My Apple sales rep (I'm afraid I sound like the anti-Mike Cox here) emailed me last week to see if I was available for a meeting today to touch base and discuss what Apple had to offer for education in the coming year. It is planning time for FY10, after all, and my budgets are quickly solidifying. Besides, as I noted in a post last week, despite my growing disillusionment with Apple, I like the guy and keep hoping to hear something that will restore my faith in the company.
So we talked today and, although he didn't have much to offer me in the low-cost computing space (it's Apple, after all), there were a few nuggets that might keep Apples visible in my district for some time to come. Did he rekindle my love for Apple and my faith in their educational offerings? Not exactly. However, it was clear that there are spaces where the Apple ecosystem, as well as some individual products can offer a lot of value for educators. It also remained clear to me that Apple has no interest in the low-cost space, where many of us simply have to do business.
So what's good, interesting, or otherwise worthy of consideration? XServe and OS X Leopard have always seemed like an impressive set of tools. Over winter break, Apple will be setting up an XServe for me to test its "content repository" capabilities, in particular its ability to host wikis, websites, blogs, and podcasts. I'll report back, but the native "collaborative services", as Apple calls them could work very well in a variety of K-12 settings.
No matter how disillusioned I might be with Apple in the Ed Tech sector, nobody can deny that Macs make content creation very easy. The iLife suite practically begs kids to publish work, without worrying too much about the nuts and bolts. Obviously, plenty of software for those who want to dig into the nuts and bolts runs natively on OS X. As my rep pointed out, many schools are quickly replacing vocational-technical labs with media labs and I will certainly admit that Apples are priced competitively for this sort of use (comparable PCs designed to handle multimedia content creation are similar in price to 20" iMacs and certainly aren't as easy to use for this application).
Finally, the breadth if content available for free via iTunes and the Apple Learning Interchange is fairly impressive. This content can easily be placed on iPods, as can a variety of content created by instructors with the iLife suite. Interestingly, a Bretford iPod touch cart can now be had, replacing laptop carts in certain applications where hearing or seeing multimedia content (like a language lab) is more important than creating content.
My rep also touted the service and support, including systems engineers and design engineers, available to educational institutions.
All well and good, of course, but if I can't afford the price of entry, what good is any of it to me? Obviously, I won't be making movies on netbooks, either, but I can get a lot of computing resources to students via really cheap computers that are widely available now.
Apple products aren't for everyone or every application. In fact, I still maintain that without a low-cost laptop and/or thin client solutions, Apple is really pricing themselves out of K-12 education. That being said, in areas like multimedia labs or workgroup/web servers where you're going to drop some cash anyway, Apple has some products that are still worth a look and may actually provide considerable value. As usual, it's about defining needs and determining the solutions that best satisfy those needs. Many times those needs will be met with netbooks or ultra-cheap desktops; sometimes, they just might be met by Macs.