Today tight-lipped Apple announced it will hold an event in New York on January 19th centered around an enigmatic “education announcement.”
Since the vague announcement, I, like many others, have guessed at what they might cover as this event, and what it’ll mean for Apple. Well, dare I say, I think I know.
If you look back at Apple’s history in computing, much of their early success came from the classroom. My first encounter with a computer was an Apple II, followed by the Macintosh, and then came the dominance of Windows in the 1990s.
But Apple’s time is far from over. If you’ve been paying attention recently, the post-PC revolution is taking place before our very eyes. Desktop dinosaurs are more and more being replaced by tablets — often the iPad. And while Apple’s tablet has only been out for a couple years, the iPad’s already managed to infiltrate many classrooms.
Judging by the look of Apple’s invitation for the event, that’s a market they’d like to further tap.
But why the classroom? You needn’t look any further than Walter Issacson’s revealing biography of Steve Jobs, where Jobs uncharacteristically tipped his hand and told Issacson that the textbook business was the one he wanted to revolutionize next. Jobs’s idea, according to Isaacson, was to hire textbook writers to create digital versions of their books for the iPad.
According to Issacson, Jobs went beyond the brainstorming phase, even holding meetings with major publishers where he’d talk to them about possibly partnering with Apple. Once they were under his wing, he told them, textbooks could be given away for free on iPads, which would spare the publishers pesky (and costly) state certifications.
“We can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money,” Jobs said.
His plan wasn’t entirely altruistic, though. Obviously Apple would stand to sell millions more devices in such a scenario.
Jobs also believed states were due for weak(er) economies that could last as long as a decade, and he saw their impending misfortune as an opportunity to make his move.
And what a move it would be. Getting back into the classroom, into millions of them, would be a boon for Apple, and one that would deliver steady returns in an uncertain climate.
If Apple can convince book-obsessed schools and publishers that tablets, specifically its market-dominating iPad, are the way to go — admittedly, no small feat — it could set itself up for a Windows-like ubiquity that would pay off for the foreseeable future.
The iPad-over-PC argument is an easier case to make. Tablets have already put a dent in PC sales, a trend not even Apple’s Mac is immune from — although Apple CEO Tim Cook was quick to note that while “some customers chose to purchase an iPad instead of a Mac… even more decided to buy an iPad over a Windows PC.”
“There are a lot more Windows PCs to cannibalize than Macs,” Cook noted.
And given the infancy of tablets, the underway PC migration will likely pick up steam as new and more powerful iPads come out.
But I doubt Apple’s putting all its eggs in that basket. They don’t just want to be the tablet of choice among consumers — they want to be the tablet of choice among hospitals, businesses, and, critically, education.
Nobody knows for sure what Apple will show off next Thursday, but my gut tells me they’re looking to build on the iPad’s momentum with a long-term plan that could skyrocket the fortunes of a company that’s already looking down at its competition.