Apple Back to School deal offers $100 gift card

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Apple launched its annual Back to School promotion on Wednesday, offering college students and educators a $100 gift card with the purchase of any qualifying Mac.

Although Apple promotes the card as being for the Mac App Store, it can also be used with the company’s other online stores, such as the iTunes Store, the App Store, and the iBookstore. The promotion runs from June 16 through September 20, 2011 and the list of qualifying Macs includes all but the cheapest Mac, the Mac mini.

In this program’s past years, Apple has offered a free (or discounted) iPod with the purchase of every new Mac, but it seems that the college students in 2011 will have to settle for a somewhat more intangible reward. When we last heard from Apple, it had sold 200 million iOS devices and was continuing to move them almost as fast as it could make them. It may be that Apple is confident enough with its current standing that it doesn’t really need to organize a giveaway to help increase the reach of its iOS devices.

However, given Apple’s suggestion that customers spend the gift card on the Mac App Store, rather than its other online storefronts, there may also be a different, more long-term, strategy at play here.

The Mac App Store is the newest kid on the block among Apple’s online store offerings and perhaps the company wants to get people used to the idea of purchasing applications for their Mac from Apple’s centralized source, especially with the forthcoming release of Lion next month. There’s plenty of indication that Apple would prefer to shift as many developers as possible to the Mac App Store, and the best way for the company to do that is to shift where customers go to look for software. That’s not to say Mac developers don’t stand to benefit from this move as well; the company will likely sell more Macs during this promotion, all of which have the Mac App Store pre-installed, and customers will have $100 to spend on apps.

Whatever the case may be, if you are a college student in the U.S. who has been sitting on the fence trying to decide whether to purchase a Mac or not, this offer may just tip the scales.

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