Hands-on with Apple's new 9.7-inch iPad for education
I am not cheap. When making technology purchase decisions, I've often bought very expensive devices. But I'm practical. When I buy something that's pricey, it's because it's what I need to do my job.
For example, it's been almost five years since I bought my current main computer, a 2013 iMac. I spent a whopping $3,700 for that machine, but it's been worth every penny. While previously, I'd tended to need to upgrade my main machine every 18-months or so, this machine has lasted more than three upgrade cycles.
It's my care in purchasing that has led me to avoid buying into the iPad Pro line. Oh, I have no doubt we'll eventually get the 12.9-inch model, but that will be for my wife's use, not mine. She wants it to read scanned-in books, and for that, the 12.9-inch model is perfect.
But, for me, the Pro models are too expensive. Unlike my desktop computers, which remain where they're planted, and smartphones, which are carried everywhere in their ruggedized cases, my tablets are often subjected to torture.
I use my tablets in the shop, where the concrete floor is just waiting to kiss the screen of an unsuspecting tablet. I use my tablets in specialty frames and jigs for filming work, swapping them from frame to jig rapidly and without the protection of a case.
I also use my tablets in the field, to help monitor drone flights. They bang around in the car, hook precariously to modified controller mounts, and sometimes land, face-down, in the mud.
My tablets are my computing workhorses. Spending $650 to $1,000 or more on iPad Pro tablets would simply be unwise. These things need to be inexpensive, because there's a better than even chance that they won't last out the year.
Yes, I could purchase even more inexpensive Android tablets, but there is a price/performance issue. I used to have a couple of Google Nexus 7 tablets, which were great when they came out. Over time, however, they became too slow, and then Google dropped the product.
By contrast, everything supports the iPad. Last year, I bought the then-new iPad, a relatively inexpensive device at $329. For me, it was an excellent purchase. I didn't miss most of the power of the iPad Pro, and the device was subjected to all manner of abuse, ranging from a cross-country road trip to hanging it from the ceiling attempting to get a fourth camera shot for one of my videos.
But one thing was missing: Pencil support. I have always wanted a tablet with a good stylus. In fact, way back in 2002, I bought an Acer Tablet PC running Windows XP Tablet Edition. It was terrible, but it was also 16 years ago.
Over the years, I've experimented with styli, but the palm recognition was always sub-par. Not so with the Apple Pencil. The Pencil appears to be the best implementation of a stylus we've seen, and it's fully aware that your hand is going to be rubbing on the screen because that's how you hold a pencil.
Last year's cheap iPad did not support Pencil. The new iPad, announced yesterday by Apple, does. In fact, the new iPad also has an A10 chip, so it's going to be as fast (or nearly as fast -- we haven't yet seen benchmarks) as the iPad Pro.
For me, for my usage model, this new iPad meets a trifecta of requirements: it supports Pencil, it's fast, and it's relatively cheap. It is, quite literally, the iPad I've always wanted.
I'm predicting that this new iPad portends well for a new iPad Pro. The specs on the new $329 iPad are just too close to the specs of the $650 iPad Pro. There's likely to be some changes, probably at either WWDC or next fall.
Before I close out this article, I wanted to share a few additional thoughts about yesterday's Apple Education announcement.
I'd like to give a shout out to the entire Apple Education team. Watching the announcement of the updated Classroom, Schoolwork, and ClassKit actually brought a tear to my eye. No, for real.
Back in 1988-1990, I headed up a team at Apple (amusingly, my official title was Godfather) working on a HyperCard-based project called Educator Homecard. When Apple introduced the substantially more powerful HyperCard 2.0, the killer app was Educator Homecard, a tool for helping teachers manage classrooms, students, and assignments.
Back then, we didn't have the internet. We didn't have much networking at all. We had screens that were 512x342 resolution and black and white. We barely had graphics and animation.
But we had imaginations. My 14-person team looked far into the future and we saw then what Apple actually demonstrated yesterday. We saw portable notebooks (what we thought we'd call tablets). We saw networks of students. We saw centralized management. We saw deep assignments into apps (we called them stacks).
We saw it all. We just were 30 years ahead of the technology. Yesterday, when I saw Apple proudly show off what they had built for teachers and students, I realized that the DNA of all that work we did back in the dark ages still lived on, grew, and has taken on an amazing life of its own.
It was a thrill for me to see where Apple had gone, where the technology had taken us over the course of three decades. I'm excited to see where the technology -- and the drive, excitement, and innovation of teachers, students, and innovators -- will take us over the next 30 years.