Beyond the cost of the iPad itself, what is the true cost of an iPad program for a school or district? There are many other costs to consider when putting together a one to one iPad program or even a program that gives students access to iPads for use in the classroom.

Use this excel document to help calculate the total cost of an iPad implementation that includes accessories, apps and digital curriculum.

Download: Total Cost of iPad Program Worksheet

Setting Up and Managing iPads

Your iPads will need to be managed in someway. There are different models in which to deploy iPads and also to manage them over the course of a school year. Below are several examples that vary in pricing.

The iPad Sync Cart

Managing through a cart with a Mac laptop is the most basic form of iPad management. It does rely on someone locally managing the iPads. This can be set up class by class, though this gets expensive as the cart is around $2000 and the laptop is another $1,000ish. We deployed one cart per school in the Encinitas Union School District and originally intended to give teachers training on syncing the student iPads. We ended up moving to a centralized management of the iPads and not having teachers do the management at the cart level.

The iPads are fairly easy to manage in a cart system if not planning on doing a lot of syncing after they are first imaged. Any additional apps need to be synced through the cart which is a manual process. Teachers can provide their own support in this, but most don’t want to. In our second year of deployment we used the Apple configurator on a cart to set up about 3,500 devices for nine different schools during the summer and distributed them out to classes only doing management when it was necessary. It worked well for setting up many iPads over the summer, but it was a poor management system during the year at each of the school sites. There were app updates throughout the year that these iPads never received and there was at least one instance of an app that stopped working after the students manually updated to iOS 6. Apple has since come up with a better system for updating apps with iOS 7. Now iPads can be setup to update automatically over the air.

Configurator With Apple Profile Manager Server

It is possible to manage the iPads with Apple’s Configurator and the Apple Server profile manager. This was our management approach in year three of our program when iPads were deployed out to every student in the district. It is essential that whomever manages this knows the system well. Overall we found it to be problematic as there was a glitch in which we had student iPads that had apps that were get stuck in waiting mode for days at a time. Apple is improving how the distribution of updates will occur by having a local caching server that will house app updates instead of having school iPads go to the external Apple servers for updates. This should help this problem in the future. Moving into year four we have moved to a third party MDM which provides better management of the iPads than using Apple’s built in server tools.

Third Party Mobile Device Manager

I would recommend getting a third party Mobile Device Manager for deployments that are larger than one school site. These offer a lot more flexibility and granularity when managing hundreds or thousands of iPads. The setup of iPads can be modified on the fly without having to go to a school site. My district still is doing the initial setup for an iPad with a sync cart, but after that is able to manage them remotely.

They’re a wide variety of options for mobile device management. They all basically do the same thing as they are interfaces for Apples device management structure, however reviewing each one will allow you to see what some of the specialties of each product are. In the worksheet below you can define what your needs are for managing the iPads and this will help determine what type of system you should invest in. Commercial mobile device managers often have a per device cost, so this is something you need to budget for if looking at these solutions. They should save you personnel time and on site tech support, so you may be able to defray the cost in other areas.

Comparing iPad Management Options

Method Costs Labor Advantages Disadvantages
Local Sync Cart Sync cart(s) and laptop for configuring iPads for first time use. More people involved as the iPads need to be plugged in and are managed from a laptop and not a server. Can be managed locally by teachers and site staff, providing more customization to their sets of iPads. Difficult to standardize or make systemwide updates or changes.
Work is distributed among many people and locations.
Configurator With Apple Profile Manager Sync cart and laptop for configuring iPads for first time use.$19.99 for Apple Server software. Is likely managed by district IT staff. If iPads need reimaging they must be plugged in. Cheap solution for managing iPads.
Provides centralized management of iPads.
Does not scale as well as a third party MDM.
Less flexibility than MDM.
Still has glitches that may require labor hours to resolve,
3rd Party MDM Annual subscription usually per device fee.
Likely a sync cart and laptop for initial setup of iPads.
Centralized management that can be scaled without requiring more staff. Can manage app distribution, policies and settings for thousands of iPads at many different locations.
Can easily customize and manage groups of iPads that have different apps and settings.
Annual subscription that is per device.


First Time Setup of iPads

When imaging iPads for the first time it is important to know exactly how you want them configured. Decisions and policies, groupings and first group of app should be decided before imaging starts. The more standardized the image is the easier it will be to manage in the long run. A mobile device manager will allow you to make additional changes when you want to, but it is easier to have iPad set up for how you want it when you release them to students.

The Mobil34 web site is a really good resource for specific procedures about setting up iPads

Supervised or Unsupervised?

