9 Signals of Apple’s Coming Higher Ed Problems

A scathing critique of Apple written on a MacBook Air.

January 14, 2015
How can it be that Apple is having problems in higher ed? What percentage of your faculty, staff, and students use a Mac? How many have an iPhone? I’m typing this blog on a MacBook Air, maybe you are reading it on an iPad.
Still, I’m starting to pick up some signals that Apple is set to run into problems in our higher ed world.   
These signals include:
Signal #1 - Chromebook Traction: The Chromebook is killing it in the K-12 space. According to GigOM the best-selling device in K-12 markets last year was the Chromebook. The Chromebook momentum in the K-12 space is only accelerating. Why? Because Chromebooks are cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, and do almost everything that a student needs to do. Both the Chrome OS and Google Drive have gotten better, so that offline work is now doable and Microsoft Office is no longer irreplaceable. At some point all those K-12 students will come to us, and they will be accustomed to the Google ecosystem. Any student could probably get by just fine for classwork on a Chromebook. The Chromebook may not be sexy, but it is functional, reliable, and cheap.
Signal #2 - The Rise of Big Phones:  Do we really need at 7.9 inch (diagonal) iPad Mini when we can get a 5.5 inch (diagonal) iPhone Six Plus? Do we really need any iPad when we know that we need a phone, and big Android phones are great and don’t cost any more than small Android phones? A big phone is great for reading, watching videos, and playing games. Some of you strange people have gone so far as to replace your laptop with an iPad. I say to you that the first the iPad was never designed to be a laptop replacement, and second that you are crazy. You’d be much better off with a laptop and a phone. I could foresee a rapid drop-off of iPad sales as students start buying and bringing big phones to campus. A big phone fits (barely) in a pocket.  An iPad does not.
Signal #3 - An Upswing of Surface 3 Sightings:  It may be that the Surface Tablet is not the next Zune. Microsoft seems to have gotten a bunch of things right with the Surface Pro 3. Unlike the iPad, the Surface Pro was designed as a laptop replacement. In my testing of the Surface Pro I’ve concluded that the device is a compromise between a good laptop and a good tablet. I’m seeing more and more folks on campus willing to make that compromise. They want to be on a Windows machine because some programs are much better on Windows. Outlook being the best example - but the whole Office Suite is still just better on Windows than on a Mac. Don’t believe me, try creating video and voice screen recording with Office Mix on your PowerPoint for Mac 2011. If Microsoft gets Windows 10 right (a big if), a machine that doubles as a tablet and a laptop might start to be more attractive.  
Signal #4 - The Irrelevance of Atrociousness of iTunes:  College students no longer buy music. They consume music as a service. They pay a monthly fee to Spotify or Pandora and rent their music. Apple is trying to buy itself back to relevance in the streaming music world with its purchase of Beats, but it will not work.  Why not?  Because the iTunes program is irretrievably broken. iTunes needs to be rethought from scratch. It needs to be completely killed and then completely redone. The combination of being late to the game in streaming music and being saddled with a terrible media management (iTunes) is seriously degrading Apple’s student (and faculty and staff) brain space.  
Signal #5 - The Missing Education Conversation:  Have you tried iTunes U Courses? I thought not. iTunesU Courses is actually a very polished iOS app. Its elegance and offline capabilities put any LMS mobile app to shame. But if Apple was at EDUCAUSE in a meaningful way they might really here that an all iOS application is problematic. Unless your school has a total one-to-one iPad program, a course platform that works only on iOS is suboptimal. If Apple was having more conversations with higher ed they might hear that they need to create a Courses app that works on Android, and that has a Web version. They might hear that there is a need for integration options between the LMS and the iTunes U Courses app, so that faculty and course developers can avoid building the same course twice in two platforms. If Apple found a way to be present in the education conversation we could better understand and gauge Apple’s commitment to higher education. Is the iTunes U Courses app a core part of Apple’s strategy, or is it a marginal product with little develop support? Nobody knows.
Signal #6 - The Bugs:  The last round of Apple updates did not go very well. There seems to be problems with WiFi, Bluetooth, Mail, and other stuff with Yosemite. My OS 10.10 machine keeps loosing its campus WiFi connection.  Yosemite’s problems were nothing compared to the disaster that was the iOS 8 release. My iPhone’s search feature broke. My phone froze. The OS took up a huge amount of space. Features such as iCloud got weird. Apple seems to be fixing all these bugs, but this terrible release never should have happened. Confidence is shaken.
Signal #7 - The Apple Watch:  You’ve got to wonder if the Apple Watch is distracting Apple from thoroughly testing its software. Since Apple announced the Watch the world of wearable technology and fitness tracking has become commoditized. We probably don’t need an expensive watch to count our steps. Apple is actually not that big of a company, and it is too bad that they will be pouring so much energy into a bauble that does nothing to help us learn or work better.
Signal #8 - We Don’t Use Apple Software: What software do you use? I’m typing this blog on Evernote. I’ll do collaborative work in Google Drive. Presentations are still in PowerPoint. My colleagues seems to want to use Word and Track Changes (I don’t get it), but they are difficult to dissuade. Budgets are managed in Excel. Project management in Asana. Everything else through the browser (which may be Safari, but is just as likely to be Chrome or Firefox). Does anyone use iWork on your campus? Maybe Apple Mail. Maybe iCal. My money is on Google Drive and maybe (just maybe) MS Office.
Signal #9 - The Apple / Higher Ed Culture Mismatch: This last signal is perhaps the most important signal.  Higher ed is built on openness and information exchange. Apple is built on secrecy and information control. That seemed to be fine when Apple was creating beautiful and essential products and software. It is not so fine when we have cheaper and effective alternatives to Apple. I know that some people at Apple will read this blog. I highly doubt that anyone from Apple will comment. I wish that someone from Apple will argue with my conclusions. Will engage in a debate. But that is not the Apple way. Apple employees (at least below all those guys that always present at Apple events - don’t any women work in important enough jobs to present with Tim and Phil and Jony and Craig?) are disempowered from publicly speaking their minds. In higher ed we like people who argue with us.  Apple - hello….are you there?


Back to Top