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Apple Education: "I'm Not Dead," (Yet)
by Steve Wood
April 30, 2001

   

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For those of you who are too young or not sick enough to appreciate the humor of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I'll explain the title. In the Holy Grail film, bodies are being collected on carts in the streets of Europe during the Black Death. One man carried from his home says, "I'm not dead!" (The sick humor comes in when the cart driver clobbers him on the head and throws him onto the cart anyway.)

Like the character from the film, Apple Education is showing signs that predictions of its demise may be premature. Apple's Educational sales have certainly been sick of late in comparison to Dell and others, but the educational sales division of Apple Computer, Inc. isn't taking it lying down. That is to say, His Steveness has finally given his royal permission for Apple Ed to begin to truly compete for educational sales in some situations.

In February I published a column, Educational Sales & Profits Down? Why Not Just Raise Prices? that suggested that Apple has given up on the educational market. Apple's behavior in replacing the $799 entry-level iMac with a $849 model, their general neglect of the market, and their specific lackluster service for my school and others had me totally dismayed.

Indigo iMacOn Saturday, March 10, 2001, Apple Computer quietly revised its educational price lists, returning its entry-level Indigo iMac offering to an educational pricing of $799 for both individuals and K-12 institutions. While not the price cut in entry-level iMacs that is needed to reclaim some of its lost market, it represents a modest move in the right direction, leaving the door open for a truly competitive $599 entry-level Mac sometime in the future.

Just a few days earlier, I'd received a call from Mandy Monroe from Apple Education in Austin. Her call came in less than 48 hours after I'd published the column. Unfortunately, the call came in over a month after I'd written a fairly impassioned, and up to then, unanswered, appeal for help to Apple's new Vice President for Education Marketing and Solutions, Cheryl Vedoe. The call also came four months too late to save our elementary Mac lab, which is now populated with dreary Duron equipped computers and Windows 98.

Mandy wanted to know, chapter and verse, what was wrong and what was needed. There was absolutely none of the legendary Apple arrogance in her approach. She was friendly, informed, businesslike, and clearly wanted to be an ally in recapturing my school system which was straying from the Macintosh camp. Many also made contact with several other teachers on our staff, getting a well rounded view of the situation.

She spoke with conviction of the "new spirit" at Apple Education. While talking to her, I wondered if I were being swept into the "Monroe Reality Distortion Field." If I was, I was loving it. Someone at Apple was going to expend considerable effort in trying to sell computers to my school. In the past, Apple Ed's marketing efforts had been limited to an occasional sales email and a couple of nasty flames from an area Apple engineer! I found myself beginning to hope that we might actually see some new iMacs to replace our aging fleet of Macs.

Within a week of Mandy's initial call, our technology coordinator, otherwise known as the Evil NT Techie, had in hand a hard offer for up to 75 of the now discontinued 350 MHz iMac at $599 per unit. This machine had carried both a retail and educational price of $799 until Apple replaced it with the old $999 400 MHz iMac at a retail price of $899 and an educational price of $849.

To back up its claims, Apple loaned the techie an older style 450 MHz Indigo iMac with 128 MB of RAM. Seeing an iMac in the techie's office warmed my heart, but unfortunately, some of the old Apple rhetoric somehow crept back into their sales approach, as the techie wrote me:

Mandy is going to have to do better than what she is doing to sell me an iMac. She would sell me 1 for $799. She is starting the "400MHz G3 is faster than a 900MHz PC" stuff. Give me a break. I designed computers for living, and I understand that optimized code does make a difference, but not 200%.

iBooks 3The loan was for only a few days at a harried time at school. (During spring break for students and teachers, network folks often get to sprint through jobs that can only be done when school is out.) While the techie wasn't swayed, Apple Education did have his attention. More importantly, he began to realize that he had Apple Ed's attention. The techie is now awaiting the arrival of a loaner iBook. The term of this evaluation is somewhat longer and at a far better time period. I'm guardedly hopeful that his exposure to an iBook, especially at a time when Apple may actually substantially cut their price, may begin to sway to techie.

