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Apple Goes Back to School: When Will Students Make the Move to iPads?


When Apple decides to make the world tablet-only, it will start with students.

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL The back-to-school season is historically one of the best times of the year for PC manufacturers. It's a logical time for parents to buy their high school and college-bound kids a new machine, not to mention all the frantic retail bundling that happens in Best Buy (BBY) and Apple (AAPL) stores. That's why it's interesting to see what Apple is offering to students this fall: A choice between a Mac and an iPad, the former with $100 worth of apps and the latter with $50 worth.

For perhaps the first time, Apple is making explicit what it's been implying for a while: A tablet can be a viable alternative to a personal computer.

First of all, this makes the deal that Apple is offering rather problematic. $50 worth of apps for an iPad is a pretty sweet deal, but $100 worth of apps for a Mac doesn't really make a whole lot of sense if you think about what the point of an app really is in the first place.

Anyone with a desktop or laptop has a pretty dynamic range of input capabilities compared to someone using a touchscreen. The user can click, drag, type, select, and manage multiple applications or projects at once. The idea of a mobile app is to provide shortcuts that allow tablet users to perform tasks that have the same complexity as the tasks that PC users can perform.

This is not to say that desktop apps don't have a purpose. They just have a different purpose. The most popular apps for desktops are, predictably, utilities and productivity applications like Evernote (which tend to cost more money than entertainment apps), while mobile apps tend towards the gaming sector. Desktops are already geared towards productivity in a way that tablets aren't yet; there's a reason that the children's play areas in Apple Stores have been switched from eMacs to iMacs to iPads.

Right now, the group of people living with an iPad alone is still a fairly small niche, with many of them keeping blogs or writing articles about their experiment. But when Apple CEO Tim Cook referred to the iPad as a "post-PC device" a few months ago, he tipped Apple's hand, revealing that the company truly does see the future as belonging to tablets and not laptops or desktops.

Over the next few weeks, the things we will see at Apple's events will likely be major predictors of the path of mobile technology for years to come. I just can't help feeling that this was the back-to-school season in which Apple could have made its move.

If Apple really wants to change the iPad from an auxiliary device to a main device (and the peripherals are there: Portable keyboards, heavy-duty cases, video adapters, and more), the company should be offering a far sweeter deal to students in order to convince them to download those educational and utilities apps. $100 worth of apps, even, could seriously pimp out a student's iPad.

Better still would be a greater level of compatibility with auxiliary devices like cameras and projectors, which are features that Apple is looking into as the iPad improves. When it comes to winning the race to make tablets the primary devices for students, though, Apple is still way ahead; kids who bought computers from the Microsoft (MSFT) store this fall just got a free Xbox.
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