Another quarter, and another round of layoffs in Apple’s Education Division. Everybody who is left must be looking around wondering how much time they have left. I got news for them; start looking for another job NOW! It is plainly obvious that Apple is going to pare the division down to the bare minimum and then roll the few survivors into the rest of the sales force. In the words and music of Jim Morrison and the Doors, “This is the end, my only friend, the end”.
Anybody who doubts this needs to look back no farther than the last few Macworld Expo keynotes. When was the last time Steve Jobs said a word about the education market? Years ago, period. Oh, sure Apple will still sell iBooks, eMacs, and iMacs to schools without question. But the truth is, it’s not on his radar screen anymore.
The fact is Windows has won the Education market. Only the video-editing subsection remains an Apple territory, holding the high ground. But Apple could have a decent share of it. All it would take is a willingness to let an outside group take up the banner. In many areas of the country this means letting the independent dealers and their sales staff take over. Back to a local, grass roots operation. The education discounts would remain, however, enough of a profit still exists to make these sales worthwhile to dealers. I have talked to a few dealers in the past few years and they all see at the minimum a profitable situation, and at best a gold mine. Local Apple retailers have been repairing Macs for schools for years, both in and out of warranty. They already have a relationship with many of the schools and districts. By unleashing them to sell Apple lets go of a shrinking division, yet at the same time lays the groundwork for stabilizing and increasing education sales.
The locals would be able to provide additional services much quicker than Apple, and at a lower cost. Over the past five years I have met some of the Apple Education Technical support staff. Good people who when they came out for technical seminars always found time to visit Mac schools that were having networking problems of one type or another. They always spent an extra few days and knew that the need was there for constant technical assistance throughout Oregon. This is just the sort of thing schools are crying for, yet cannot receive in a timely and local fashion. No matter how much easier Macs are to use, once they are hooked into a larger network bugs and issues occur. Having local support that won’t disappear is a tremendous issue when purchasing computers. Administrators need that support in these sad days of poor education budgets in order to justify purchases.
What is likely to happen is that Apple will use its stores as a base of operation for a new style of education sales. Apple stores will be asked to develop relationships with local schools. Teachers and IT people will be groomed to come in to the store look at options and place their order at that time. The building of this relationship has already begun. Apple stores are making connection with teachers whose students create educational iMovies. The teachers are encouraged to signup for an Apple Store night for the school. Students come in and have their movie playing to show customers how easy Apple technology is and how having Macs in schools can add to the learning process (I am in the middle of this process with my students). It is also a chance for the parents to see Macs first-hand and with the eMac and iBook, the price/value comparison to Dell, etc. The end result for Apple is a higher profile, multiple use of retail store, and a visual connection to education.
The problem with this model is that Apple expects education buyers to come to them. That doesn’t work when your behind and losing more ground by the week. Steve needs to let go beyond his visual radar screen and let the faithful Apple dealers take a shot at improving Apple’s education market share. After all, it truly cannot get any worse, and it won’t cost Apple a penny. In fact, it will do much to improve the climate between Cupertino and the independent dealers, and in the end, the bottom line.