Apple today kicked off its annual back-to-school promotion, reprising a deal that will award gift cards to customers who buy qualifying hardware.
This was the first year that Apple included the iPhone in the eligible hardware list. Also new to that list was the iPad Mini, which launched last October after that year's back-to-school offer had ended.
Customers who buy a Mac between now and Sept. 6 receive a $100 App Store gift card, while those who purchase an iPad, iPad Mini or iPhone receive a $50 card.
This was the third year running that Apple has handed out gift cards and maxed the amount of the offer at $100: For several years ending in 2010, Apple gave rebates of two or three times as much toward the purchase of an iPod Touch.
The promotion gives current college students and incoming freshmen, parents buying for a college student, and teachers and staff members of all grade levels -- including K-12 -- the $100 gift card when they buy a new iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. Refurbished Macs and the Mac Mini do not qualify.
The iPad with Retina, the iPad 2, and the iPad Mini; and iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 are eligible for the $50 gift card. While this was the second year that iPads qualified, it was the first for the iPad 2, Apple's 2011 tablet that costs $100 less than the Retina iPad.
Still in effect is a deal for educators and students unveiled a month ago that doubled the educational discount of the 13-in. MacBook Pro notebook to $200, lowering the price of the entry-level laptop to $999 and the more expensive model with 8GB of memory, a faster processor and a larger hard disk drive to $1,299.
Neither of the MacBook Pro notebooks with the Retina-style display were included in the discount. Nor were the MacBook Airs, which Apple refreshed June 10. Then, Apple cut prices for the two 13-in. models by $100, but raised the price of the more expensive of the 11-in. Airs by $100.
Apple discounts the MacBook Air to students and educators by just $50, with prices ranging from $949 to $1,249.
The Cupertino, Calif. company was beat to the back-to-school punch by Microsoft for the third consecutive year. A month ago, the Redmond, Wash., developer began offering college students a 10% discount on a wide range of PCs and tablets.
Previous years, Microsoft had handed out free Xbox 360 video game consoles in its back-to-school specials.
The gift cards Apple will offer this year can be used for purchases in its Mac App Store, the iOS App Store, the iTunes Store and the iBookstore.
Details of the deal can be found on Apple's website (download PDF)
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.