Apple has been on a roll recently. The runaway success of the iPod has created something that's been called "the halo effect". Many people who have never owned an Apple computer are now buying iPods, and this is encouraging them to think about buying a computer from Apple for the first time.
"Don't ignore the iPod effect in schools," says David Baugh, ICT adviser for the 56 schools in the Denbighshire local authority and an Apple distinguished educator. "Schools are using iPods to record language lessons and music. But using an iPod with a PC is a pain - you always have to upgrade the PC." So, as the iPod is made by Apple, it makes sense to move to Apple computers.
The iPod is enabling radical initiatives like the iPodagogy project in Edinburgh (see news, p4-5). It is also wearing away the traditional resistance to Macs. "Even the most die-hard PC users are starting to use iPods," says Baugh "and they're starting to use Macs and realising that they work really well."
Apple rarely gives detailed sales figures, but total Mac sales have increased in the past couple of years, and Baugh confirms that Mac sales to schools are on the increase. They're particularly popular for media work, such as music and video - a fact that Baugh attributes to the popular iLife software that Apple includes with every Mac.
Apple has often been criticised for its high prices, but Baugh argues that the overall cost of Mac computers - and their extra software - actually makes them better value than buying an ordinary PC. "The Mac might be pound;100 more expensive than buying a comparable Dell box, but I've done the costings, and buying the equivalent software for a PC would cost at least pound;160-Pounds 180." That means that Macs do provide better value in overall terms. Baugh adds that PC software is often "a bit ropey"
compared with Apple's.
One other factor that has helped to drive Apple's success in the consumer market is its stylish and imaginative industrial design. Many people dismiss Apple's design fetish as merely a matter of fashion, but Baugh points out that Apple's design standards have practical benefits for schools.
"One problem that many schools have is space," says Baugh. The compact and elegant design of machines such as the iMac (above), and the diminutive and affordable Mac Mini (just pound;350), means it's a lot easier to find room for Macs in crowded classrooms and labs.
Baugh also praises products such as Apple's Mobile Classroom, a high-tech trolley that allows you to store and transport up to 15 portable iBooks and link them on a wireless network.
Ultimately, it's the Mac's traditional emphasis on creativity - music, video and multimedia work - that is its great strength. "What this country is good at is creativity. And the creative industries all use the Mac."