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Why Chromebooks are outselling iPads in the school market

samsung-chromebook[1]Many bloggers have been writing lately about recent estimates which suggest Chromebooks are outselling iPads in the school (I broke the news 4 months ago), but few have been trying to explain why it’s happening.

eWeek is perhaps the one exception to this; they looked at some of the more obvious causes:

One big factor is price. At starting prices ranging from $159 to $199, Chromebooks are more economical to purchase than an iPad with comparable functions. "Price is certainly a big factor. The education sector is highly, highly price-sensitive," Singh noted.

Chromebooks are also fairly simple to manage, a huge plus for cash-strapped schools. Technologies like Google’s Web-based management console for Chromebooks have made the devices easy to set up and manage for school administrators. Using the console, schools, for instance, can configure and push down a standard image for the devices or customize and change settings across multiple units relatively easily, the IDC analyst said.

Integrated keyboards are also another big reason many schools appear to be choosing the Chromebook over the iPad, Singh said. While touch-screen devices may be suitable for younger students, older ones typically require a keyboard for many of the tasks they are expected to perform at school.

lenovo-s-new-touchscreen-chromebook-with-300-degree-hinge[1]While all that is true, there’s an underlying question which eWeek didn’t answer. Why is Google making a product schools want, and not Apple?

Remember, there was a time when Apple dominated the academic market. When I was in high school in the 1990s, all of the better computers were Macs.  While there were a number of PC computer labs, those machines were running Win 3.11 (if you were lucky) and their only recommendation was that it was very easy to fudge around with DOS (I am so lucky the statute of limitations has run out).

But 15 years later, most of the computers in schools run Windows, with Apple products coming in second (and losing ground as Chromebook sales outpace iPad sales).

Did you ever wonder why that’s happening?

How did US schools go from this:


to this:


According to David Sobotta, it’s because Apple stopped listening to their customers. He draws on his years as an Apple manager to write over on his ApplePeels blog that:

One of the biggest things that changed after Steve came back was how Apple interacted with its higher education and large business customers.  …

Much of this changed when Steve came back.  The first to go were customer meeting with publishing professionals.  Steve did not enjoy customer meetings when he was not on a stage.  While the higher education meetings continued, it was clear that Apple was not listening seriously.

The Cupertino briefings kept going for business, higher education, and K-12 customers but the amount of useful planning information that came out of the meetings declined.  It was not unusual for Apple to pay the way of some K-12 executives to come to a Cupertino briefing but the true education partnerships were gone.

Sobotta goes on to detail the faults he sees in Apple’s current product and services, but IMO many of the points he raises stem from Apple no longer trying to fill a customer’s needs. That includes the way that Apple ties too many services to its own hardware:

Google has always abstracted the data from the hardware, Apple has always tied the data to a device in the hopes that you will buy a new one.

You can use Google Docs from just about any device including Macs of all stripes.  Just try using Apple’s cloud services from an Android device. Of course I have found Apple’s cloud apps are often hobbled like the inability to do notes in Pages or presenter notes in Keynote.  Actually you cannot even upload files from an old Mac to Apple’s own Cloud drive.  You have to use DropBox.  How many schools have you visited where old Macs and in fact any old computers that they can find are part of their educational computing program?

It’s almost as if Apple is afraid that you won’t buy their nifty new hardware if they don’t force you to do so by tying all of the web services to it.

And I think Apple’s not listening to customers extends to even the iPad.

What does Apple think would make a great educational platform? The iPad. What are schools buying? Chromebooks.

To be honest, I’m probably overstating the trend of Chromebooks replacing iPads, but it is one I expect to increase over time. At last count Apple had sold 13 million iPads to schools since the first model launched in 2010, while schools have bought (at best) a few million Chromebooks.

But as those 13 million iPads grow old and are replaced, I fully expect most to be replaced by Chromebooks which cost a third as much, are twice as useful, and are much easier to deploy and support.

image by kjarrettflickingerbrad

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Thomas December 4, 2014 um 3:41 am

A big part of why schools switched to Windows PCs in the late 90s was because the Bill Gates Foundation was giving them away like candy. Libraries picked up a ton of them too. Coincidentally, that was when Microsoft was involved in their anti-trust case.

