Apple is having a spring event this year, but it's looking to be a great departure from the usual Bay Area confab. The press conference on March 27 will be held at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago. The invitation puts the focus directly on education: "Join us to hear new creative ideas for teachers and students," he says, under the title "Let's take a field trip."
The last Apple event purely focused on education was in January 2012 in New York City. It was the launch of digital textbooks, and it was not about hardware at all.
That being said, some rumored hardware updates from Apple have accumulated, and the company could use the March event to launch some of them. And anything that does not arrive on March 27 could be kept on the cover for the World Developers Conference of the company (WWDC), which begins on June 4 in San Jose.
To that end, here is our best estimate of what Apple might reveal on March 27 in Chicago:
New iPads: Apple is allegedly working on updated iPad Pro models that borrow the Face ID technology that is on the iPhone X. But we would not expect these to work until later in the year, if they arrive in 2018 at all. In contrast, an update of the 9.7-inch entry-level iPad released almost exactly a year ago, is much more likely. It's not fancy, but it's by far the best iPad value, and a perfect candidate for the educational market. A processor upgrade, at a minimum, is due. Maybe new cameras, or even new iPad accessories.
Pencil, maybe? The Apple Pencil is a great tool, but it is limited to expensive iPad Pros . I get out of hand and I guess Apple finds a way to include Pencil support on low-cost iPads, to support art and other graphics-based work on iPads in schools. Maybe that means a redesigned, more school-friendly Pencil, too, that does not have an easy-to-lose end cap, that is easier to hold in smaller hands and does not get off the tables. (A draft function would also be nice). Consider the invitation graphic (at the top of this story): many fluid lines similar to a pencil. Probably not an accident.
Encoding initiatives: Apple has tried to expand Swift to children, through the iPad application Swift Playgrounds and through other efforts. Last December, Apple expanded its Everyone Can Code program to schools in Chicago to teach Swift, which could be part of what Apple returns to visit at this event. Maybe it's a new application or set of coding tools, but look for something that brings technology-focused learning to the pre-university set.
Wildcard: new keyboard? If Apple really goes all-inclusive in iPads as the new computer, then something must be done to help the lower-cost iPad reach that goal. There are many great Bluetooth keyboards, but Apple has not manufactured its own keyboard accessory. Its smart keyboard cover only works with iPad Pros through the smart connector. Maybe the lower cost iPads could also get the smart connector … or maybe not.
Educational pricing plans: Apple already offers discounts for educators, but it increases offers here – on iPads, Macs, software and services: they would help the company to regain strength in the education market, that has leaned towards the Google Chromebook platform to a large extent in recent years.
What can not be expected in Chicago
Also for iPad Pros, I also think it's too early for Apple to showcase new MacBooks. That includes a rumored MacBook Air update that is said to be in process.
Do not expect these other Apple products, both real and expected: the AirPower charging platform announced last September that it has not yet been released, or the iPhone SE 2 rumored . This Apple event is explicitly about education, so expect a more stringent approach than the norm.
Or not! Remember that, immobile and everything, these are all conjectures on my part. We will know for sure once the event begins in Chicago at 10 a.m. CT (11 a.m. ET, 8 a.m. PT) on Tuesday, March 27. CNET will be there, covering it live.
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