In previous columns, I have strongly criticized Apple for not meeting or even approaching the competition's price point. The price increase of the entry-level Mac only strengthened the opinion of myself and numerous Mac systems folks in education that Apple wouldn't compete. While a limited time offer based on a discontinued model, the proposal Apple made to my school is clearly a move that should inform the Windows crowd and Apple educators that Apple can and will compete in certain situations. An email exchange with another Apple sales representative produced the statement, "...I get special pricing every single time I have a need to compete with Dell, Compaq, Gateway, etc." I think I know what the rep meant, but it kinda sounds as if you don't have a competitive bid, you don't get "special pricing!" On current models, I know we got no such offer.

The recent rumors (MacOS Rumors, AppleInsider) concerning a new iBook design at a truly competitive price would be a boon to educators who prefer Macs. Once the beleaguered pro-Mac crowd no longer has one hand tied behind their backs by Apple's premium pricing practices, they will be free to move on to dealing with the prejudices of Windows hugging techies on a nearly level playing field.

MacCentral's Dennis Sellers recently posted a column that quoted John Droz, Jr.'s list of what Apple should do to regain lost sales in the education market. While I've posted somewhat differing suggestions of how Apple might reclaim lost educational sales, I think I like John's list better. It deals in part with how to reverse the sway Mac-hostile techies seem to hold over school boards, administrators, and purchasing agents. Since the posting of the MacCentral column, John has posted some web pages dealing with the issue and a petition to Apple. (Unfortunately, I still remember how much good the "Save Em@iler" petition drive did!)

While this column is being published on the eve of an Apple press event that could signal some important changes in direction for Apple and Apple Education, I suspect that any real initiatives from Apple for education won't be announced until Steve Jobs's keynote at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC).

Below is an annotated excerpt of my suggestions from a previous column to serve as an ongoing report card:

What can Apple do to stay alive in the educational marketplace?

Suggestion
Apple's Action
Grade

First, cut the price on the entry level and all other Macs for education markets.

In what must have been perceived by Apple as a positive move, Apple actually increased the price of the entry-level iMac by $50 to educational institutions and individuals. The addition of increased chip speed, hard drive capacity, firewire ports, and RAM have little positive effect when similarly equipped Windows boxes beat the entry level iMac by $100.

F

Second, cut the price again. Apple is known for their high profit margins and corporate greed. There's probably still fat after any price cut. Apple needs to bite the bullet and cut ed prices to the absolute bone to have any ghost of a chance of remaining viable in the ed market.

Apple returned the price of the entry-level iMac for education to $799. I suspect that those at Apple and Apple Education consider this an incredibly aggressive and positive move. Actually, the net effect is that Apple has not improved its price for an entry-level Mac for schools.

D-

Third: Get the word out to schools in an effective manner that "Apple is back and we want your business."

From first hand experience, I can say that at least our school's Apple representative is making contact and is truly getting the word out. Apple Ed actually loaned the "Evil NT Techie" at my school a 450 MHz iMac to sway him to the Mac side. Unfortunately, he only got it for about a week and had little time to actually try out its features.

Apple made a great offer for the old 350 MHz $799 iMac at just $599 per unit--quantity of 75 units. That was a great deal, if your school system happens to have $44,925 to spend. We didn't. I wonder where Apple Ed was when we replaced our elementary Mac lab with Durons?

For the current and once again $799 entry-level iMac, no discount was offered.

B

Fourth: Fix AppleWorks, and get out a Windows 6 version as well.

AppleWorks 6 actually became useable on my Mac with the OS 9.1 update. The 6.1 AppleWorks update and OS X beta were just icing on the cake. But the real clincher on AppleWorks is the return of a Windows version, if only for education.

A+*

Fifth: Seriously consider the ramifications of the current Aqua interface (MacOS X) for elementary student users.