Ben Hollingum December 4, 2014 um 6:05 am

I suspect Apple’s vanishing market share in the educational sector is simply a consequence of their pricing. I don’t have any data to hand to back this up, but from my own recollections the gap between the cost of a decent windows machine and a mac has been widening for years now. When I was a kid (early 90s) all computers were expensive, and while macs were more expensive than PCs they were not drastically so. Recently, however, I bought a new windows machine with roughly comparable specs to an iMac (albeit in a much uglier box), and it came to less than a third of the price of an iMac. Even factoring in the expense of a fancy new 27″ monitor (which I didn’t need, because I already had one), the whole set up would still have come in at less than half the cost of the new iMac (£2000).

A school IT person could get probably five or six mid-range windows mini-towers and 17″ monitors for the price of a single iMac. Considering they’re unlikely to be used for anything more than word processing, excel spreadsheets, and furtively looking at youtube, there’s no point in going for something pricier.

Nate Hoffelder December 4, 2014 um 9:24 am

"I don’t have any data to hand to back this up, but from my own recollections the gap between the cost of a decent windows machine and a mac has been widening for years now."

That is especially true in the academic market. I can recall writing in 2012 about Apple’s then new initiative to offer a budget-priced Macbook to schools. Those devices cost a thousand dollars each, which was actually more than I paid for my mid-level lenovo laptop at the end of that year. And that laptop was powerful enough for video editing and more.

Ben Hollingum December 4, 2014 um 9:37 am

Buying super-expensive machines brings other problems for schools as well. A few years ago the music department of my old school was given a set of iMacs and audio production software by a local boy who’s done good in the music business. The room these computers have to be kept in looks like a bank vault, but people have still tried to break in several times.

fjtorres December 4, 2014 um 6:49 am

Market research is finding out what customers need so you can give it to them.
Marketting is convincing people to buy what you make.
Apple stopped doing research and fell back on marketting hecause that has always been what they do best of all. Strip away the anecdotes and caveats and that is what your biy is saying. And we all knew that, didn’t we?

The Apple of today relies on marketing and PR for everything, even their legal problems.
Being good at marketing helped them convince schools to buy iPads by the million, which is all Apple cared about. That the things are less than a perfect fit is why, once they break or die, they will be replaced by clamshells; chromebooks yes, but also low-end Windows devices like the HP Stream line.

Don’t write off Windows just yet.
Because the thing Apple does worst (cloud computing) is something Microsoft does best. Google gets a lot of PR over their online efforts but when you look to actual users, they are merely third in Cloud computing. At the top are Amazon and Microsoft.

While people have been "dazzled" by shiny cheap Chromebooks, Azure and Office 365 have quietly been picking up the customers. The real money and power lies at the back end. Azure doesn’t care what is on the students desks; iPads or Chromebooks, PCs or tablets, it manages them all just fine. It simply works better with Windows 8.1 hybrids.

Long term, I would bet the new top dog is not going to be Apple or Google but Windows 10 on cheap Atom hardware.

Patrick Watson December 4, 2014 um 8:25 am

Why is Google making a product schools want, and not Apple?

Um, data collection.

Nate Hoffelder December 4, 2014 um 12:21 pm

That’s what a lot of people say, but I’ve never really understood it. What value is there in data from students?

Quinton December 4, 2014 um 8:37 am

Everyone seems to be forgetting one major factor: iPads are consumption devices, Chromebooks (and, to a greater extent, Windows/Mac computers) are both consumptive and productive. No one wants to write a paper on an iPad–not without a very good keyboard to go along with it–and even so, the productivity apps aren’t quite there yet (yeah, they’re not bad, but they’re not as good as even some open source options you can get on a computer for free).

You want students to be able to consume AND produce. It’s not rocket science. The guy from ApplePeels is right too: Steve Jobs is famous for ignoring requests from customers, and firmly believed that it was his job to tell them what they wanted.

Also, the Chromebook purchases aren’t being exaggerated from what I can tell. I know of two districts that have purchased 18,000 and 6,000 Chromebooks respectively. They’re onboarding them quickly, and they love how easy they are to set-up and mange. Students can do their work on the school chromebook, go home and finish writing a paper on their computer (Mac or Windows), or even load up a doc they’ve been working on on their tablet or phone.

Chromebooks aren’t just cheaper, they’re, quite simply, a better product for schools.

