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

iPads are pricey, Chromebooks affordable and familiar

Apple's biggest challenge in the education market is that it doesn't have a low-cost PC, according to Dawson. "[I]t's using the iPad to try to fill that slot," he says. "For many tasks, that's a totally appropriate substitute, but for others it likely isn't — most students aren't going to learn to touch type on an iPad, for example."

Google's challenge is the opposite, according to Dawson; Chromebooks are a worthy alternative to Macs in the classroom, but Google can't fill other hardware needs as easily. 

Apple had "free reign" in the education market for decades, and Google only recently started to take the segment seriously, Baker says. "It absolutely boils down to price in many instances because, let's face it, school districts are always strapped for money," he says. "If [schools] can get a Chromebook for a couple hundred books, and it's up against an iPad that doesn't even have a keyboard and it costs $500, that makes a difference for a lot of these guys."

Chromebooks are also more familiar to schools that already have desktop computers, according to Baker. "In many ways the Chromebook is just an alternative to the PC," he says. "It's kind of the path of less resistance."

Google is also banking on its services that are already common, according to Dawson. The combination of low-cost hardware and familiar services, such as Gmail and Google Docs, is a major strength for the company, he says. "Even though Apple discounts its hardware for the education market, it's still premium hardware."

For Apple and Google, different objectives in education

For both companies, tackling the education market is ultimately about two objectives, according to Dawson: sales and customer loyalty. "The direct objective is to sell more stuff, while the indirect one is about teaching the next generation of buyers to use and prefer their hardware, software and services," he says. "If you hook someone on your stuff in elementary school, you may well have hooked them for life."

Baker sees the landscape somewhat differently. Google is focused on getting as many Chromebooks into classrooms as it can, he says, while Apple pursues a more complete offering with services and tools for teachers in addition to students. "The Apple offering is a bit more comprehensive and curriculum-centric than the Google offering, but Google has the platform so it's allowing them to definitely make some inroads."

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