As Apple updates iOS management new options become available. Last year (2013) all supervised iPads had to be plugged into the laptop cart and use Configurator for updating apps. That has since been resolved now and supervised iPads can now automatically update. Of course with a third party MDM the options for remote control of supervised iPads is much greater.

Free Cloud Services

There are many free services like Google Apps for Education and Microsoft’s OFFICE 360 that provide free cloud services for school. These will reduce the amount of costs for putting in local servers for storage and also are much easier to manage than having to manage your own local server farm. Google apps specifically have been used by thousands of districts and organizations throughout the world and is the standard for schools moving to cloud-based services. A domain for Google’s is free for all districts. If you already have one you may have the infrastructure to use directly with your iPad. Managing the apps domain is fairly simple and setting up an account can be done in several ways.

iPad Repairs

There are lots of options out there for warranty service on iPad. Apple offers their own program that you can pay for that will provide service for several years and also provide screen repair for $50 deductible on each occurrence. There are also third-party companies that offer this insurance as well. One solution if it can be accepted by the community is to provide your own inside insurance plan. This will allow you to collect funds from parents to support the repair of iPads. The most common damage our screen breaks. These generally cost $150 or more per occurrence if you do not have a warranty service. If you were to self-insure you could find the repair either in the house if you have the capacity for having staff do it or finding a local vendor for a service that you can mail broke broken iPad too. In the long run this is a good opportunity for the district to not have to put out a lot of extra funds for insurance and allows you to gather the support from the parents.




iPad cases are a requirement unless you want to pay a high price for repairs. We outlined four criteria for purchasing cases in a blog post. You should budget about $15-$30 for cases depending on the features and the durability. The first several years of the Encinitas iPad program had much higher repair costs when our case was not as durable. We have seen a dramatic decrease in breaks and repairs since updating our district case.

Four Criteria For Reviewing iPad Cases For Schools


If you’ll be using your iPads with the Smarter Balanced, the PARCC assessments or other online assessments you will need an external keyboard. In the first several years after the release of the iPad, keyboards were not an essential purchase and most often were not bought as students were expected to use the onscreen keyboards. Some districts did purchase cases with Bluetooth keyboards built-in. This is a good technology if paired with a single iPad, but generally these keyboards are smaller than a standard keyboard and they add extra bulk to the iPad. We would recommend if you are purchasing keyboards, especially for either of the Common Core assessments that you purchase a wired keyboard. ThinkWrite offers an affordable wired keyboard that is sold in a class pack with a storage case for organizing and protecting up to 16 keyboards at a time. Beyond the Common Core assessments, students have shown an interest in using keyboards for their writing throughout the year. A June 2014 survey of Encinitas Union School District found that 70% of teachers surveyed wanted access to keyboards throughout the year for their class iPads. Having an external keyboard provides the flexibility of a laptop when the keyboard is plugged in and the convenience of a tablet when the keyboard is stored back in the case.

ThinkWrite Keyboard

Keyboard Mini


Steve Jobs was very clear that the iPad did not need a stylus. However there are cases when a stylus can be very handy especially if your students will be using the iPad for drawing and illustrating. The range of prices for styluses can go from a dollar to $10 each depending on the type of stylus and the quality. If looking for styluses for younger children we recommend the App Crayon stylus as it has the feel of a pencil and will help students if using it for writing practice to have a similar experience that would transfer over from the pencil to the iPad and the iPad back to paper.


_65B1685Headphones are another important accessory that will be required if your students are doing anything that requires sound. Purchasing headsets instead of headphones which is very useful when students are doing projects where their voice is integrated into it. This includes recording reading fluency, narration, voice to text and programs that require students to respond verbally. Headphones are also required for the Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments as there are assessment questions that involve audio and video. Prices for headsets can range from a couple bucks for earbuds to $30 plus for premium headsets. ThinkWrite has a headset that integrates well with the iPad. The microphone accuracy is very good when used with Siri for voice dictation. It also provides high-quality sound recording for any iPad program that uses it.

ThinkWrite Headset

If you do not need a full headset. A good option is the ThinkWrite ultra light headphones with a chew proof cable. They are super durable with quality sound.

ThinkWrite Ultra Light Headphones



iPads need to run on power and will only last 7-8 hours without a charge. Charging is another decision that can be made on the cheap or can be made with sophisticated and expensive equipment. Your model of program will determine on the type of charging system you invest in.

The most basic level is a power strip this allows you to plug multiple iPads into one source using the standard Apple power charger and then plug that one source into an outlet. This solution is pretty messy and does not secure the individual chargers from being lost or stolen. Replacing individual chargers can get pretty expensive.

