What Fruit Is Left Hanging For iOS In Education?

Let me just preface this article with the fact that Apple is doing some extremely innovative things when it comes to education right now. The Device Enrollment Program and Managed Distribution are incredible advancements when you look at what it takes to scale iOS for very large deployments. Fraser and I have been discussing the planning behind deploying iOS on our podcast and these tools are certainly important. The purpose of this article is to look at what's left for Apple to do given the current state of iOS software and hardware.

In-App Purchases
IAP can be an awesome business model when used correctly. I've harped on it from time to time, but the worst offenders are really games with a lot of consumables. There are very legitimate uses of IAP that make sense from both a developer and customer standpoint, but it's not usable in education deployments. When my art teacher saw Paper by FiftyThree, she immediately wanted it. The problem is that it's a free app and you can unlock needed extras by using IAP. If you are using either Managed Distribution or redeemable spreadsheets from the VPP store, there is simply no way to deploy these upgrades using MDM or Apple Configurator. I've e-mailed a couple of developers asking them to release paid versions of their apps as education editions, but haven't had much luck. It certainly wouldn't work with Apple's Garageband app either.

Book Re-Distribution
I've talked about this at length over the years, but nothing has changed. While it's possible to purchase and deploy them in mass, it is not possible to re-distribute them to a class the following year. When a book is pushed to a device, it becomes locked to that Apple ID with no way to pull it back. This is not Apple's decision, but it's a publisher one. The E-Book market is somewhat workable for schools that require students to bring their own books. For schools that provide books to the students, it is just not feasable from a cost perspective. Even if the books were $14.99, they would quickly be more expensive than the physical books when you factor in how many years we use them before replacing.

Default Storage Size
I am going to be highly dissapointed if 16 GB devices live another year. 16 GB has been the stock size for a few years now and it is time to move to 32GB. iBooks Author books and retina apps are not getting smaller and students really start to feel this crunch as the school year goes on. You can quickly fill up a 16 GB device with a few 1 GB iBooks Author books and 6-7 decent sized apps.

Hardware Durability
John Siracusa probably said it best on a past episode of ATP when he said that iOS devices need to be like our car keys. Your car keys can take A LOT of damage before anything happens to them. The iPhone 6 is rumored to be using a sapphire screen. It's already being used on the touch sensor on the 5s and on the camera lens. If you could somehow use a base of gorilla glass (durable against shattering) and a coating of sapphire (protects against scratches), then you might be on the path to devices that can be dropped without much concern.

Stylus API
Yes, I know what Steve Jobs said about a stylus. Personally, I don't use one. There are lots of legitimate uses for them in education, though. Math teachers need one with a fine tip for grading, while art teachers love them for creation. I have actually considered purchasing the Evernote optimized stylus for use with Penultimate. I've also heard great things about the Pencil Stylus that FiftyThree created for Paper. As the platform continues to mature, we will certainly see more situations where a sylus does make sense. The problem with all the ones on the market currently (that interact with software) are that they are connected via bluetooth and tied to specific apps. Lets say that you love Penultimate AND Paper. Do you carry 2 styluses in your bag and un-pair and re-pair them as you swap apps? Apple could create an API that developers could use to optimize their apps for styluses and hopefully negate the need for multiple ones.

iCloud E-mail For Schools
While Mac OS X server does provide an e-mail server, most schools are trying to get out of the email server hosting business. Google Apps for Education is extremely popular. It's free and it just works. Is Apple letting their customers keep a foothold into a competitors camp by not offering a similar product (hosted e-mail, contacts, calendar)? Businesses are always looking to make their devices more sticky . Lets fast forward to 2016 and imagine that Android has really matured from a education perspective. If you are a Google Apps school, moving to Android is a lot easier. Apple could create a version of iCloud that would let schools use their own domains with Apple's e-mail, contacts and calendar syncing service. This could also serve to help "on-board" students with Apple IDs if they don't already have one.

App Interaction
While this certainly doesn't just impact schools, the in-ability for apps to talk to each others file system is a problem that grows year by year. An example of this is if you have a PDF in Evernote and you wanted to edit it in PDF Expert. You have to copy it from Evernote into PDF Expert and then copy it back once you are finished. You are then left with the edited PDF and also the un-edited one in Evernote (along with another copy of the edited one in PDF Expert). From a workflow and training perspective, this gets confusing for teachers and students alike.