Apple's Back to the Mac...nothing to see here, folks

Apple's Back to the Mac...nothing to see here, folks

Summary: Sigh. And here we thought we might see a new MacBook Air that schools could really sink their teeth into.

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TOPICS: Apple, Hardware
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It's little secret that I've become a pretty big fan of Mac hardware and software. The prices, as Windows fans will happily tell you, are hard to swallow and even I struggle to recommend universal deployments of Macs in school when Apple's idea of entry-level is a $650 Mac Mini (educational price) to which you need to add your own monitor and input devices and still runs on aging Intel Core processors. And today's Back to the Mac event, unfortunately, did very little to make Macs a more compelling choice for schools.

Kids are destructive. Not all of them, of course, but enough of them are that schools need to consider both costs and durability when they're purchasing computer hardware. Our local school district has too many Classmates badly damaged or destroyed by careless or malicious students. Classmates are designed to withstand the rigors of use in remote villages, deserts, and rain forests, but a bunch of Massachusetts elementary students have managed to break screens, strip keyboards of their keys, and otherwise render them useless.

My point? How wise is it to spend $949 (educational pricing on their base model) on a new MacBook air for students? I won't argue the durability of Macs. They're pretty tough and the unibody aluminum enclosures and SSDs on the MacBook Airs announced today go a long ways towards ruggedization. But I could buy two or three netbooks for every 11" MBA. And aluminum or not, a student bent on mischief (or one who has succumbed to the nation's obesity epidemic and manages to sit on the computer, which happens more often than one might think) is going to destroy a thousand dollar computer just about as effectively as they will a $250 netbook. The only difference is that schools won't have the budget to replace them.

The new MacBook Air actually isn't a terrible choice for high school students if a school or school district is looking at a 1:1 program given their easy portability, the tendency of older students to be slightly less destructive than their elementary and middle school counterparts, and the great iLife software that's included. Instant on, long battery life machines that are loaded with good software and fit easily on a tiny desk aren't bad things. Again, as a highly portable machine for the average liberal arts college student, it isn't a terrible choice either. At least the aluminum would ensure that it could survive most backpacks.

However, when the $899 MacBook (again, educational pricing) features much more storage space (those videos students like to create aren't small), a larger screen, great battery life, and hardware that will run that cool new version of iLife much better, the MacBook Air remains a non-starter in education. Notice that I mentioned the average liberal arts student above as a possible user of the Air. As Jason O'Grady pointed out, even with the performance enhancements inherent in the solid state drives on the new MBAs, the machines are not going to cut it for producing any serious content, running the new version of AutoCAD that's coming to OS X, or crunching any numbers.

Next: Isn't there anything a school could get excited about? »

The one bright spot from today's even was the update to iLife that I've been mentioning. Rachel King details the enhancements, but, long story short, it's a major upgrade. $29 a seat (academic) to upgrade to the latest version is relatively small money if you're only a year or two into the life of Macs you've already deployed. It's also another argument in favor of Macs over PCs if you happen to be on the fence ahead of a tech refresh. Most analysts tagged it as a serious improvement over the tools available natively in Windows 7 Ultimate and the ability to create multimedia content is incredibly important both from a 21st Century learning perspective and from a student motivation point of view.

Is iLife worth the price of entry for new Macs versus PCs in your schools? Alone it's not, but if your curricular needs lean towards creativity and multimedia, then iMovie '11 and Garageband '11 are both quite compelling. Music programs will be begging for these, as will media specialists and progressive teachers who would rather their students create podcasts or videos than yet another PowerPoint. In settings like these, the cost of PC hardware and software capable of doing justice to more serious content creation starts to approach Apple prices. Suddenly the software value-add of OS X and iLife '11 means that Macs should be on your short list.

Today's event was far more interesting to the educational market in terms of iLife than the new, widely rumored MacBook Air. Many of us were hoping for a new Air that was priced much closer to the iPad, making it more realistic for computer carts and 1:1. Maybe next year. Or maybe we just need to wait for some cheap Android tablets to meet most of our 1:1 needs.

Topics: Apple, Hardware

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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22 comments
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  • Pathetic Product

    This is a pathetic computer.
    trickytom3
  • Durability, cheap price. Pick one.

    end of line
    frgough
  • The MacBook Air isn't and has never been positioned for Education

    While it's true that it would be nice if Apple had lower priced units for Education, why complain that the MacBook Air doesn't align well for education?<br>It isn't targeted towards that market. The use of all-flash memory increases the cost. It's an ultra-portable.

    I'd really hoped to see more about the next OS X release--they barely showed it.
    staggie
    • RE: Apple's Back to the Mac...nothing to see here, folks

      @staggie Agreed. Chris says in the summary "And here we thought we might see a new MacBook Air that schools could really sink their teeth into." Who're the "we"? I never thought the Air was aimed at the school market.
      DJL64
    • RE: Apple's Back to the Mac...nothing to see here, folks

      @staggie I think you highlighted where Chris and today's educators struggle: they have a difficult time choosing between pragmatism and doing what's right; in my case, I tripled my productivity by switching to Mac about 3 years ago! Thus, I strongly feel that our schools shouldn't emulate "traditional corporate America" by seeing their students as a flock of sheep!<br><br>In general, I don't agree with Chris that his "mass market junk" would be as engaging as a MacBook Air ( I tried one today and they rocked; bright screens; quick; efficient; and they come loaded with programs like Grapher and a Dictionary ) !<br><br>So please don't adulterate my educational experience with a PC!
      mrminnman
  • RE: Apple's Back to the Mac...nothing to see here, folks

    Aaaand... Yet another blog on zdnet from someone who has zero understanding of what a subnote is about. PC subnotes get this kind of clueless feedback too.