Nate Hoffelder December 4, 2014 um 9:07 am

"You want students to be able to consume AND produce."

That point never escaped me; I’ve always thought that the iPad was simply too limited as a production device, and I could never understand why schools kept buying such limited devices.

Quinton December 4, 2014 um 9:13 am

+1 🙂

Nate Hoffelder December 4, 2014 um 9:54 am

Okay, I’m going to have to call BS on my claim of "always"; in 2012 I took the view that tablets were better in the classroom than laptops. I had some good reasons:

I’ve always thought a KB was necessary for me, but there was a time that I thought kids could get by with less. Maybe I expected them to produce less, or maybe I was caught up in the same tablet trend as everyone else.

Patrick Watson December 4, 2014 um 10:01 am

Does Google make a Chromebook? I thought it was a platform with low costs for them and they let hardware makers take all the risks.

Apple is a hardware maker that provides the OS as well. If the margins aren’t there, Apple doesn’t want to be in the business.

Jmirko December 4, 2014 um 11:17 am

To be honest, I never understood how Apple managed to sell so many Ipads to schools in the U.S. Apple sells premium products at premium prices. Schools need cheap-and-cheerful tools because they are poor and the kids are going to break them all the time.
I guess it’s probably a combination of ignorance on the purchasers' part, strong marketing by Apple, and possibly big discounts on the first batch of devices.

Thomas December 4, 2014 um 4:41 pm

3 or 4 years ago, iPads really were a huge craze. A lot of really overblown claims were made about their capabilities. Some schools bought into the hype. It wasn’t until afterward that people really started to realize the limitations of a touchscreen as your sole input device. Tablets are good for portability, but I think they’re too limited for schools. Chromebooks have some major limitations too, but those limitations are the ones schools like. And they’re half the price of an iPad.

Rob Siders December 4, 2014 um 11:32 am

To be honest, I’m probably overstating the trend of Chromebooks replacing iPads, but it is one I expect to increase over time.

I don’t think you are. My son’s elementary school—not the district, but the school—just dropped $25k on Chromebooks and it was an easy decision to make. They don’t worry about what happens to them when they leave the building because they don’t leave the building. Plus, the kids—as mentioned upthread—can actually DO things with them.

Paul December 4, 2014 um 3:06 pm

All depends what the long term costs are, i.e. since we’ve gone with Macs we’ve replaced 5 IT staff with one, simply as they don’t break down as much. Google knows that if you can make a admins job simpler than they will get more business, and they are the ones who usually make the buying decisions so they have made it very easy for them to "do their stuff". Apple still mainly thinks of the individual and it being used solely by individuals, which isn’t how this stuff works in schools.

And I think you’re forgetting the main reason why iPads were attractive at first was because (a) they were the first tablet that was reasonably priced and had a 10 hour battery life. (b) Schools were interested in them for replacing textbooks. i.e. instead of lugging around books, you had your chapters loaded on the iPad. They weren’t seen as a replacement for computers or for teaching video etc…

What I want to know is whether the schools teach proper typing skills, which is still a rare and invaluable skill.

Mark M December 5, 2014 um 10:50 pm

I teach and use both iPads and Chromebooks in my middle school classroom. While some of the statement in the article and in comments are true, their is also a great deAl of ignorance.
Chromebooks are easier to manage, updates are automatic, and new education apps are coming out all the time.
Typing long works as well as creating slideshows using Google Drive Apps are easier. Though the reason has far more to do with Google handicapping tablet Drive apps no matter whether Android or iOS.
Apple has tried to promote to schools the iPad as a 1:1 take home device. Instead, most schools use them as in-school only device. I, along with other teachers have begged and pleaded with Apple to create multi-user logins at school to protect individual work.
Application management on iPads while improved is still a pain when it involves paid apps.

-IPads are equally if not more capable of content creation than Chromebooks. One just needs to get past the basics of typing and slideshows. Movies, and various forms of interactive learning (see the app Explain Everything), not to mention the very popular concept of app mash ups to see what iPads can do in creating content.
-iPads aren’t durable. Actually, in my school and others that have both iPads are actually more durable. Anybody who has held and worked on an original Samsung Chromebooks can testify to its flimsy build and poor-quality trackpad. Since the first of the year the latest generation of Chromebooks led by HP have improved quite a bit. That’s why my school invested in Chromebooks.

