It only took eight years, but the tablet wars have officially begun. Ever since Apple unveiled its instantly iconic iPad back in 2010, we’ve been waiting for something to challenge it in a meaningful way. And it’s finally come, not in the form of an Android tablet, but a Chrome OS-based one. And the first battleground will be schools.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether tablets will ever actually be a thing in schools, but Apple is certainly moving as if it is. About 24 hours after Acer unveiled the world’s first Chromebook tablet, Apple responded with its own Pencil-compatible iPad that matches Acer’s in just about every way: price, battery life, screen resolution, and portability. I haven’t had a chance to play with one yet, but on paper, Acer’s 9.7-inch Chromebook Tab 10—seriously, who names these things—seems to be a solid option for districts looking for the touch-screen Chrome experience without the bulk of an attached keyboard. It even looks a lot like the iPad, if not for the ugly reflective Acer logo on the front of the Chromebook.


Acer’s new tablet doesn’t run Android, it runs Chrome OS.

But even if a slew of dirt-cheap Chromebook tablets start flooding the shelves, Apple has a quiet advantage with the iPad that might give it an edge over models that cost hundreds of dollars less: privacy. In a world where all devices all pretty much do the same thing, Apple’s leverage with its new tablet has less to do with what it can do and more to do with what students do with it. And it’s an area where Apple is poised to lead the conversation, both in and out of classrooms.

Gaining ground and building trust

It’s no secret that Apple has lost major ground in the classroom to Google. While many students might have an iPhone or iPad for personal use, most schools have opted to outfit their schools with more traditional Chromebooks mostly due to their lower prices.

Asus Chromebook Flip C101PAMark Hachman / IDG

Chromebooks like the Acer Flip offer a middle-ground between a tablet and laptop at a cheap price point.

But even without the price gap, Chromebooks represent the best of both worlds for schools. Straddling the line between laptop and tablet, Chromebooks offer a uniform experience across all devices with full-sized keyboards, touch-sensitive screens, stylus support, and a mix of Chrome and Android apps. The best Chromebooks are both powerful and versatile enough to replace a tablet and a laptop, and they’re still light enough to comfortably carry in a backpack. Plus they won’t shatter if they’re dropped on a cafeteria floor.

Thanks to strong sandboxing and an inability to install outside apps, they’re also safer than PCs and Android tablets, since nearly every access point for system-level malware is closed off, much as it is on the iPad. And constant security and stability updates from Google mean that machines stay up to date. However, since the hub of every Chromebook tablet is the Chrome browser, the potential for attacks—either through malicious ads or extensions—is always there. Google works quickly to remove bad actors from its Chrome store, but the threat is real and isn’t going away. If anything, it’s getting worse as Chrome OS spreads.

samsung chromebookRob Shultz

Chromebooks may be more secure than PCs, but they’re still more vulnerable than iOS devices.

With Chrome OS, extensions are central to the experience, and even with a low percentage of rogue ones can wreak havoc in schools. Everything is siloed on iOS, an important distinction for schools and one that Apple should be trumpeting in its sales pitch. Apple took its share of shots at the quality of web apps during its Field Trip event, but the real advantage of using an iPad isn’t just the strength of its App Store, it’s its complete reliance on it.

One bad apple won’t spoil an iPad

The new iPad would have been a heck of a lot more attractive to schools with a $250 price tag rather than a $300 one, but Apple has more to offer students and teachers with the new iPad than Pencil support and a pretty design. iPads aren’t just built to last, they’re built to safely store and transfer your most sensitive data without needing to set up secure folders or fiddle with any settings. As Steve Jobs used to say, it just works.

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