an option that makes it easy to accurately estimate related costs like deployment, support, and infrastructure requirements. Windows 8 tablets are expected to be well beyond the iPad’s price points, which will make them a tough choice for education. That means, Apple may win with the iPad in education simply because it is less expensive up front and/or across total cost of ownership.

The iPad may win simply because it’s cheaper up front and in the long run.

Apple’s iPad releases are perfect for school

Schools plan their summer break upgrades and purchases during the spring. Purchases are often made before summer. That fits in perfectly with the Apple’s tradition of announcing and shipping iPads in an early spring time frame. It allows schools to bank on the newest and/or newly reduced iPad options and plan accordingly. The time frame also gives Apple enough time to replenish stock following a launch before schools need the new iPads to arrive.

The clock is ticking

All in all, Apple’s biggest advantage over Windows tablets in education is a matter of market presence. Apple got to the education market first with the iPad and Microsoft will need to play catch up. The problem for Microsoft is that as it tries to play catch up, time is ticking away and Apple is pushing forward.

Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets won’t be an option until the 2013 – 2014 school year. That gives Apple time to extend its lead by offering new device and app capabilities, expanding its selection of e-textbooks, offering additional education resources, and broadening the number of iPad models and price points available. All of that and the ongoing success of the iPad during this school year, will make the iPad more tempting than it is already.

Apple’s current success with the iPad in schools across the country also insulates it from losing ground to Windows devices. A school district like San Diego’s that has invested millions of dollars in thousands of iPads isn’t going to change course and start buying Windows tablets. The investment in devices, apps, e-textbooks, management tools, infrastructure systems, and teacher development is simply to big to dump the iPad because Microsoft developed an untested alternative.