_65B5127A better option is a multi port USB charger. Three to four of these you could service an entire classroom. Charging and security are often bundled or blended together. For those schools that want to go the affordable route and can get support from their maintenance department, using multi port USB chargers and a locked cabinet is a good means of charging in securing. There may need to be some accommodations for power if the cabinet is not near a power source, this could be an extra expense that each classroom will need. Make sure that this is considered when planning your deployment. The Encinitas Union School District used bolt locks in some classrooms and an external lock that fit around the handle to the cabinet in others.

ThinkWrite has developed a 8 port USB charger that is one of the first on the market to provide full charging capabilities for iPads on all the ports. The charger is much smaller than a power strip and is designed to do the work of 8 individual chargers in one device.

ThinkWrite 8 Port Chargers

Going up in price are options that provide security and power in the same package that do not require an existing cabinet. The most common are sync carts that allow you to plug in a laptop and up to 32 iPads at once. This will charge and sync the iPads in the same piece of hardware. These generally are priced over a thousand dollars each, but generally but usually are the $1500 in about full featured one. If doing this class by class the price can get very high very quickly. Keep in mind with the standard for syncing going to wireless, there is less need for a full sync cart. Getting a smaller charging station like ThinkWrite offers makes a lot more sense.

There are smaller items that can sync and store 10-12 iPads, however since they are small, you may need to buy multiple and will probably end up being the same cost as a full charging cart.

If your students are taking iPads home regularly, they can charge them at home. Many families already have chargers for Apple accessories like an iPhone or another iPad. For families that do not, you can check out the cable and charger, however you should keep track of it as it is easy to lose track of how many chargers are out. At the end of the year this becomes another expense as you have to replace the chargers if there is no way to track who lost them. Another strategy is to only buy enough charging units for half to two-thirds of the class and then only plug-in iPads that are 50% or lower this will allow you to rotate the iPad and save you a little money on each classroom charging needs.



The choice to go with an iPad over another device is usually based on what the iPad can do that others can’t. If you were to buy an iPad and not include programs like iMovie or GarageBand you would find yourself closer to Android tablet. Apple is now offering these apps for free with all iPad purchases so the need to purchase them is not needed anymore.

There are some excellent apps that really make the iPad a excellent tool for students to creatively demonstrate their learning. Most apps will be 50% off of their cost in the App Store if bought in quantities over 20. In order to purchase apps from Apple, a school or district you need to be set up with their Volume Purchase Program.

Of course there are lots of free app offerings out there as well. Some apps have limited versions that can be used for trial. These often contain advertisements or only one or two key features. They are a good way to evaluate apps, however if you decide to go with a light version across-the-board be mindful that it may not have enough features to warranty pushing it out all students. For a list of typical apps for a K-6 iPad program you can view the spreadsheet from the Encinitas Union School District’s iPad program.

Also be mindful that not all students will need all apps. Your special ed students may require additional specific apps that will need to be purchased. If you have a dual language program you may need specific apps for that as well. Middle schools and high schools may also require specialized apps in different subject areas. Best to get this planned out prior to syncing for the first time. There will always be instances where something new comes up and you’ll need to make accommodations for that. Your purchasing department or business office should be involved in this part of the endeavor from the beginning, as they will be the ones that will have to purchase the vouchers for the volume purchase program.

Digital Curriculum

Another benefit of each student having their own iPad is that there is more opportunity to provide students with digital curriculum in different subject areas. For example students can utilize programs that provide feedback in mathematics that will support the teacher in differentiating and meeting the needs of all students. In a classroom environment where there’s limited access to technology this was not a possible solution before. However when all students have access to devices this is now a reality. Budgeting for this is important as many of the program are subscription-based which means that there may be an annual cost for using them.

The key is identifying what program you will be using over the course of next several years. Many vendors offer a trial so that you can put it into place for several months before deciding what you would like to purchase. Many of the programs also offer discounts when paying for multiple years at once.

There are a lot of apps out there that focus on specific skills in the App Store. Be mindful of these however as many do not offer any centralized management for the teacher. While many will give feedback to students, no data will flow from the iPad to the teacher. They also can be very specific and building an entire curriculum around them can be costly as you may need to purchase ten different apps to complete the program or to give students access to different parts of curriculum. This makes managing it a lot more challenging than you may need different programs at different grade levels as well. Focusing on free apps that provide practice and instruction is obviously a safer bet, but evaluate any curriculum apps before you purchase.

Knowing your costs ahead of time is essential for a well planned out implementation. The more details you have on all the costs upfront will help with allocating funds to the project.