Apple’s Head of Marketing Wrongfully Dunks on Chromebooks

November 15, 2019, 1:42 PM UTC

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The introduction of Apple’s new 16-inch MacBook Pro should have been an easy win for the company. The laptop made great strides in giving heavy duty users more of what they asked for, including longer battery life, greater storage and memory options, and, finally, a revised keyboard without the dreaded butterfly switches of the past few years (or should I say FINALLY).

But Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller, who heads marketing, couldn’t just take the win. At the end of a lengthy interview with CNET, he derided the competition. And, in this case, I think he went way too far:

“It’s not hard to understand why kids aren’t engaged in a classroom without applying technology in a way that inspires them. You need to have these cutting-edge learning tools to help kids really achieve their best results. Yet Chromebooks don’t do that. Chromebooks have gotten to the classroom because, frankly, they’re cheap testing tools for required testing. If all you want to do is test kids, well, maybe a cheap notebook will do that. But they’re not going to succeed.”

As an elected member of my local public school’s School Committee, I’m involved in making decisions about technology and curriculum. And I’m incredulous and annoyed and really kind of outraged over the notion that only kids with iPads are getting a good education while kids with Chromebooks are shortchanged.

Incredulous because not all school districts can afford iPads. Incredulous because I have seen firsthand the innovative ways that teachers can engage their students with Chromebooks. And incredulous because it’s become so obvious in education that what matters for improving kids’ learning is not the quality of their devices, but the quality of their teachers and their curriculum. Well-trained teachers with well-designed lessons and individualized learning approaches are more effective than any laptop.

I asked Tom Arnett, who studies technology in schools as senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute, to sum up the state of the art for me. He did so beautifully:

“The particular devices students use in school–whether Chromebooks, MacBooks, iPads or Windows laptops–matter far less than how those devices are used … Devices make a difference for students when they expand teachers’ capacity to address their students’ individual learning needs. Pushing devices into schools without a sound plan for how those devices support and improve teachers’ instruction often does more harm than good.”

And that’s the saddest part. As I’ve mentioned before, my own district uses iPads in middle school and Chromebooks in high school, and has benefitted from Apple’s efforts to enhance teaching with technology (not to mention its years-long progress in helping schools manage hundreds and even thousands of devices in kids’ hands). Enhancing education needs to be the real focus. Otherwise, as Arnett warns, buying iPads or Chromebooks is just a huge waste of money for schools.

I hope Schiller will amend his remarks (I asked Apple for comment yesterday and didn’t hear back). In the meantime, the hard work of teaching and learning goes on.

By the way, we’re building a new version of Fortune. While you’re here, we’d appreciate your confidential feedback on our products and platforms. You’re invited to join our Global Advisory Panel.

Aaron Pressman

Twitter: @ampressman



Battle of the network stars. After losing out to Microsoft on the Pentagon's $10 billion JEDI cloud computing project, Amazon has decided to challenge the decision in court. It's not an uncommon outcome when big government contracts are awarded and lost. And with overt meddling by President Trump, Amazon may have a case. But Defense Secretary Mark Esper says the process "was conducted freely and fairly, without any type of outside influence."

Less crunching. On Wall Street, Nvidia had a decent quarter with revenue only down 5% to $3 billion, which was better than analysts expected, as slumping bitcoin mining using graphics cards has hurt sales. Nvidia's stock, previously up 57% this year, gained just 1% in pre-market trading on Friday.

Suspect timing. Using a password manager is de rigueur for all cybersecurity mavens. But some eyebrows raised this week when the developer of 1Password, a leader in that market, decided to take $200 million of venture capital after taking none in its first 14 years of operation. CEO Jeff Shiner says the funding will help "double and triple down on what we’ve been doing," but some customers fear price hikes and management distractions.

Free, as in beer. Forget Elizabeth Warren and her billionaires' tax. Britain's Labour Party on Friday proposed nationalizing British Telecom's broadband Internet service, Openreach, and taxing tech giants like Google and Apple in order to extend coverage to every citizen in the country by 2030.

I've got sunshine on a cloudy day. Everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it, except IBM. The company on Thursday unveiled a new weather prediction tool dubbed Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting, or GRAF, that uses a supercomputer and tons of data to make predictions for areas as small as two miles wide.


Whistleblowers are much in the news of late, even in some of the stories we're following at Data Sheet. Thanks to a whistleblower, the news that Google was working with a big healthcare system to collect and analyze intimate medical data from millions of patients became public. Said truth teller took to the pages of The Guardian to explain why they spoke out:

After a while I reached a point that I suspect is familiar to most whistleblowers, where what I was witnessing was too important for me to remain silent. Two simple questions kept hounding me: did patients know about the transfer of their data to the tech giant? Should they be informed and given a chance to opt in or out? The answer to the first question quickly became apparent: no. The answer to the second I became increasingly convinced about: yes. Put the two together, and how could I say nothing?


A few long reads that I came across this week:

Five things I’ve learnt about saving the world (Financial Times)
Climate change is making us rethink the way we eat, dress, travel and work.

Is Brain Stimulation the Next Big Thing? (Outside)
Over the past decade, athletes, coaches, and researchers have been seduced by the performance-boosting promises of brain stimulation. On a ride-and-zap-your-brain-like-the-pros tour through the Alps, Alex Hutchinson wonders whether it really works—and whether we want it to.

This Tom Hanks Story Will Help You Feel Less Bad (New York Times)
Hanks is playing Mister Rogers in a new movie and is just as nice as you think he is. Please read this article anyway.

The Sky Bar’s triumphant return (Boston Globe)
How an iconic candy was almost lost, and then, unexpectedly saved.


Despite a Slow Start, the Tencent and Nintendo Partnership Still Holds Promise By Lisa Marie Segarra

Mo’Nique Takes Netflix to Task Over Racial and Gender Bias in 39-Page Discrimination Suit By Isaac Feldberg

Walmart CEO Says Online Business Still Has Lots of Work to Do By Phil Wahba

Why Mercedes’s Self-Driving Trucks Are Set to Overtake Its Robotaxis By David Meyer

DeX Review: Getting Files and Photos From a Samsung Phone to a Computer Is Easier Than Ever By Aaron Pressman

The Stock Market Has Hit 19 New Highs in 2019 Alone. Why? By Ben Carlson


In the media industry, we're a little obsessed with the HBO show Succession, which is, shall we say, inspired by the real-life antics of billionaire Rupert Murdoch and his media empire. The show's brilliant intro theme is slightly ominous and foreboding, which has inspired some particularly talented yet unnamed YouTuber to paste the tune over the opening credits of all sorts of other TV shows. It's a perfect fit on The Wire, and seems like it was made for Westworld, but it's truly a hoot on Cheers.

Have a great weekend.

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