Apple's new $329 iPad with Pencil support takes on Chromebooks

At its education event in Chicago, Apple shows off a new iPad to help it get ahead in the classroom.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Alfred Ng
Shara Tibken
4 min read
Apple's Tim Cook in front of a large rendering of the new iPad and Apple Pencil.

Apple's new iPad for classrooms will work with the Apple Pencil. 

James Martin/CNET

It's back to school for Apple with a brand-new iPad.

Apple on Tuesday unveiled a new version of its iOS-powered tablet at its education event in Chicago, which it hosted at the Lane Tech College Prep High School. The school is the largest public high school in Chicago.

"Macs and iPads are used throughout schools by students for everything from music to language arts and even advanced robotics," Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the event.

Apple called the 9.7-inch tablet "our most affordable iPad." The addition to the iPad line-up, which includes the top-end iPad Pro and the smaller iPad Mini 4, starts at $299 for schools and $329 for consumers (£319 in the UK, AU$469 in Australia) for the 32GB model. The new iPad is available for order starting Tuesday, and you can expect shipping to start this week. The current cheapest iPad is also $329.

(Check here for Scott Stein's hands-on with the new iPad.)

The new iPad is Apple's answer to Google-powered Chromebooks, which have become the go-to gadgets for teachers in classrooms. Apple devices used to fill up schools across the country, but they've since slipped as Chromebooks rose in popularity.

Watch this: New budget iPad: First hands-on

The new iPad will take advantage of Apple's Pencil stylus, which costs an additional $99. 

"The new 9.7-inch iPad takes everything people love about our most popular iPad and makes it even better," said Greg Joswiak, an Apple marketing executive.

It has an 8-megapixel camera and 10 hours of battery life and weighs just 1 pound (469 grams), Apple said. It uses an A10 Fusion chip and supports 300 Mbps LTE connectivity. The A10 Fusion chip means that the iPad is more powerful than most laptops and essentially every Chromebook. 

The iPad's Retina screen will also open up augmented-reality possibilities for students, like virtually dissecting a frog

Watch this: Apple unveils new 9.7-inch iPad with Pencil

The iPad mimics features already available on the iPad Pro, like tilt and pressure, as well as a high-resolution touch system, which allows for quick responses. The Apple Pencil will also have its own set of apps available, the most popular ones being Pages and Keynote.

The Pencil will allow users to add smart annotations to Pages, which means students and teachers can add marks to the Pages document directly.

Apple also increased the iCloud storage space for schools from 5 gigabytes to 200 GB, and it unveiled a School Manager program, as well as making the Classroom app available for the Mac. 

If you find the $99 Apple Pencil to be too expensive, Logitech offers a $49 alternative aimed at kids, called the Crayon. 

Apple's Chicago education event

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iPad versus Chromebook

One of Google's major advantages over Apple for educators has been the cost of Chromebooks compared with that of iPads. While schools typically buy Chromebooks for about $250 to $300 apiece, iPads for schools can cost nearly $800, in part because of the education curriculum included with Apple's tablet. Apple offers a $29 discount for schools with its newest iPad but it's still more expensive than most Chromebooks.

In the last quarter of 2017, six out of every 10 mobile devices shipped to a K-12 school in the US were Chromebooks, according to Google. Though it isn't a direct comparison, 11 percent of schools that are using iOS-powered iPads, according to FutureSource Consulting.

This is Apple's first education-focused event since Apple's digital textbooks launched in 2012. As interest in tablets dwindles, Apple has increasingly relied on schools and businesses to drum up business for its iPad models.

"Students and teachers alike love the iPad," Joswiak said. "They love that it's so easy to use ... It feels like an extension of their minds."

See the new iPad from every angle

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Apple's iPad was a big seller when it hit the market in 2010 and was considered the third leg of the company's "three-legged stool" of strong businesses. But tablets have struggled over the past couple of years as Apple's iPhones get bigger and its Mac computers get smaller. People who've bought iPads have held onto them longer, while others find they don't need a tablet once they have an iPhone Plus and a Mac.

In 2015, Apple tried to breathe new life into the line by introducing the 12.9-inch iPad Pro model with an optional keyboard case and Apple Pencil stylus. The Pros, along with a lower-priced iPad model that Apple launched a year ago, helped the company's iPad sales rebound after 13 straight quarters of declines.

The new model marks Apple's latest bet to win back the education market.

Watch this: New iPad will run AR

Originally published March 27 at 8:19 a.m. PT.
Updated at 8:23 a.m. PT: To include details of the new iPad
Updated at 8:30 a.m. PT: To add details on the new iPad's features.
Updated at 8:33 a.m. PT: To add details on pricing and availability.
Updated at 8:47 a.m. PT: To add details on new software and apps for the iPad.