iPad has revolutionised the way technology is used in schools, but there are still many areas where Apple could use their market position to create further change. Why aren’t they taking advantage of it?
There are two features that teachers I work with consistently request for their classroom iPads:
- An easier way for students to save work from their iPad.
- A way for multiple users to login to the same iPad with separate documents and apps.
The lack of these features holds the iPad back from becoming a true alternative to Microsoft’s Windows system in schools.
Saving Student Work on iPad
Anyone using cart or shared iPads in school will know that getting student work from an iPad to an external storage medium is extremely difficult. You can use cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud or local server storage using Webdav but all of these systems create a data protection nightmare, are overly complex, and often result in students being able to access and edit documents created by others.
Apple does have it’s own cloud based document storage service, iCloud, which is tied to an individual user account. The only problem is that as far as the student or teacher is concerned this account is effectively “baked” into the iPad they’re signed in to. There is no quick and easy way to switch from one iCloud Apple ID to another.
So what can Apple do about these two problems?
In the last few months Apple has been putting in place the building blocks of a centrally managed user account system with document storage. Whether they choose to leverage this system in the education market is another thing.
- Students under the age of 13 can now register for an Apple ID.
- Schools can now distribute volume purchased apps and iBooks to a student’s personal Apple ID.
- Documents are stored in iCloud against an Apple ID.
- Apple’s Touch ID finger print scan allows for a quick and simple way to logon to an iOS device.
[pullquote]…the building blocks are in place for Apple to provide schools with a centrally manageable, cloud based, user account system similar to Google Apps.[/pullquote]
So, we have individual student IDs associated to a cloud storage service, to which schools can assign iBooks and apps. Students can also enrol their personal Apple ID with a school, so we know that Apple at least knows which students belong to which school. This also suggests that there is some form of central user management going on behind the scenes that Apple is using. We also know that iPad settings, apps, and documents can be synchronised between devices just by logging in.
To me it seems that all the building blocks are in place for Apple to provide schools with a centrally manageable, cloud based, user account system similar to Google Apps. So, why aren’t they making the life of school administrators easier by pulling this together into an Apple management system for education?
Touch ID Finger Print Login Could Revolutionise Classrooms
User names and passwords are insecure, archaic, and unintuitive for both teachers and students, but they’re the best option we currently have. Apple’s Touch ID finger print system, if built into a management system as described above could change how tablets are used in the classroom.
Using Touch ID students could login to an iPad simply by touching the iPad’s Home button. The iPad could then pull down that student’s documents, apps and settings from iCloud and personalise the device to their requirements. A student that required accessibility settings to be enable, for example, could simply press the Home button and the iPad would know that they require text to speech or a bolder font to be enabled. The iPad would know where to saved the student’s documents and could synchronise work to the cloud automatically.
At the moment there are two technical reasons this isn’t possible. First, the finger print information on the iPhone 5s is encrypted and stored on the device, not in the cloud. Your finger print information never leaves the iPhone. This is done for security purposes and is completely understandable.
Second, neither the recently announced iPad Air or iPad Mini 2 have the finger print scanner built in. This is an odd move by Apple as the main marketing line pushing Touch ID is that it improves security and prevents unwanted people accessing your documents. The fact that Touch ID isn’t built into the new iPads immediately reduces this security for anyone with both an iPhone and iPad as if your documents are synchronised between the two you just have to pick up the iPad and use it as a back door into the claimed security fortress that the iPhone 5s is claimed to be. I suspect the main reason Touch ID isn’t available on either of the new iPads is more to do with manufacturing issues.
This concept necessarily brings to the fore some controversies. What are the consequences of storing a student’s finger print for school purposes against an Apple ID. Would parental consent be required? But many schools already store student finger prints for security, registration, and library systems — the main difference here is that the finger print is being stored outside of the school’s direct control. But if we use personal Apple IDs instead of accounts created by the school do we lessen the burden of responsibility on the school?
Imagine a classroom where all a student needs to do is pick up an iPad, touch the Home button, and all of their documents, web history, and apps are presented to them within seconds. Any work they create is synchronised automatically to the cloud, and when they have finished they hit the sleep button and they are logged off. The next student comes along, repeats the process and the iPad is then their device.
[pullquote]Imagine a classroom where all a student needs to do is pick up an iPad, touch the Home button, and all of their documents, web history, and apps are presented to them within seconds.[/pullquote]
There is no reason this couldn’t be a reality if Apple just prioritised iPad management in education. But, as with many things, it may not be in Apple’s interest to do so. If Apple do not start paying more attention to the education market in the areas that Administrators are identifying Google will take that market with a Android / Chromebook hybrid tablet very shortly. Microsoft is also setting up to make a huge push into the education market with its range of tablets and cloud services from this January.
Why Apple Will Never Do This
For all the marketing Apple does to push their devices in education they are ultimately a business. They have shown time and time again that unless an initiative positively affects their bottom line they are not interested. Apple makes its money by selling hardware. Yes, the iOS App Store is also a huge money spinner — Apple take a 30% cut of every app, book, album, or movie sold — but that market is only boosted by getting more iOS devices into the hands of more people. The more iPads Apple sells the more money they make.
[pullquote]…by restricting multi-user logins in education Apple is increasing the number of iPads sold.[/pullquote]
This week Apple made most of its productivity apps across both its desktop and mobile platforms free. Pages, Numbers, Garageband, iMovie, Keynote and iPhoto, are all free to download for newly purchased devices. This move is intended to fight of competition from Microsoft and Google who both provide free office applications of one form or another, and adds yet another incentive to buy an iPad. Apple can now claim in their marketing that iPhone, iPad, and Mac come with collaborative office applications as standard with document syncing between each device. This move by Apple emphasises that purchases of first party apps like the iWork suite is small change for the company.
The fact is that by restricting multi-user logins in education Apple is increasing the number of iPads sold. A number of schools I’ve spoken to have used exactly this fact to justify one-to-one iPad schemes. I’m not saying this the only reason for one-to-one, certainly there are benefits to teaching and learning that each student having their own personal iPad brings, but the fact that the option is being deliberately limited in order to force schools to purchase more iPads leaves a bad taste in my mouth.