Steve Wood's
View from the Classroom

Never mind. Apple Education probably is dead.
May 4, 2001




I'm sorry. Never mind what I said last Monday in Apple Education: "I'm Not Dead!" (Yet). It doesn't count anymore. I was as wrong as I could be.

You see, I'd bought into all of Steve Jobs's rhetoric about getting the education market back. I'd even talked to a very pleasant and helpful Apple Education sales representative. I actually believed that despite Apple's incredible arrogance in squandering its primary core market, education, through inappropriate offerings, poor service, and premium pricing of its products, that Steve Jobs now really understood. I really, really hoped, almost believed, that Apple was going to put out a competitively priced computer for the education market.

Boy, I couldn't have been more incorrect. While most of the Macintosh web is positively drooling over the new iBooks introduced May 1, I'm wondering what in the world could have been going through Steve Jobs and the Apple bean counters' heads when they priced the new models as they did. Instead of an aggressively priced product to sweep up the education market, Apple chose to introduce a new version of its iBook that now measures up to the competition in speed and features at a ho-hum similar or higher pricing.

Where is the innovative new product that demands notice? Where is the education specific model that has the features teachers need and a price that school boards and IT people can't ignore? The education world was primed and waiting for Steve Jobs to sweep them away with insanely great products and pricing. Instead, they got an update featuring Apple's long-standing premium pricing.

Apple chose to schedule a press event at an excellent time in the school buying cycle and then blew its chance for significant educational sales by reverting in form to the greedy Apple of old. The new $1199 educational iBook pricing isn't even close to what it will take to seriously impact the education market. Neither will a $799 entry-level iMac turn the heads of Windows-leaning technology coordinators, tight fisted purchasing agents, or school boards with countless other critical funding requests.

If Apple is now done with its smoke and mirrors, it's time to call an immediate press conference, say they're sorry, and put some high impact prices on their offerings. Right now, Apple is trying to use the glitz of a new model to shore up their bottom line instead of retaking any market. If we don't see a $599 entry-level iMac or $999 entry-level iBook for education in the next few weeks, it's time to start pricing Dell's, Compaq's, and others for our classrooms.

Let me give you just a quick example. My school is now completing language arts textbook adoption. Our new readers integrate the Accelerated Reader, an excellent program that ties reading-level appropriate books to the instructional program. Our AR application and files are ancient and will have to be updated. As we add new titles, they too will require an updated base application. The current version of Accelerated Reader requires System 7.6 or better and 8-16 MB RAM.

My boss currently has a pile of Accelerated Reader promotional material lying on his desk. He'll probably go through all of it and begin some of the decision making process this weekend.

Will we purchase the Windows version, as our school seems headed in that direction, or will we stay with the Mac version. Gee, maybe the grant fairy will drop a ton of cash on us and we'll buy both! Faced with upgrading our Macs (most are running on System 7.5.3 -- ouch) to run the new software or buying new units, we'll undoubtedly begin replacing our aging fleet of Macs. But with what? Do we buy $799 iMacs that still network through Appleshare and require all new USB peripherals or adapters? Do we go with a model with a 15" screen? Or do we go with a feature-laden PC with a 17" screen for around the same price?

If it were an unbiased choice about which is the better machine and platform, at today's prices, the Mac might stand a slim chance. Living in the real world of NT techies, Windows using school boards, superintendents, and others, the Mac doesn't stand a ghost of a chance. Sadly, I suspect the same situation exists all across America in our schools.

Again, let me review the situation. Apple definitely had the attention of the computer world last Tuesday with their press event. The timing was perfect for the school spring buying cycle. Apple had a hot new version of a product to introduce. Apple chose to introduce the product at an educational price that put it squarely in the middle of the low-cost laptop heap. There was nothing in the pricing to distinguish it from the others. There was absolutely nothing in the pricing to make those making educational purchases go "Whoa, maybe we'd better give Macs another look?" There was absolutely nothing to fulfill Steve Jobs continuing empty promises about the education market.

If you're not involved in the education computer buying scene, I'm sure my words sound totally unreasonable. A classy looking new iBook at $1299 retail is truly droolworthy for those of us who love Macs. But in the cutthroat competitive school sales market, it's just another update and minor price reduction, leaving Apple's educational offerings at the same or higher price point that the other major computer makers.

Will Apple Education and Steve Jobs wake up by the NECC keynote speech and drop prices to salable levels? It really doesn't matter that much. Apple had its chance at the ideal time and blew it again. June will be too late. And...I think Steve Jobs and Apple know it.

At the end of last year, I concluded a column with the following conclusion. While Apple raised my hopes again, I find that I'll stand by my December prediction.

My conclusion:
Apple will fluff the ed market once again...and lose it. They'll make a few modest moves that appear they are making an effort in that market. In reality they will continue to trade on what remains of their good name by offering yesterday's technology at premium prices. I've heard Steve Jobs's empty promises before on what Apple is going to do for education.
I wish I were wrong, but I suspect that Apple will simply let its education market die a slow and lingering death. Apple lacks the heart and stamina to retake the market.

Others will eventually say the same things I've been saying for years about Apple's pricing and handling of the education market. Some will say it better with figures and PR photos. But you heard it here first. Steve Jobs killed Apple Education May 1.

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©2001 Steven L. Wood