Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Education Use of Apple iPad Growing

Story first appeared on Bloomberg News

Julie Garcia handed Apple Inc. (AAPL) iPads to students in her seventh-grade pre-algebra class on a recent morning before showing the pupils how to use the tablet to graph data, hunt for correlations and record how-to videos.

A math instructor at Innovation Middle School, Garcia is one of the first to use some of the more than 25,000 iPads the San Diego Unified School District bought from Apple this year.

Garcia said it is the "cool factor" as she looks over the room of students tapping energetically on tablets.

For districts around the country, though, it’s the price as much as the cool quotient that could draw them to a new, smaller version of the iPad that Apple will unveil tomorrow at an event in San Jose, California. Apple has long been a leader in education, and schools began embracing the iPad soon after its 2010 debut. Yet as fiscal budget shortfalls crimp spending all the more, schools in growing numbers are warming to the handheld devices as an alternative to more expensive laptops.

Now schools, as well as consumers, are about to get another big price break: The smaller iPad may cost as little as $249, according to Barclays Plc. That compares with $499 to $829 for the current iPad.

Beyond the school market of course, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook will use the device to try to widen Apple’s lead over Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc. and fend off a more recent threat from Microsoft Corp. in the market for tablets, which NPD DisplaySearch predicts will more than double to $162 billion by 2017. Cook will unveil an iPad with a 7.85-inch screen diagonally, people familiar with its development said in August. The current iPad has a 9.7-inch screen.

iPad Shift

Yet Apple executives plan to make a point of highlighting the iPad’s educational capabilities at tomorrow’s event, according to a person with knowledge of the planning. Little wonder. Education spending on information technology, including hardware, was about $19.7 billion in the 2010-2011 period, according to the Center for Digital Education.

Educators’ bet on tablets mirrors a trend in the broader consumer-electronics market, where consumers are buying iPads instead of traditional personal computers. PC sales in K-12 fell 8 percent in the U.S. last quarter, the third straight decline, Gartner said.

James Ponce, the superintendent of the McAllen Independent School District in Texas said they are moving away from desktops and laptops to tablet devices.

School Sales

The education push is part of a strategy put in place under co-Founder Steve Jobs, before the iPad was introduced in 2010. While Apple has a history of selling Mac computers to schools, the company realigned its education sales force to emphasize iPads, a person familiar with the changes said.

Innovation Middle School has traditionally used Lenovo Group Ltd. (992) computers because Macs are too expensive, said Harlan Klein, the school’s principal.

The new iPad comes at a critical time for Apple. Its shares have dropped 13 percent since reaching a record on Sept. 19, two days before the company released the iPhone 5. Sales of the smartphone have been constrained by supply constraints. Apple is also facing fresh competition in tablets from Microsoft (MSFT), which on Oct. 26 will release the Surface, its first foray into hardware. Apple had about 70 percent of the market in the second quarter, compared with Samsung Electronics Co., which had 9.2 percent, and Amazon’s 4.2 percent, according to IHS ISuppli.

Courting Educators

To woo educators, Apple’s sales staff meets regularly with school administrators and procurement officers across the U.S. The company has sales staff assigned to work with schools in particular regions of the U.S., and pays for district officials to visit Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, to learn about new products.

The company will need to set the new iPad’s price right to woo cash-strapped districts.

Vineet Madan, a senior vice president at McGraw-Hill Cos. (MHP) education unit said there would be a real aggressive uptake in the K-12 market when tablets get into the $200-$300 range.

To save money, San Diego’s school district bought iPad 2s after Apple dropped the price of that model when the newest version was introduced earlier this year.

Training Teachers

Drawing on funds raised through a voter-approved bond measure, the district spent about $370 on each iPad, which comes pre-loaded with various educational applications, Browne said.

Besides budgetary constraints, a major challenge for schools is training teachers and managing all the new equipment and software. If a teacher wants to use an iPad math application, synchronizing a classroom of devices and monitoring all the students’ work can be time consuming. In San Diego, a team of eight employees helps train teachers and manage new technology.

Touch Screens

In southern Texas, Ponce of the McAllen Independent School District reached out to Apple soon after the district decided to get away from buying laptops and desktops, which he said were expensive to maintain and unappealing for many students. Apple was at the table helping craft the district’s strategy for integrating technology in classrooms, he said.

The work resulted in McAllen buying about 25,000 iPads, paying Apple about $3.5 million a year as part of a financing deal the district worked out with Apple. About half the district’s technology budget is now going to Apple, Ponce said. Students are using iPad applications to test for vocabulary, make presentations and compile class notes.

While some teachers have resisted the new technology, many are adapting because they see students are increasingly fluent with touch-screen-based technology, said Courtney Browne, a technology resource teacher at San Diego Unified School District.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

iPhone Production Did Not Slow Due to Employee Issues

Story first appeared on usatoday.com.

Foxconn Technology Group denied on Saturday that production was affected at a Chinese factory that makes Apple's iPhones, although both state media and an overseas labor watch group said some workers halted production lines on Friday, apparently over higher quality control standards.
New York-based China Labor Watch reported that 3,000 to 4,000 workers at the Foxconn plant in the central China's Zhengzhou city went on strike Friday over increased quality control demands and having to work during an extended national holiday.
The official Xinhua News Agency, quoting a spokesman for the management committee of the Xinzheng Comprehensive Bonded Area where the plant is located, said some production lines were halted Friday when workers persuaded quality inspectors to skip work to show their dissatisfaction over higher quality standards.
In a written statement issued Saturday, the Taiwan-based electronic manufacturer Foxconn said production at the Zhengzhou plant continued without interruption. It denied any strike or work stoppage.
Foxconn said there were two isolated, small-scale disputes between production line workers and quality assurance personnel on Monday and Tuesday, but it added that they were quickly addressed. It did not specify what issues had caused the disputes but said immediate measures were taken to resolve the problems, including adding production line workers.
Xinhua said some workers were unhappy when Apple strengthened quality inspections of the iPhone 5 following consumer complaints regarding aesthetic flaws in the phone. In the Xinhua report, the spokesman — who was not named — characterized the incident as a worker-management dispute instead of a strike and was unable to provide a specific number of workers involved.
China Labor Watch said several iPhone 5 production lines at the factory were paralyzed after the workers found the new quality control demands difficult to meet and went on strike. The group said the workers also were angry about being forced to work through China's National Day Golden Week holiday, which ends Sunday.
The iPhone 5, the latest in the line of the smartphones, debuted in September.
China Labor Watch said the Foxconn workers were required to work during the eight-day holiday from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7 to meet the production demand of iPhone 5.
Foxconn said its employees in China who worked during the holiday did so voluntarily and were being paid three times their normal pay, in accordance with Chinese labor law.
China Labor Watch said workers also beat quality control inspectors, who carried out their own work stoppage after management ignored their complaints.
According to China Labor Watch, Apple and Foxconn had imposed stricter quality standards regarding indentations and scratches on the frames and back covers of the iPhones but did not provide workers with proper training to meet the new demands.
Apple could not be reached immediately for comment.
In late September, a brawl involving 2,000 workers broke out at Foxconn's factory in the northern Chinese city of Taiyuan, highlighting chronic labor tensions in a country that prohibits independent unions.
Labor activists have said the rollout of the iPhone 5 has led to longer working hours and more pressure on workers.