Apple loves to keep pundits guessing about its release plans, but in the past few years the timing of the company’s announcements has become reasonably predictable even if the announcements themselves have not. There are three main launch windows through the year: spring (usually March), summer (WWDC, virtually always June) and autumn (September – iPhone refresh and sometimes other stuff). And we’ve just had the dates for March and June 2018.
Here’s what we’re expecting at the March education-focused event. For a broader look at the coming year’s likely announcements, see Apple predictions 2018.
Dates, times, venue(s) and other details
Apple has announced an event in the US at 10am Chicago time on 27 March. (We understand that there will be a corresponding event in the UK on the same date, but other than that we don’t know the details.)
The US event will be at Lane Tech College Prep high school, Chicago. It’s obviously unusual to have an announcement in a school rather than a conference centre or Apple Park, but that reflects the subject matter: Apple has made it abundantly clear that this will be an education-focused announcement.
How to follow the announcements
Apple hasn’t yet said if it will stream the event on its website, but we think it’s likely. If we’re right about that, it will appear on Apple’s special events page nearer the time, and you’ll be able to stream it live if your Mac, iPad, iPhone or even Windows PC meets the system requirements. The Apple Events app is also worth downloading.
And we’ll be liveblogging the event here, so bookmark this page for all the news as it’s announced plus impartial commentary.
What will be announced?
As ever with Apple, we don’t know for sure, but there are plenty of clues to be gleaned from what Apple has said (and not said), the graphics and phrasing of the invitation and the state of the company’s various product lines.
“Let’s take a field trip,” the invitation reads. “Join us to hear creative new ideas for teachers and students.”
Which suggests that everything we’re going to be hearing about will have a role in the classroom. It could be educational programmes along the lines of Everyone Can Code, or discussion of the educational discount, or something related to Swift – Apple is evangelistic about app coding being taught to children.
Obviously we’re hoping for some hardware, and there are plenty of Apple products that are due for an update and would fit a classroom setting perfectly; but this should not be relied upon.
(You may or may not know, by the way, that Apple holds events for schoolchildren and teachers in its retail stores, and that these are branded as Field Trips.)
The last time Apple held an education event
Before we move on to individual predictions, let’s spend a moment digging up ancient history. Back in 2012 Apple held another education-focused event in an unorthodox venue: the Guggenheim Museum.
Based on 2012’s announcements we shouldn’t expect any new hardware at all: Apple just talked about iBooks, iBooks Author and iTunes U. But that was a January event, and the company hadn’t yet established a pattern of major product releases in March.
We’re fairly sure some new hardware will arrive this spring, but it may not appear at Lane Tech; it might just be a quiet press release sent out a few weeks later. Even though 2015 and 2016 saw full Apple press events in March, there was only a press release in 2017.
The main iPhone refresh of the year is almost nailed-on for a September event, but there are rumours that Apple will update its smallest and cheapest phone before then. Many pundits had expected the iPhone SE 2 to be a spring announcement (the first iPhone SE came out in March 2016), but that now seems unlikely.
A new SE would be a big hit (we feel) but it has precisely nothing to do with the education sector (unless Apple is about to present a radical repositioning message) so looks more likely to be held back until WWDC. Or ditched entirely.
Chances: Slim to none
On to the more likely suspects. The invitation has something of a calligraphic, hand-drawn theme, and this points to tablets (and styluses, but we’ll get to that in a moment). Tablets are also a good fit for students.
This is our top pick. The (comparatively) budget-priced iPad 9.7in (2017) was announced in spring 2017 and was so popular and successful that it almost single-handedly dragged Apple’s tablet division into positive growth. Surely the time is right for a timely update, pushing the device’s undoubted education credentials?
As a side note, we wonder if Apple may finally extend Apple Pencil support to non-Pro iPads. That’s been the USP for the premium models since the stylus came out, but it’s been two and a half years, and this would both appeal to the art, design, D&T and related departments in schools and fit with the graphic on the invitation.
What if Apple doesn’t give the 9.7in iPad compatibility with the Pencil? That would strongly incline us towards expecting a new Pro or Pros.
It’s a far tougher sell, though: some private schools have the funds to support a high-end tablet rollout, but most publicly funded institutions around the globe do not.
A new Apple Pencil? Don’t bet against it. It’s got education appeal, it fits the clues on the invitation, and it’s been two and a half years since the first model came out.
Chances: Medium to high
University students are famous for using Macs, but it feels less of a fit at a high school. It’s possible, though, that some of the cheaper machines in Apple’s stable could get a mention.
A new MacBook Air has been awaited and expected for ages, and the analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a near unrivalled track record for Apple predictions, thinks it’s coming this spring. And it’s a good shout for school use: cheap (at least for a MacBook), portable and arguably more user-friendly and secure than an equivalent Windows machine.
Macworld’s editor feels that updating the MacBook Air would risk undercutting the (more expensive) MacBook, however, and there is something in this. We can see this one going either way, but it feels like the most likely Mac to get an update at this event.
Chances: Medium to high
If it’s not the MacBook Air, what Mac could Apple roll into the classroom? Maybe the 12in MacBook, although purely from a cost perspective it could prove even more alarming to beleaguered school boards than the iPad Pros.
A better (if still outside) bet for our money is the Mac mini, another neglected product line. It’s cheap and perfect for IT departments that have plenty of old monitors that don’t need updating.
Chances: Low to medium
We’ve left it until last because it’s less relevant to the average consumer than the items discussed above. But this is probably the most likely announcement of all. We’re 95 percent sure this will get a mention on 27 March.
ClassKit is a framework that allows developers to create educational apps, and appeared as part of the iOS 11.3 beta. Activities across all ClassKit apps will be unified under a single app called Classwork.
Chances: Very high