Making The Grade: Criteria for picking the best iPad apps

Making The Grade is a weekly series from Bradley Chambers covering Apple in education. Bradley has been managing Apple devices in an education environment since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing 100s of Macs and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple’s products work at scale, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for students.

In the education industry, most people are very transparent about sharing advice. Even in the private school industry, you likely aren’t “competing” for the same kids, so we’ve ended up with a very open group of people that are willing to share best practices, tips, and tricks. One of the most common questions I get is about app selection for iPad deployments. I’ve been researching apps for a long time, so for me, it’s less about what apps are the best and more about what criteria do I use when examining them. Here some of the things I look for (in no particular order).

Update frequency became important as we moved closer to iOS 11 last year. iOS 11 dropped support for 32bit apps, so anything that hadn’t received an update in recent years was left inoperable. If I am browsing the Volume Purchase store, the most recent update is something I am heavily considering. If it’s 2018, and an app hasn’t seen an update in over a year, that is a red flag for me. I want to see a pattern of consistent updates.

Because there is no way to use IAP for iPad deployments, I will always choose a paid app over a free one. Even if a free one doesn’t have IAP, I still would rather have a financial investment in the app (and developer). As I mentioned earlier, update frequency is a significant factor for me, so something that is $5 vs. free will likely see more frequent updates from a developer.

In-app advertising has undoubtedly become commonplace, but it’s something I like to avoid. We’ve have been plenty of examples of inappropriate content making its way into various ad networks. By preventing apps that even use ads, I don’t get a frantic phone call from a teacher or an upset parent emailing me over something their kid saw. I like to limit the things I don’t control concerning what our students can see, so this is a prime example.

I’ve written about Apple’s lack of an identity management solution many times, but Google is offering one, and we use it. If an app supports signing in with Google, I am more likely to deploy it because that is one less account I have to create (and manage). Khan Academy is an excellent example of doing this well. Teachers can invite students to “join” their class, and then assign videos to watch. All of this can be done by just signing in with your G-Suite (Google’s enterprise/education product) account.

These are just a few ways I examine apps. It’s served me well over the years, and we’ve built a substantial collection of classroom resources. Do you have any other things I should add? Let me know in the comments.

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