View from the Classroom

Has Apple Ceded the Education Market?

- February 21, 2000

With both Macworld San Francisco and Tokyo behind us, much of the Macintosh lineup has received a facelift. The PowerBookPowerBook received a true revision with the introduction of the much awaited "Pismo" line, available in either 400 or 500 MHz configurations. Other improvements include FireWire and AirPort support, along with a faster graphics chip.

MacWeek's Stephen Beale noted of the new laptop line, "What it doesn't include is a G4 processor--Apple says the current G4 design is too hot and too power-hungry for laptops." As Low End Mac publisher Dan Knight stated, "...despite the hype about the Velocity Engine...unless you have applications optimized for the AltiVec instructions, iBook triosuch as Photoshop 5.5, you won't see any significant benefit from the G4 processor."

Staying with laptops, the successful iBook line now comes with 64 MB of RAM and a 6 gig drive over the previous 32 MB and 3.2 gig. A new graphite Special Edition is also available with a 366 MHz G3 processor. Pricing for the tangerine and blueberry laptops remained the same, while the Special Edition will retail at $1,799.

On the high end, Apple finally returned its G4 minitower offerings to the 400, 450, and 500 MHz Power Macintosh G4speeds announced last August without a price increase. While the speed bump was needed, it pales in a world of 700 to 850 MHz Pentium III and Athlon chips. Apple and its chip design partners have to get busy in the speed area, especially for high end users, such as the graphics industry. For most of the rest of us, the current megahertz speed contest is a lot like having an automobile that can go 125 MPH. It's there, but we're probably never going to use it.

For educators, the recent expos were a good news, bad news situation. The good news from the January San Francisco Expo was the announcement that AppleWorks 6 would be shipping in February. If so, Apple is going to have to hurry, as February is now getting pretty long in the tooth. The Apple Store is still listing a shipping date of 30 days off, but maybe it's going to be a very long leap year, with something like a February 51st ship date! Even so, once the new version gets here, it may be worth the wait. Educational pricing of the new AppleWorks is a very reasonable $39 with free UPS ground shipping. Non-ed retail at the Apple Store runs $79.

Mac OS Rumors has a very nice gallery of screen shots of the new version. From those shots and the Apple PR screen shot below, it looks as if I'll need an even larger display for all of the cool floating palettes included.

The bad news was that Apple has decided to continue its current pricing scheme of the iMac, along with the iBook and G4s. A quick check of the K-12 Education Institutions price list reveals the Blueberry iMac remains priced at $949 for K-12 educational institutions and individuals. While the G4 minitower and iBook lineup retained their previous pricing, even with the improvements announced at Macworld Tokyo, Apple has missed an opportunity to undo some of the negative PR it created earlier with the G4 pricing fiasco. A moderate price reduction in the G4 and iBook lines could have proved a PR coup while also possibly adding to market share.

For schools, there has been little change on the Apple side since I addressed some "burning issues" (er-sorry!) in Is Steve Fiddling While Apple's Ed Market share Burns? Unfortunately, the "other side" continues to shave prices and add speed and peripherals to their offerings. It's also been 18 months since Apple dropped its last specific model for schools, the hugely popular G3 All-in-one. Since that time, the iMac has been pushed as the closest thing there is to a Macintosh for schools.

As I mentioned in my column last week, several teachers at my school have recently purchased their first home computer. JDRUnfortunately, all but one of the sales have gone to Windows boxes. The price disparity between even the 350 MHz entry level iMac, ($949 for educators) and a 400 MHz or better Pentium multimedia package purchased at the school price puts off many educators. Our school was getting a bundle from JDR Electronics that included a nice software package, a large hard drive, DVD and CD-RW drives, plenty of RAM, and a 17" monitor for under $1,100. Going to a comparable Macintosh tower with an Apple branded 17" display comes in around $1,900 (ed pricing).

The reasons previously satisfied Macintosh users at school chose Windows boxes for their home computer seem to fall into several categories. Individually, or in combination, these examples might be applicable to other situations around the country.

Surprisingly, spousal preference, or peace in the home, seems to be the leading cause of the IBM compatible purchases. Frequently, the teacher's spouse is used to working on the Windows platform. The Mac-using teachers, both male and female, seem universally confident they can handle the Windows operating system and go along with their significant other's OS preference. While a lot of progress has been made in the last two years debunking the old "Apple is dying," "there's no software available," "Macs are toys," and such arguments, they seem to still be, true or false, there in the background.

While price isn't the only or even the primary consideration of many computer buyers, it is a continuing critical factor in educational Mac sales. When you mention the 350 MHz entry level iMac ($949 for educators), the absence of any included removable media drive always seems to rear its ugly head. The comparable JDR box carries a standard floppy drive, an internal Zip drive, and more recently, a CD-RW drive. While it may be cool in Cupertino to flaunt the forward vision of omitting the archaic floppy drive, it costs sales every day of the week in the rest of the United States.

