Apple announces low-cost iPad with pencil support for schools (updated)

Apple recently announced it would be holding a special education-focused event on March 27 in Chicago. The event came as a surprise since it’s been several years since Apple held a spring event and more than five years since it held an education-focused one. We’re curious to see what the company has in store for consumers, kids, and educators.

Now that the media event is right around the corner, we’ve got a better picture of what Apple will be debuting Tuesday. You can expect plenty of iPad-related updates, upgrades to iPad accessories, a new education-focused software framework for developers, and perhaps even some new MacBook Airs. Read on for our predictions.

Low-cost iPads and iPad accessories

According to Bloomberg, Apple will introduce lower-cost iPad and iPad Pro models on Tuesday. The new hardware will be a play to win back educators and students from competitors like Google, whose low-cost Chromebook has gained popularity in the field. The main education-focused hardware update in this arena will reportedly be a new version of its cheapest iPad. The Verge notes that this could be a good opportunity for Apple to introduce an update to the smaller, cheaper iPad mini. While it’s still available on its website, Apple hasn’t updated its smallest iPad since 2015.

Apple could also use the event as an opportunity to introduce new iPad accessories or upgrades to existing ones. Based on the illustration on the invite for Tuesday’s event, some surmise that Apple might update the Apple Pencil. At $100, it’s not cheap, so maybe the company will introduce a model that would be cost friendlier for students.

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air has been largely neglected in recent years. Apple’s last big notebook update was in 2016, when it debuted the new MacBook with a customizable Touch Bar. But according to oft-accurate KGI Securities, Apple has a cheaper 13-inch MacBook Air in the works. KGI’s Ming-Chi Kuo said in a note that he expects the company to debut a more affordable MacBook Air during the second quarter of this year.

On the other hand, DigiTimes has predicted that Apple won’t introduce a significant update to the MacBook Pro this year and will instead debut an updated 13-inch MacBook. If Apple does use this March event as an opportunity to debut new Mac hardware, it will likely be on the cheaper, entry-level end.

Classroom-focused software

It would be surprising, indeed, if Apple didn’t include a handful of software-focused updates during its announcements. When Apple last held an education-focused event in 2012, it introduced a new version of iBooks as well as iBooks Author, a tool for creating digital textbooks.

Apple might use this event, too, as a platform for some iBooks updates. In January, Bloomberg reported that Apple was planning to rename iBooks to “Books” and redesign the app’s experience with a more simple interface. The new design will reportedly parallel last year’s App Store update and have separate tabs for books and audiobooks.

Developers could also gain new tools for making education-focused apps. In the second beta for iOS 11.3 in February, 9to5Mac discovered evidence of a new framework called ClassKit. From a peek at the code, it looked like ClassKit would allow for student evaluation tools as well as question-answering capabilities that would transmit students’ responses to questions remotely over iCloud. Other bits of code hinted at a digital test-taking mode that would lock a student into a testing app until an exam is fully completed. It will be interesting to see what other tools the framework will offer to help make classrooms more modern.

And one more thing…

While Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t always use Steve Jobs’ old “one more thing” catchphrase at the end of events, it’s entirely possible that Apple could have something unexpected in store for Tuesday. It could be a new education-focused app, updates to iOS that make it more child or student-friendly, or perhaps iPad or MacBook accessories. Apple’s long-awaited AirPower wireless charging mat could be among those accessories (it’s been rumored that it will debut before the end of March). We could see new iPad cases or updated iPad keyboards, as well.

Whatever Apple has planned, we’ll find out Tuesday morning.

Update 12:49pm, March 2: As expected, Apple unveiled a low-cost iPad with pencil support. The 9.7-inch tablet will feature TouchID, an HD camera, 10 hours of battery life, and an 8-megapixel rear camera. It will be powered by the mobile A10 chip found in last generation (iPhone 7) smartphones.

The iPad will be priced at $329 for consumers and $299 for schools. It is available today and will ship this week.

A $50 stylus from Logitech called the “Crayon” was revealed alongside the iPad as a low-cost alternative to the Apple Pencil.

To give students more space to create, Apple upped its free cloud storage amount from 5GB to 200GB.

The company spent the majority of the event talking about its education apps for teachers. Highlights include Schoolwork, which lets teachers assign digital homework; new versions of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote; and ARKit support for its coding app Swift Playgrounds.

Apple did not unveil or even tease a new MacBook Air or the AirPower wireless charging pad.

Christina Bonnington

Christina Bonnington

Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.