Apple released an incomplete 1.0 version of OS X. Maybe future updates will improve the OS X graphical user interface and absence of many necessary drivers. I find the current incarnation (1.0.1 or 10.0.1) clumsy to use and difficult to personalize with third-party freewares and sharewares. In contrast, while doing a number of Windows 98SE installs on various boxes, I found the installation of Win 98 less troublesome than OS X. No extra expenditures for third-party corrective software were necessary (well, other than Norton SystemWorks for Windows:-). Of even greater importance, Mac OS X comes up a poor second to Win 98SE in ease of use. It would appear Apple has now thrown away its traditional leadership in operating system ease of use.

D-

Finally, Apple needs to truly appraise what the education market wants. For the past 28 months, Apple has insisted that the iMac or a minitower more than meets the needs of educators. The marketplace has spoken and clearly rejected Apple's offerings in favor of faster, cheaper, more feature-laden PCs.

Apple must introduce a line of computers for education in the image of the LC III, LC 575, and G3 All-in-one. It doesn't have to be an all-in-one, but it must take into consideration what students and educators want to do with their computers. And, it has to be priced to beat PCs on cost comparisons.

Same old...same old...

While rumors abound about future Apple releases, the fact remains that Apple has not released a Macintosh model in over three years that truly exited educators. The G3 All-in-one was Apple's last hot offering for the education market (although hefting one around could cause a hernia).

Apple's current educational offerings are still blatantly overpriced and emphasize skills that are not the concern of mainstream educators. When will Steve Jobs realize that the digital hub and editing video have no relevance to educators struggling to teach essential reading, math, and communication skills?

?

*Tentative grade assignment based upon the improved reliability of the AppleWorks 6.1 upgrade and the announcement of AppleWorks for Windows (as part of the AppleWorks 6.1 education package--$39 for both postpaid from the Apple Ed Store!

While the report card above looks pretty grim, it may only be an interim report. Apple has improved AppleWorks 6 to the point that it is now useable. Apple representatives, at least in my area, are staying in touch and expending considerable effort to maintain Macs in schools where the Macs are in danger of being replaced by other platforms. Unfortunately, these two items won't save Macs in schools.

If Apple computer is to be a viable choice in schools, Apple must meet or beat the entry-level price point of the competition. Arguing that a 350 MHz Mac is faster than a 900 MHz Athlon won't do it. Apple has to match the competition in speed and features and beat them in price. If they don't, Apple is dead in education.

In the same vein, Apple has to fix MacOS X. Calling OS X "The World's Most Advanced Operating System," while it still lacks some of the most basic (serial port printing), compelling (burning CDs), and necessary (joined clipboard between OS X and Classic environments) system features is an embarrassment to all Mac users. Apple has raised "smoke and mirrors" and the "reality distortion field" to new heights by releasing an unfinished product in the guise of an effective, finished, new operating system. If Apple chooses to preload this disaster on Macs to education, they will squander what little education market they have remaining faster than they squandered their previous education supremacy.

But all is not lost. Steve Jobs is said to be committed to regaining at least a good portion of the education market. Tomorrow's press event could be the first round of a series of announcements of new hardware and pricing -- could be... Just last week, Apple announced a series of free Apple Teacher Institutes aournd the country. Steve Jobs certainly will have something new and exciting for the NECC keynote. The question is, "Has Apple really gotten the message?" While Fred Anderson may think a 27% profit rate is a good number, Apple is going to have to cut pricing to the bare bone to regain much of their lost educational sales. Future hardware releases must not be crippled in RAM or features and must be aimed at what teachers, schools, and students need in a computer.

Odd thoughts while shaving between paragraphs:

While I've assiduously avoided getting involved with any kind of daily web posts for the last few years, I succumbed to temptation a few weeks ago. With the passing of Tom McKenna's excellent G3 All-in-one Stop Shop April 24, I initiated a subsite to provide a haven for refugees from Tom's site. Educators' News is truly in its infancy. I don't really know where the site will go or whether it will go. At least initially, it's just there to provide a "watering hole" for educators, much like Tom's site was. Other than posting a link to Educators' News on my site and an email to a couple of web buddies, I've not done any PR for the site, as I'm not quite sure what to bill it as. I suspect that the readers who are drawn to the site may decide that as much or more than I will.

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©2001 Steven L. Wood