-A major reason why iPad sales in education have stalled is that the hoped for interactive textbooks that teachers liked myself thought would come to market hasn’t happened. The idea of built-in video clips and interactive tools has yet to materialize. Partly, this is due to the lack skilled software writers for textbooks. The bigger reason has to do with textbook publishers having to spend money on writing new texts and creating supplementary material that fits the new Common Core Standards.
-Finally, as has been proven time and time again, technology will always be a tool not the method of educating.

Eric C. Welch December 6, 2014 um 9:08 pm

So true. At my daughter’s school, where she is the middle school library director, the district had purchased iPads for the students several years ago. They have been tearing their hair out ever since. Apple requires that each student have his/her own account which requires parental permission, etc. Managing those accounts is a nightmare. They are ready to move to Chromebooks soon simply because of the management issue (price doesn’t hurt either.)

Quinton December 8, 2014 um 12:18 pm

Meh, a 1:1 iPad program is unfeasible. iPads are expensive, and textbooks through iBooks cost more (on average) than their paper counterparts.

iPads aren’t not terribly durable either (I’m not saying Chromebooks are). My wife is also a teacher, and they have plenty of problems with their iPads (not just with durability, but also with stability and various other IT issues).

In fact, they can’t even use the iPads for electronic testing, because, without a 1:1 program (which the school can’t afford), there is now way for them to meet the security requirements for the classroom sets they do have.

No, Chromebooks aren’t perfect, but I will argue with you any day of the week that they’re better at content creation than an iPad (seriously, I would have died trying to get through highschool on a device that didn’t have a bloody keyboard, and while you can buy keyboard cases, because of Apple’s proprietary nature, they’re somewhat expensive).

Even if Chromebooks aren’t any more durable, they’re a heck of a lot cheaper to replace, and because Google services work cross-platform, you’re not locked into the Apple ecosystem, so kids can do their work on whatever device or computer they happen to own.

Quinton December 8, 2014 um 12:20 pm

Are not, not "aren’t not."

"no way" rather than "now way"

I’m a writer. 🙂

About that Impending Amazon-Apple Digital Textbook War ⋆ Ink, Bits, & Pixels January 31, 2015 um 8:37 pm

[…] first noticed the trend in July 2014, and analysts reached a similar conclusion in December 2014: Chromebooks are outselling iPads in the academic market. While this trend might not continue, it […]

Mackay Bell January 31, 2015 um 10:06 pm

Err… not happening. This is false "news." This is all based on an IDC report which is untrue. IDC has a terrible record with facts, particularly concerning Apple. The Chromebook is still pretty much a loser. Apple still dominates education and that will only grow more true as the company gets bigger and bigger and harder to compete with.

Here’s the complete takedown, with actually facts and statistics:

The key line is: "Prepare to see a lot more "news" reports about how a few million Chromebooks are dramatically shifting the market in ways that a quarter billion iPads haven’t, because there’s a lot of money on the line."

But hey, everyone was right about Bendgate! Apple’s iPhone 6 sales completely tanked.

Nate Hoffelder, The Digital Reader January 31, 2015 um 10:32 pm

Thanks for pointing out the caveat; I had missed it.

But I don’t think this is relevant:

Apple retains a slight lead over Google in schools and colleges when sales of its MacBook laptops, using the OS X operating system, are included.

We’re not talking about a huge number of Macbooks, but if you want to factor them in then I’ll counter with all of the unknown number of Android tablets sold during that quarter for use in schools.

Boom. Google has the lead again.

Do you want to know the real I think the Chromebook has trumped the iPad? It was because of the edtech conference I attended early last year. Everyone was talking Chromebook, not iPad. It surprised the dickens out of me, but when the data started to support the impression I got at that conference I thought it felt right.

Mackay Bell January 31, 2015 um 11:47 pm

Nope, you didn’t read the whole piece. For starters, IDC consistently cooks their numbers, so we can’t trust them anyway. However, even if you believe them, Apple still has a lead over Chromebooks if you count Mac sales. MacBooks are better for education, but they are expensives.

