Peering into the Black Mirror: Tomorrow’s Apple Education Event

Recently, Rene Ritchie asked his Twitter followers what they wanted to see happen at Apple’s upcoming Education Event in Chicago. In response, I quipped that I wanted iTunesU to be TouchID enabled. (Fraser Speirs, who has rightly lamented iTunesU’s molasses-slow development, warned me away from asking for too fancy an update.).

I mention the exchange not so much to name drop but to calibrate the importance of the event for Apple. And if I can see it, I suspect Apple can as well.

Much of the commentary in the tech media has focused on the possibility of an No. 2 Apple Pencil and a semi-Pro iPad priced for the education market as well as the need for Apple to produce management tools that would make it competitive with Google’s offerings.

I want to offer another possibility. If I were to say that it has been on my radar screen for about a year, it would imply that I had a clearer view of it than I do. I’d go with the metaphorical crystal ball but the iPad’s black glass slate seems to invoke images of Dr. John Dee’s Spirit Mirror, so I will go with that instead.

It was actually Fraser Speirs who, during a break in the Mellon Summer Institute on Technology and New Media, the increasing capabilities available to those who wanted to create their own Swift Playground. As he showed me what was possible with some of the mapping features, I couldn’t help but notice how similar it felt to iBooks Author — Apple’s underutilized eBook authoring tool.

Perhaps it won’t be tomorrow, but I can’t help but think that Swift Playground development and iBooks Author are on a path to merge — perhaps bringing iTunesU and Apple Classrooms along with them — into a new, more modern and more powerful platform. Such a move would possibly explain why Apple appears to be moving more slowly in this sector than they should.

Apple’s successes, I would argue, are based in looking carefully at the first causes of problems and developing well-grounded responses to them that leapfrog entire industries and paradigms rather than doing a quick patch that makes them appear up to date in the current news cycle. My bet is on them doing something along those lines — whether it is the tomorrow or next year — in education.

Dr. Matthew M. DeForrest is a Professor of English and the Mott University Professor at Johnson C. Smith University. The observations and opinions he expresses here are his own. You are very welcome to follow him on Twitter and can find his academic profile at