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Apple's New $329 iPad With Pencil Support Takes On Chromebooks

It's back-to-school for Apple with a brand new iPad.

Apple unveiled a new version of its tablet franchise at its education event in Chicago on Tuesday, which it hosted at the Lane Tech College Prep High School. The school is the largest public high school in Chicago.

"Macs and iPads are used throughout schools by students for everything from music to language arts and even advanced robotics," Apple's CEO Tim Cook said at the event.

Apple called the new iPad "our most affordable iPad." It starts at $299 for schools, and $329 for consumers (£319 in the UKAU$469 in Australia) for the 32GB model. The new iPad is available to order starting today, and you can expect shipping to start this week. The current cheapest iPad is also $329.

New iPad
Apple showed off its new iPad for classrooms, which will work with the Apple Pen. (James Martin/CNET)

The new 9.7 inch iPad will be able to use Apple's Pencil stylus, which costs an additional $99.

"The new 9.7 inch iPad takes everything people love about our most popular iPad and make it even better," Greg Joswiak, one of Apple's marketing executives, said.

It'll have an 8-megapixel camera, with 10 hours battery life and weigh just 1 pound (469 grams), Apple said. The new iPad uses an A10 chip and supports 300 Mbps LTE. The A10 Fusion chip means that the iPad is more powerful than most laptops and essentially every Chromebook.

The iPad's Retina screen will also open up augmented reality possibilities for students, like virtually dissecting a frog.

The iPad mimics features already available on the iPad Pro, like tilt and pressure, as well as a high-resolution touch system, which allows for quick responses. The Apple Pencil will also have its own set of apps available, the most popular ones which are Pages and Keynote.

The Pencil will allow users to add smart annotations to Pages, which means students and teachers can add marks to the Pages document directly.

Along with the update comes several software upgrades too, like Apple increasing the iCloud storage space for schools from 5 to 200 gigabytes. The company also revealed a School Manager program, as well as making the Classroom app available for the Mac.

If the $99 Apple Pencil is too expensive, Logitech offers a $49 alternative aimed at kids, called the Crayon.

The new iPad is Apple's answer to Google's Chromebook, which has become the go-to gadget for teachers in classrooms. Apple devices used to fill up schools across the country, but has since slipped as Google's Chromebooks rose in popularity.

One of Google's major advantages over Apple for educators was that their Chromebooks were more affordable than iPads. While schools typically buy Chromebooks for about $250 to $300, iPads for schools can cost nearly $800 apiece, because of the education curriculum included with Apple's tablet. Apple offers a discount for schools with its newest iPad, at a $29 price drop, but it's still more expensive than most Chromebooks.

In the last quarter of 2017, six out of every 10 mobile devices shipped to a K-12 school in the US were Chromebooks, according to Google. That's compared to the 11 percent of schools that are using iOS, according to FutureSource Consulting.

This is Apple's first education-focused event since Apple's digital textbooks launched in 2012. As interest in tablets dwindle, Apple has increasingly relied on schools and businesses to drum up interests in iPads.

"Students and teachers alike love the iPad. They love that it's so easy to use ... It feels like an extension of their minds," Joswiak said.

Apple's iPad initially became a big seller when it hit the market in 2010 and was considered the third leg of the company's "three-legged stool" of strong businesses. But the tablets have struggled over the past couple of years as Apple's iPhones get bigger and its Mac computers get smaller. People who've bought iPads have held onto them longer, while others find they don't need a tablet once they have an iPhone Plus and a Mac.

In 2015, Apple tried to give new life to its iPad by introducing the 12.9-inch Pro model with an optional keyboard case and Apple Pencil stylus. The Pros, along with a lower-priced iPad model that Apple launched a year ago, have helped the company's iPad sales rebound after 13 straight quarters of declines.

With the new model announced at a school on Tuesday, it's Apple's latest bet to win back the education market.

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