Normally, when Apple goes to the trouble of putting on an event, it's somewhere near the company's home base in sunny Cupertino. Not this time! After deciding not to hold a March keynote last year, Apple now has plans to hold court in Chicago's prestigious Lane Tech College Prep school. This "field trip," as Apple's calling it, is far from business as usual, but with days to go before the event kicks off, we've got a few ideas about what you can expect Apple to unveil in the Windy City.
Cheap new iPad(s)
Around this time last year, Apple revealed its $329 iPad — no suffix, no superlative, just iPad — to entice tablet shoppers with a taste of modern iOS. That move paid off: In the first full quarter after that iPad launched, Apple's tablet sales grew year-over-year for the first time since 2013. A sequel was inevitable, and a recent report from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman (you know, the guy with the amazingly accurate track record) all but guarantees we'll see an inexpensive follow-up with loads of education appeal. Exactly how much this new tablet will cost is still a mystery: Some reports suggest the price could dip as low as $260. If true, Apple's iPad line could suddenly pose a much bigger threat to the Chromebooks flooding schools.
And that definitely isn't the only iPad Apple is working on at the moment. References spotted in iOS 11.3's beta code back in January also point to the existence of "Modern" iPads that are rumored to have Face ID sensors to replace the tablets' traditional home buttons. Based on regulatory approvals that recently surfaced in Europe, it looks like Apple is indeed updating its two existing iPad Pro models, but we're not convinced that Apple would unveil them at a specialized event like the one happening next week.
Some Apple Pencil news
Apple's press invitations are usually pretty colorful, but this time we got a subdued design with what's meant to look like a hand-drawn Apple logo. It's hard not to see it as a reference to the Apple Pencil, an accessory that has only ever been compatible with the company's pricey iPad Pros. It's possible Apple could have added Pencil support into its new, cheap iPad, but the economics don't make a ton of sense. One Apple Pencil costs $99, or about a third of an iPad. We'd honestly be surprised to get much in the way of Pencil news at the Chicago event, but based on that coy invite, we're not ruling anything out.
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A touch of ClassKit
Apple's iOS 11.3 is still in the works, but one fascinating tidbit appeared in the latest beta release. There are references in the code ClassKit, a framework tailor-made to help developers create apps for schools. Sounds like the perfect thing to discuss at length inside a high school, no? While Apple is surely courting developers, we've heard a few things about one of Apple's own ClassKit-powered apps. According to 9to5Mac, teachers will be able to assign work to students through an app called Classwork, which kids can also use to log their progress. More broadly, apps built on top of ClassKit can be used to evaluate students and issue tests, not to mention lock down the iPad into a sort of "kiosk" mode to prevent kids from jumping into Safari and Googling for quiz answers.
A less expensive MacBook Air?
Right now, the cheapest new Mac you can buy is a $999 MacBook Air, and it's not exactly cutting-edge. It received a spec bump last summer, but still uses a relatively old processor and lower-res display. Reports from famed Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and elsewhere, however, point to the possibility of a MacBook Air with a "lower price tag" to launch sometime in the spring. A subsequent report from Bloomberg's Gurman confirmed Apple is indeed working on an Air sequel priced under $1,000. It's not hard to see how a machine like that might help Apple move more laptops into classrooms, but the price gap between a cheap Macbook and a Chromebook is still pretty huge. Word is the new Air won't be ready in time for an official reveal at next week's event, but it would make for a fantastic One More Thing. (Hear that, Apple?)
An updated iPhone SE?
This one might seem like a stretch, but we've heard some persistent rumors about a follow-up to Apple's tiny, 2-year-old smartphone. The company originally built it because there was no option for people who wanted to experience the latest and greatest iOS features in a small, easy-to-handle device. Because the phone's size was one of its biggest selling points, it's hard to pinpoint what Apple's design priorities might be for a new SE. Would it feature a rounded body akin to the iPhone 8? Or would Apple just squeeze a more modern A-series chipset into the same iPhone 5-esque body? There's little in the way of convincing answers so far, but we wouldn't be at all surprised if Apple decided to show off an SE sequel sometime this year. The real question is whether Apple will devote time during next week's event to talk about it.