Technology is an important cornerstone for today’s education systems, with pupils, students and teachers reliant on various systems and software application in pursuit of knowledge. And the Google Chromebook, in the North American market, has crept from barely any classroom exposure in 2012 to over half this year. The education market has been of a select few areas where technology companies are seeing strong sales growth, as companies are selling fewer computers in 2015 compared with 2014. Google’s success with the Chromebook can be attributed to a few factors, including the low cost of the hardware, that a number of big name manufacturers have readily adopted the Chrome OS platform, that the hardware comes with a built-in keyboard, and that Google’s software is more advanced and capable than current products from Apple and Microsoft. Indeed, Google’s success with the Chromebook has clearly rattled Apple, as earlier this week, Tim Cook publicly criticized the Chromebook by calling them “test machines,” and that they are better suited than the (fragile, expensive and requiring a third party keyboard) Apple iPad for students taking state-mandated tests on. I’m sure Tim isn’t upset at the significant drop in iPad exposure in schools, which has more than halved in a year.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons for the Chromebook’s success, starting with cost. The devices cost from under $200 and 1.63 million were sold to the North American education market in the last quarter. Indeed, the Chromebook accounted for more than three quarters of laptop shipments to U.S. elementary, middle and high schools, an increase from four in ten for the previous quarter. Schools are using the Chromebook platform to replace PCs, and because the state-mandated tests require the device to have a keyboard, so the Chromebook is able to serve this purpose significantly cheaper than buying the Apple iPad and a third party keyboard. To put costs into perspective, the abandoned deal with the Los Angeles Unified School District had Apple selling the iPad at $768 plus $200 for the educational software. Assuming the software cost comparable regardless of the platform, this puts the iPad at up to two and a half times the cost of the Chromebook.
On the software side of things, the Google Chromebook can run the Google Apps for Education software suite. This software, which is free, covers many, many bases. One example is that students can complete their schoolwork on the Google Docs platform and then email their assignment to their teachers’ Gmail account. The Chromebook platform is also elegantly simple when it comes to signing into another machine: students do not need their own Chromebook, but instead can sign into any Chromebook device and all of their settings, web applications and Google Docs assignments follow them. The process is as simple as remembering their Gmail address and password. This sounds handy for a family of five with one or two Chromebooks, but now imagine a school district with a hundred thousand devices. Google’s account management and synchronization technology is fast, elegant and requires minimal maintenance. IDC analyst Linn Huang explained by email to the source: “Google has also done a nice job putting together an effective and affordable device management console for administrators. Google’s management console has been significantly ahead Apple and Microsoft.”
Writing of Microsoft, Google’s success at selling inexpensive laptop computers into the educational market is not lost on them. We are seeing manufacturers offering inexpensive Windows laptops starting at $300 into the North American education market. Across the world, Microsoft remains the market leader as other countries’ education systems have yet to adopt the Chromebook in the numbers we’ve seen in the U.S. market. Microsoft is well aware of their international dominance and have continued working at this: we’ve seen the Chief Executive appearing with the Mexican President Enrique Nieto, announcing a $1 billion partnership with the Mexican education system, which includes almost a million Microsoft-powered devices. As Microsoft drop prices, we may see Chromebook and Windows engaging in something of a price war, leaving Apple out in the cold. Apple could be caught between a rock and a hard place: their idea of a budget iPhone was a plastic-cased, previous generation model and a price bump on the newer generation handset. However, the education market extends into the late teens and it’s here where the students may need a more powerful computer, so the Apple laptops have their own draw. However, for today’s younger students using the Chromebook platform or an inexpensive Windows laptop, a lot can happen in ten years.