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Brief Thoughts on Apple’s Education Event

Well it has taken me long enough… This past week, Apple held an education event. Below are some brief thoughts on the subject. Chris Russell is coming on my podcast later this week to talk about all of the details. Keep in mind, I do not work in a school with 1:1 iPads or any kind of deployment strategy. But I am very seriously invested in Apple’s role in education and their vision for how their products fit into the classroom.

New iPad

This device looks great. Adding the Apple Pencil to this model will be an asset for schools. But will schools really pay 89 dollars for a pencil after just having purchased numerous 250 dollar iPads? 

The thing that gets me most excited about this device is its consumer potential. I am tempted to buy one for myself as a (more) mobile counterpart to my larger 12.9 inch iPad Pro.

iWork Updates

Apple Pencil support. FINALLY. This was my favorite announcement of the day. I anticipate editing Pages documents, scribbling on bus attendance lists made in Numbers, and annotating Keynote slides at the front of the classroom on a daily basis. I hate to be cynical (which the rest of this post will be), but Microsoft Office for iPad has had the ability to write on documents with an Apple Pencil since the Apple Pencil launched, two years ago. 

iBooks Author

Seems like the Mac app is no longer going to receive development. All book publishing features have been moved to Pages for iOS and Mac. It doesn’t appear that the new feature does everything that iBooks Author can do. Hopefully this is like when Apple rewrote Final Cut Pro X, took away some features, but then eventually added them back. Or when iWork was rewritten to be the same for iOS and macOS, stripping AppleScript features from the Mac, but eventually bringing them back. I would hate to see iBook authors unable to use workflows they have in the past using iBooks Author for the Mac. 

Classroom App for Mac

Apple’s learning management system comes to the Mac. Great! But what took so long? And can Apple keep up with the vastly more mature and flexible Google Classroom? (See conclusion below)

School Work App

An app for teachers to give assignments to students, check their progress, and collect it back. School Work can route students to other apps to do their assignments using the ClassKit API which is very cool. But why is this separate from the Classroom app? And where does iTunes U fit into all of this?

Conclusion

Apple is making a lot of solid efforts here but a lot of it it feels like too little too late, especially the student and learning management software. I really do hope they can keep up with Google Classroom who has been eating everyone’s lunch for years. Apple will have to be aggressive about adding new features to all of these new apps and making sure that their app ecosystem is flexible enough to compete with Chromebooks which use browser based software. Yes, there are way more apps on the App Store than there are Chrome based apps, but in education (and especially in music education) a lot of the big players are writing for Chrome OS. To me, the draw of Chromebooks in education is not their price, but the flexibility of web based software.

Apple’s software engineers seem spread very thin and unable to balance the release of various applications, consistently over time. This is true of many of Apple’s consumer apps. Mail and Reminders, two tentpole productivity apps have fallen way behind the competition. Calendar has not seen any more than a few major feature updates since I started using the Mac back in 2006. Apple’s apps are part of the “nice” factor of being in the ecosystem. Sometimes an app like Notes will get some major new features, but then we won’t hear from it for a few years. Google’s apps, by contrast, lack the same design sense, but are constantly being updated with new features. And they are not locked into annual OS updates like iOS is. In my opinion, this is Apple’s biggest problem right now.

Ironically, software is still my draw to Apple products. Even though their hardware is the most indisputably good thing they are doing right now (I am nearly without complaint of my iPhone X and the iPad 10.5 is perfect), it is the software that locks me in. In other words, I am much more committed to macOS and iOS than I am Mac and iPhone. This leaves me with some long term concern about my interest in continuing to use Apple products. And great concern about any educational institution who jumps on the iPad bandwagon just because apps are bright and colorful and demo well on stage. Apple has to show continual support for their education software if their dream for the classroom is to come true.

 

App of the Week: OmniOutliner 3

I am kicking off a new series this week where I will highlight an app I am making use of lately. 

Hundreds of the apps I experiment with never make it into any of my conference presentations, longer form blog posts, or every day conversations. In effort to start sharing how I am taking advantage of these (and to get me posting here more consistently), I am going to do my best to write about one app a week. 

My goal is to very briefly explain what the app does and how I am using it in my life. I will leave full length reviews to the professionals. 

This week’s app is OmniOutliner. OmniOutliner comes from Omni Group who makes my task manager of choice (and number one most used app), OmniFocus. OmniOutliner is a writing tool that emphasizes features for creating outlines. It is far more intuitive, beautiful, and user customizable than what you are probably using to do this kind of work now, which is most likely a word processor like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. These traditional word processors are a clunk-fest of digging through menu options and formatting settings.

Hierarchical, list-types of documents are what this app handles best, though you can really do anything with it...budget, draft your next novel...anything. OmniOutliner has friendly keyboard shortcuts to make outlining fast. Pressing Enter goes to the next line of text. Command+Right Bracket or Left Bracket makes the current line of text you are typing go one level deeper or shallower in the hierarchy. Collapsible arrow buttons can be clicked to expose or hide entire sections of your outline. A theme can be stylized and applied across the entire document, or even just one level of the hierarchy.

Things I have used this app to write in the past few years: my book, every music presentation I have ever given at a conference, and lesson plans. The last one, lesson plans, I have especially come to love doing in OmniOutliner. My daily lesson plan is permanently left open on both my iPad and Mac. When I have something I want to add to my warm up or announcements, I add it from my Mac (or iPhone, depending on what is in front of me), type the extra line of text, and then wait. When I open up OmniOutliner on my iPad alongside my score reader of choice, forScore, the edits automatically sync to my iPad’s copy and I have an up to date version of my plan, ready to rehearse from.

For an actual review of OmniOutliner, check out this great one from MacStories. BTW, OmniOutliner now has a 10 dollar “Essentials” version that gives you most of the compelling features of the app without going all in on the powerful stuff I did not mention here (like cross-platform automation, for example). 

Download here:

OmniOutliner 3 by The Omni Group

OmniFocus 2 by The Omni Group

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