Never the less, Chromebooks "rise" is really based on only two quarters, and some million Chromebooks, compared to over 13 million iPad sold directly to education over the years, out of some 250 million iPads sold. So we’re talking about a tiny number of computers in a couple quarters, hardly a big trend. On top of that, many of the 250 million iPads find their way into education, but might not have been directly purchased from Apple for that purpose. Google sold about 5 million Chromebooks total last year, Apple sells twice that many iPads even with "slumping" sales, per quarter, for about 50 million a year.

There are many factors that could relate to Google having a good two quarters of sales to education markets. For example, since Chromebook is tanking with business, and not doing particularly good with consumers, Google could have dumped a bunch of inventory at firesale prices for a couple quarters to gullible districts. Many some school districts bought into the idea that they were cheap and easy to use. Very nice for two quarters. Long term? Unlikely.

Long term even wishful thinking school districts getting deals are going to have to ask why kids are being trained on computers that aren’t used in business and aren’t used by most people. Apple has more to worry about from Microsoft’s Surface.

Moreover, Apple goes for the premium market, both with consumers and education. They are more worried about their computers being used in colleges than they are dumping devices for kids to learn how to type with.

If Apple ever felt truly threatened, they could easily cut prices and dominate the market. But there is no need for them to compete on the low end. That’s not their business model.

Doesn’t it get a little exhausting constantly predicting Apple’s demise and then being wrong? A year ago the 5C was supposed to be a disaster and Apple was supposedly going to lose the Smartphone race. Now Samsung is in desperately in trouble and Apple made more profits than any company… in the history of companies.

Apple is probably going to come out with an upscale 12″ iPad Pro next year. I suspect iPad sales will jump up as much as iPhone sales did with the new iPhone 6. Long term, iPad’s and MacBooks will continue to play a key role in best educational programs, particularly at upscale institutions.

Maybe the Chromebook has a big future as a typing tutor, but that’s about it. And I think it’s quite likely it won’t even survive more than a few quarters as that.

But who knows, maybe the look good if you’re wearing Google Glass.

Nate Hoffelder, The Digital Reader February 1, 2015 um 12:26 am

No, I read the article; I just tuned most of it out because AI rose in indignant fanboi defense of Apple.

What’s more, your comment reads like you’re coming from the same place. For example, you somehow don’t see the logical inconsistancy in proclaiming that the IDC numbers are bad, but nevertheless the Macbook+iPad numbers are better than the Chromebook numbers. The former cancels out the latter.

"Apple still has a lead over Chromebooks if you count Mac sales. MacBooks are better for education, but they are expensives."

Then we throw in Android used in school and Google has the lead. Boom.

… skipping the irrelevant points about historical sales in the nonacademic market …

"Never the less, Chromebooks “rise” is really based on only two quarters"

When have I ever said that wasn’t the case?

"Doesn’t it get a little exhausting constantly predicting Apple’s demise and then being wrong? A year ago the 5C was supposed to be a disaster and Apple was supposedly going to lose the Smartphone race."

Got a link to where _I_ said that? If not, you don’t get to slap me around with it. Link? Oh, and if you’re going to throw the word "constantly" at me you’re going to have to provide 6 links where I predicted Apple was going to fail. And you can’t include any of the ones where I was clearly being satirical.

Given that I spent much of the past year being careful about my tone and about making predictions, I doubt I wrote that (but I might have forgotten). The worst I can recall that I said was that the shell+case aesthetic of the 5C was ugly as shit. While true, that’s not a prediction that it would fail.

New Security Update Lets Admins Remotely Lock Lost or Stolen Chromebooks ⋆ Ink, Bits, & Pixels February 6, 2015 um 11:28 am

[…] Chromebooks starting to outsell the iPad in the academic market, I'm sure many IT depts, as well as the parents on the hook for the […]

Chromebooks Outsold iPads in US Schools in the 4th Quarter ⋆ Ink, Bits, & Pixels February 26, 2015 um 4:55 pm

[…] may be winning the smartphone market and still lead consumer tablet sales, but report after report says that they're losing out on school sales. And according to Futuresource, that trend continued […]

Apple is Going to Make it Easier to Put iPads in Classrooms ⋆ Ink, Bits, & Pixels March 8, 2015 um 9:39 am

[…] sounds like Apple is finally noticing that PCs, Chromebooks, and Android devices are all a lot easier to deploy than is the iPad. The problem, as it has always been, is that Apple ties many of […]

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