Apple may have started thinking about the iPad 35 years ago, but its Chicago-based event this week is likely to show off a new, lower-cost version of the popular tablet. The company hopes its efforts will strengthen its position in the education market, an area where it made its name but has lost ground in recent years.
The education market was a focus of Steve Jobs in the company's early days. (In fact, the author of this story remembers his first experience on a computer being a Mac in a computer lab before the age of 10). But it has become a smaller focus for the company in recent years, something experts say it's keen to recoup.
"[W]hile the tech revenue generated by the education segment remains small, at less than 10 [percent] of the market, the products used in schools are important as they set a precedent for future use," Deutsche Bank analyst Sherri Scribner wrote in a research note ahead of the event. "In our view, students' familiarity with school technology informs adult purchases, making education an important indicator of long-term technology trends."
CFRA Research analyst Angelo Zino believes that the new iPad, which is rumored to cost as little as $259, could have similar features to other iPads Apple already sells. He also expects to hear an update on Swift, an Apple-developed coding language (calling it "the perfect audience"), an update to the Apple Pencil, a $99 stylus used for the iPad and some other education-focused announcements.
"I think it would also suit the company well to have more aggressive pricing plans for students and that is something we may hear about tomorrow," Zino said in an email to Fox News. "Apple has been losing some ground to more affordable Chromebooks in recent years so it would be great to hear something on this front."
Apple, which usually holds its product events in California, including at its Cupertino, Calif.-based headquarters, will head to the Windy City's Lane Tech College Prep High School to showcase a cheaper version of its iPad appealing to the education market, along with education-specific software, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, who first broke the news.
According to a report in The Washington Post, Apple has ceded significant ground to competitors such as Google and Microsoft in the education market. Apple's iOS operating system accounts for just 12 percent of school technology, behind Microsoft at 22 percent and Google at a staggering 60 percent, aided in large part by its cheaper Chromebook laptops.
The tablet market, where Apple still retains dominance, could be one area to even out the playing field.
While research firm IDC found that the overall tablet market fell 6.5 percent in 2017 to 163.5 million units, Apple managed to buck the trend and grow its shipments to 43.8 million, giving it 27 percent of the market.
The research firm credited Apple with maintaining its "solid lead" in the market due to its lower-priced 9.7-inch iPad and its newly refreshed iPad Pro tablets.
"While the lower-price iPad has continued to drive a strong consumer upgrade cycle, the shifting focus is to iPad Pro and its potential in the commercial and education segments," IDC wrote in the February press release.
Apple has also focused much of its recent iPad advertising on younger consumers, sparking some debate about what is a computer and what isn't, while significantly boosting sales.
In Apple's fiscal first quarter, arguably its most important as it covers the holiday shopping season, it shipped 13.1 million iPads generating $5.86 billion in revenue, good for 28 percent and 21 percent growth rates over the previous quarter, respectively.
On the company's January earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook credited the strong results in part to "first-time tablet buyers or those switching to Apple."
At the event, Apple may also show off refreshed versions of its Classroom app for the iPad, which lets teachers manage Apple devices used for school work, its iTunes U app and perhaps a refreshed version of its iBooks app.
There has been speculation that Apple, which is reportedly working on a cheaper version of its popular MacBook Air computer, would announce the laptop at the event. However, Zino told Fox News the announcement is more likely suited for its WorldWide Developer Conference, slated for June.
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