One of our teachers' first questions about the iMac is always, "How will I get my files from home to school?" While iDisk could be an easy and effective answer, the absence of any Macs running System 9 at school, other than the G3/7500 in my classroom, make that option moot. The suggestion of an add-on drive adds to the price gulf between a Windows box and a Mac.

Interestingly, the speed gulf that now exists with the rapid development of AMD's Athlon and the total absence of comparable improvements in G3/G4 speed does not seem to be a factor in our teachers' eventual choice.

Everyone's best guess, including Low End Mac's own Anne Onymus, seems to be that the next Mac line receiving a significant upgrade will be the iMac series. What revisions and improvements will be forthcoming are open to wide speculation. My favorite rumor is the one about the 17" display iMac. While probably not a true 17" monitor, an iMac with a larger display would be neat. This model has supposedly been seen here and there as a business prototype.

If Apple actually does produce such a model for a business line, opening up something along the lines of the old LC series for schools might be well advised. A compelling educational model iMac for schools and educators that is aggressively priced and includes a Zip or SuperDrive could solve a lot of the issues that seem to contribute to lost sales to teachers and schools. With any iMac revision, an improved mouse, if not an improved keyboard and mouse, is essential.

While a 17" display iMac is not essential, any iMac revision that is to capture more of the educational market must include a high impact price reduction, if only to maintain its minuscule plurality in the education market. As Apple's educational market share continues to decrease, it makes selling Macs to schools an ever more difficult proposition.

Apple has to move, and move very, very soon, if it is to remain a viable choice in the educational market. Trading the ed market for a larger portion of the consumer market may have been expedient when Apple had one foot in the grave. Now that Apple is thankfully once again healthy, it's just plain silly to keep ignoring the education market.

Odd Thoughts While Shaving Between Paragraphs:

While researching a bit of this piece, I visited a few manufacturers' "buy direct" sites on the web. Apple's site seemed by far the most user friendly of the bunch. Of course, I'm a lot more familiar with their site and am far from an objective observer. The big loser: Compaq! Their web site for direct purchase was a labyrinth of links and pages that never seemed to lead to the product I was researching.

While there's absolutely no word emanating from Apple about the future of Home Page or HyperCard, the Apple Store will still cheerfully sell you a copy of HyperCard 2.4.1 for $99. Home Page has disappeared from the regular Apple Store but remains available priced at $59 at the Apple Store for K-12 Faculty and Staff.

Apple recently announced of the availability of AppleCare Technician Training for sale on the Apple Store for $299 (Ed price $284). While the course doesn't include the certification testing, it's a good step towards curing the problem of insufficient AppleCare technicians. A related problem is the lack of local Authorized Apple Repair Stations. Apple might also consider recertifying some of the decertified Apple Authorized Repair Stations. Many of these enterprises will undoubtedly be reluctant to give Apple another shot at screwing them again, but there must be repair stations within a reasonable distance of educational clients.

When "Minuet," System 9.0.2 is released, Apple has the opportunity to repeat the PR bonanza of releasing System 7.5.3 for free download by doing the same with System 7.6.1. All of the previous arguments for the previous free release still apply. Many school machines now running System 7.5.x will be more stable and a better standing advertisement for Apple products if they are running System 7.6.1. System 7.6.1 does require a bit more hard drive space and RAM, but probably is usable on most supported machines now using some flavor of System 7.5 without a hardware upgrade.

I was amazed at the response of the "Evil NT techie" when he returned to our school from a recent area technology coordinators' conference. That meeting featured a presentation of the new iMovie capabilities of the iMac DV. He was really impressed with the product and what could be done with it, but blew me away with the following statement: "The Apple Rep was so rude. I'll never buy an Apple product because of him." I hope to get the opportunity to let the techie eat his words, but someone in the Indiana Apple Ed chain has screwed up again and made we Macintosh advocates' job a little harder. Unfortunately, that's nothing new.

Performa 500 seriesLess than a week after the posting of the Performa 575 to PowerMac 575 column, I was toiling away on another column on the G3 minitower. Unfortunately, while I was doing some online research during a thunderstorm (okay, all together, now, "DUH!"), I lost the external modem on the G3. While I'm waiting for a replacement unit, I'm sharing the Performa/PowerMac 575 with our youngest daughter, Julia, who has laid claim to it. (The photography for the 575 column was actually done while she was away to avoid wails of "What are you doing to my Mac?")

The Performa willingly, if somewhat sluggishly (compared to the G3), surfed the net, sent press releases, and uploaded columns and updates. Every time I use the machine, I marvel at what an exceedingly good "first" computer I got as a rather unstudied buyer.

Thanks, Apple!

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View From the Classroom columns copyright 1999-2000 by Steve Wood.

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