How Google overtook Apple in education

Apple's longtime lock on the education market began to fall apart when Google first introduced Chromebooks more than five years ago. Here's how Google swept in and started to push Apple out.

By Matt Kapko
Nov. 24, 2016

Apple's Mac and Apple II computers have been used in classrooms for more than 30 years, but cheaper hardware from rival Google is putting the squeeze on Apple's dominant position in education. The two companies target education from very different perspectives that play to their respective strengths. Google's objective is also slightly different than Apple's, because it primarily focuses on selling hardware for students that promotes its software services, while Apple pursues a more hardware-specific approach along with tools for teachers, according to a set of analysts who follow the education tech market.

"The momentum is definitely swinging in Google's favor," says Van Baker, research vice president, Gartner. "Chromebooks are doing quite well in the education sector." 

Apple and Google in education, by the numbers

Computing device shipments to K-12 classrooms in the United States reached 10.9 million units during 2015, according to research firm IDC, a sister company. Android and Chrome devices from Google accounted for roughly 5.5 million units shipped to schools, while macOS and iOS devices from Apple accounted for 2.9 million units, according to Linn Huang, research director at IDC. The 5.5 million units Google shipped to classrooms in 2015 included roughly 5.26 million Chrome OS devices (mostly Chromebooks) and about 256,000 Android devices, according to IDC. Apple shipped about 2.1 million iOS devices (mostly iPads) and roughly 806,000 Macs to U.S. classrooms during the same year, Huang says. 

The devices that most frequently make their ways into K-12 classrooms — primarily Chromebooks from Google and iPads from Apple — highlight the biggest difference between each company's approach to education, Baker says.

"Apple's focus is by necessity almost all on hardware, whereas Google's is much more a mix of hardware and services," says Jan Dawson, chief analyst and founder of tech research firm Jackdaw. "Google's apps have quickly become a standard for classroom collaboration, and many schools also use Google-based email services for students." 

Apple wouldn't specify just how many students use its devices but says it defines success based on quality not quantity. The company also says more than 170,000 iOS and Mac apps designed specifically for education are available today, and more than a billion educational courses and collections have been downloaded from iTunes U, Apple's store for educators to distribute and manage educational resources.

As of last month, at least 20 million students used Chromebooks globally, according to Google. The company doesn't release sales figures, but a spokesperson said more than 15 million devices have been sold to education institutions around the world to date. Google also says more than 60 million students, teachers and administrators use its G Suite for Education apps worldwide. 

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