    Objectivity is a requirement in reporting. A SUBNOTE is not for doing AutoCAD or handing out to thousands of high school kids. Nor is it for grandmas who want to check an email once a month. It is for mobile professionals. Period. Full stop.

    If you are the target market, or if you are able to envision use cases beyond your own specific narrow view, then it makes sense.

    The difference between 6lbs or even 4lbs and 2.3 lbs is HUGE. The difference of a real proc vs an Atom is huge. The difference of discrete video vs integrated is huge. Combining these in a sub 8" deep, sub 3lb package with a full keyboard is the holy Grail.

    My tri-SLI i7 extreme desktop with 3 3D displays can do a lot that no notebook can do. A 17" monster can do a lot a sub note can't. A net book can do certain things cheaper than anything outside of a phone.

    A subnote can do a bit of everything with UNBEATABLE portability and reasonable power. You pay a premium for that. Is this so friggin hard to comprehend?

    EVERY subnote faces this endless useless critique. Just write endless articles critiquing the SEGMENt then. It would be like critiquing a bugatti for not supporting 3rd row seating!
    mlambert890@...
    • RE: Apple's Back to the Mac...nothing to see here, folks

      @mlambert890@...
      What the hell are you blathering on about?
      Droid101
    • Sense....

      @mlambert890@...

      Your post made none.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • Back when the Macintosh dominated ...

    ... the education market (the late 1980s), the IBM PC and the Macintosh were comparable in price and the Macintosh offered a far superior GUI.

    About that same time, IBM "divorced" Microsoft and quit making desktop PCs. It is a much different world today. Windows 7 and MacOSX are very comparable operating systems and OEMs are competing tooth-and-nail to make inexpensive hardware utilizing the latest Intel processors. Apple cannot compete with these OEMs.

    Windows OEMs sell Core 2 Duo processors on their entry-level hardware while Apple puts these same aging processors on their mid-priced hardware (which compares in price to most OEMs high-end offerings.

    In the end, re-capturing the educational market is no less difficult for Apple than finally capturing a piece the enterprise market.

    Can they do it? I doubt it.
    M Wagner
  • I think the Air is genius!

    From what I read, Apple has a killer product for education with the iPad at $ 600 (it will change the world of education, blah, blah, blah) - and then the students need to write a paper, or teleconference with a web cam, or protect the glass screen, or exchange something with an USB memory... and voila! for just $ 300 more you can have all that!
    Roque Mocan
  • Let's see...

    I can get a MacBook Air for $999; spec it up to usable hardware and it's $1299.

    I can get an ASUS U33JC with better graphics capability, better battery life, better CPU and a larger (albeit spinning platter) hard drive for $850.

    They're both subnotebooks, they're both lightweight with good battery life. The ASUS U33 isn't as slim-down-sexy...but it is very attractive (and also has an aluminum unibody frame).
    Ad Astra
    • ASUS U33JC has way weaker battery life, actually

      @Ad Astra: to be correct.
      DDERSSS
      • RE: Apple's Back to the Mac...nothing to see here, folks

        @denisrs
        Liar.
        Droid101
      • Battery life

        @denisrs What I think Droid101 means is, "show me the data." Of course, he could have been a bit more tactful, but someone who is a droid may not have that ability. ;-)
        levinson
      • RE: Apple's Back to the Mac...nothing to see here, folks

        @Droid101
        That pretty hypocritical coming from you.
        @levinson
        Why should he have to? The information is 30 seconds away via a simple search. While the Asus gets about 10 hr on idle, this is with nothing going on, the graphics chip turned off, etc.. The average life in actual use seems to average around 3 hours and a bit. Check Computer Shoppers review, PC Magazine, etc..

        @Droid1010

        Again, you were saying?
        DeusXMachina
  • They're not as durable as you think they are.

    [i]I won?t argue the durability of Macs. They?re pretty tough and the unibody aluminum enclosures and SSDs on the MacBook Airs announced today go a long ways towards ruggedization.[/i]

    In fact I've seen nothing to demonstrate they're any more durable than other laptops.
    ye
    • But then, you never see anything...

      Go figure.
      zkiwi
  • My company is divesting itself of all Apple product permanently

    And we waited too long. On to real computers with Blu-ray and not crappy breakable toys.

    Apple customers: enjoy your slinkys.
    xbjllb
    • RE: Apple's Back to the Mac...nothing to see here, folks

      @xbjllb
      Good riddance.
      DeusXMachina
  • RE: Apple's Back to the Mac...nothing to see here, folks

    is good if you are an adult with some cash, need a very portible latop, and has acquired a taste for efficiency. The mac trackpad with multi touch interface is just superior to any other LAPTOPs.
    m3kw9