Every time before any Apple event, there generally is a pool of speculation in which various leaks and rumors float and people fish out the ideas they like or would want to see turned into reality. Apple is holding its first media event of the year in Chicago, and the air is so thick with guesses that we can breathe them! Rumors of Apple launching a more affordable iPad, MacBook and iPad with Apple Pencil support are pouring in as Apple is expected to launch a product to cater to schools and colleges.
While it would be foolish to accept or write off any of these notions (knowing Apple), the one thing everyone seems relatively sure of is the launch of an affordable iPad with support for Apple Pencil (something which has so been exclusive to the iPad Pro). Tempting? Well, it might be, but we think there is actually something else Apple needs to work on for its (allegedly) new iPad line up to appeal to students. Yes, the Apple Pencil with an affordable iPad may be the match made in heaven for some, but we feel, what the Cupertino giant actually needs to launch is an affordable version of the iPad with – drum roll – Smart Keyboard support.
Do not get us wrong, there is nothing we love more than a good stylus, and God knows the Apple Pencil is one of them but take our word for it, we think an “educational” iPad needs keyboard support rather more than compatibility with the Apple Pencil.
And here is why.
The biggest competitor of Apple in the education sector is the Chromebook, a compact device with the basics of a web-based laptop. Most Chromebooks do not come with a touchscreen or support for a stylus; they come with a good old keyboard, which most people are more used to than a stylus. Now, Apple has already got an edge over the usual Chromebooks with its touchscreen, but while a touchscreen makes the iPad easier to navigate and use, there is one area where it loses out – good old (yes, again!) typing. And that is what a lot of people end up doing in classrooms. Yes, the stylus support is great when it comes to scribbling short notes or sketching a bit but we think, in schools and colleges, you usually end up doing far more writing than drawing, which is where the keyboard scores over a stylus. The fact that Apple has not worked out a way to integrate handwriting recognition in the iPad with the Apple Pencil just makes matters a little complicated. In simple language, this means what you write with the pencil, will not turn into typed text. Some third-party apps (like Nebo Writer) offer handwriting recognition, but it generally is a bit iffy.
Of course, Apple does have a keyboard for the iPad. But just like the Apple Pencil, Apple’s Smart Keyboard also only works with the more expensive version of the iPad, the iPad Pro. And while people can use a third-party Bluetooth keyboard with the existing iPads, we suspect that for many a Bluetooth keyboard becomes another device to charge and carry – something students might not like to crowd their bags with. We know some might say that you can write as well as design with the Apple Pencil, but you can only type with the keyboard. That is a fair point of view, but we again would like to reiterate that most people are more familiar and comfortable with typing on a computer rather than drawing or writing on it. And unless education has changed radically, there is still far more writing than drawing done at most levels.
With the Smart Keyboard, Apple proved that it could manufacture good keyboards which do not need charging and can be attached like a cover to a tablet while being surprisingly lightweight, compact and very portable. We think it needs to repeat the formula for the student community. So while having support for the Apple Pencil might sound more, well, creative, we think that creating (pun intended) a keyboard which doubles up as an iPad cover might actually be a better and more practical idea.
Mind you, having colors other than that dull grey would help!