Has Apple Lost the Current Generation of Students?

Phil Baker / March 8th, 2017

When I worked for Apple in the 90s, there was a constant push to put Apple computers in schools so students would be more likely to become Apple customers for life. Now, nearly 30 years later, we read how Apple is falling behind in the use of their products in schools.

According to an article in the New York Times:

Over the last three years, Apple’s iPads and Mac notebooks — which accounted for about half of the mobile devices shipped to schools in the United States in 2013 — have steadily lost ground to Chromebooks, inexpensive laptops that run on Google’s Chrome operating system and are produced by Samsung, Acer and other computer makers.

Mobile devices that run on Apple’s iOS and MacOS operating systems have now reached a new low, falling to third place behind both Google-powered laptops and Microsoft Windows devices, according to a report released on Thursday by Futuresource Consulting, a research company.

Futuresource notes Chromebooks count for 58 percent of the 12.6 million mobile computing devices shipped to primary and secondary schools in the United States in 2016, up from 50% in 2015. During the same period, iPads and Mac laptops fell to 19 percent from about 25 percent. Microsoft Windows laptops and tablets remained relatively stable at about 22 percent.

These statistics confirm what I’ve experienced firsthand. I initially became aware of Chromebooks in schools when my 12-year old grandson told me last year how many of his classrooms in his Bay area school were equipped with Chromebooks. He then showed me how he used it to do work at school, go online from his home computer to the school’s portal to check and finish his work, submit his homework assignments, get scores of his tests, and use Google Docs to write his essays.

When I asked about iPads in school, a product he uses at home, I got rolled eyes, as if I were in the Stone Age. He explained how less useful and how more expensive iPads are for the things he does at school. He said their Chromebooks cost $200 while iPads are more than twice that amount and have no keyboard.

But it wasn’t until I spoke with his 8-year old brother and my other grandson I realized how much more aware they are of technology products at such a young age — younger than any generation before.

While his parents waited for their older son to graduate 5th grade before getting him an activated phone (an iPhone 5C), the younger one uses an inactivated Samsung Galaxy 6 with a home WiFi connection, primarily as a game player. Yet, he figured out how to make calls, send messages over WiFi using WhatsApp and, when he wants to use it away from home for playing Pokémon Go, he makes sure his brother or mother is with him so he can connect to their hotspot.

When I asked each what phone they prefer, iPhone or the Android, both brothers spoke up in unison and unequivocally said Android. They each reeled off a list of comparisons between the two operating systems that would make a reviewer proud. They both prefer Android because they like Google Voice more than Siri, the weather app on better, and criticized the iPhone for its shorter battery life and no headphone jack. When I asked the 8-year old what phone he liked the best, he said the Galaxy 7 because it was waterproof and had a curved display.

Now, anecdotal stories from 8 and 12-year olds are just that but, taken with these new findings, it should be a concern to Apple. While we adults complain about the slow pace and limited innovation at Apple, it’s something apparent even to youngsters who take technology for granted, are more adept with devices, and have a technical proficiency that may negate Apple’s easier to use interface — the primary advantage Apple could offer to earlier generations.

Phil Baker

Phil Baker is a product development expert, author, and journalist covering consumer technology. He has developed scores of products for companies including Apple, Seiko, Polaroid, Barnes & Noble, Polycom, Proxima, ThinkOutside and Pono Music. Phil is the author of “From Concept to Consumer”, a former columnist for the San Diego Transcript, and founder of Techsperts, Inc. You can follow him at www.bakerontech.com.
  • obarthelemy

    Nice kids ;-p
    I did the contractless smartphone trick for a few years too, back when data was ridiculously expensive, and wifi at home & work + preloaded content on an SD card everywhere else was quite enough. I don’t miss the morning site-hoovering routine though ^^

  • Glaurung-Quena

    “During the same period, iPads and Mac laptops fell to 19 percent from about 25 percent.”

    If you look at the accompanying graph, the real story here is that while Windows and MacOS sales to schools have remained nearly the same as they were 4 years ago, Chrome OS sales have skyrocketed. More schools than ever are buying computing devices for their students… and those computing devices are dirt-cheap Chromebooks.

    Which is bad news in terms of children’s digital privacy, but good news in terms of the number of schools that are finally moving into the 21st century.

  • isitjustme

    “When I asked about iPads in school, a product he uses at home, I got rolled eyes, as if I were in the Stone Age. He explained how less useful and how more expensive iPads are for the things he does at school. He said their Chromebooks cost $200 while iPads are more than twice that amount and have no keyboard.”

    Yes, Apple is doomed…..without a keyboard just like the iPhone.

    I also read the same thing that many not sure it was video editing or those doing graphics are jumping on to the MS Studio bandwagon by a reader of PED at Apple 3.0.

    If a company is not good enough it will be thrown to the wayside and competition is good for everyone especially the consumers and no one knows what is ahead and certainly not these young ones or the old ones who interpret with a conversation with his grandson that Apple has lost.

  • Defendor

    Not surprising at all.

    The Thin Client model makes perfect sense for schools. From what I have read elsewhere Google has given schools extensive controls over managing all their Chromebooks at the board/district/classroom level.

    The pricing can’t be beat, and the laptop form factor is a better one for many productivity applications.

    I only see this trend accelerating.

    • jfutral

      What I find somewhat surprising is that parents aren’t arguing that Windows is what they should be using since Windows is what they’ll use in “the real world”. That was the argument back when it was only Windows/Mac discussions and even Windows/Mac/iPad discussions.

      The veteran of many pre-Chromebook PTA technology debates,
      Joe

      • PhilipGBaker

        Perhaps brand loyalty is less important than it used to be, Perhaps features and innovation trumps brand.

        • jfutral

          Possibly, but I am not that optimistic. It may be that Google has infiltrated “the real world” of at least parents more than Apple has, even as it hasn’t made the huge paradigm shift analysts like Bob O’Donnel pondered in his recent article,

          https://techpinions.com/modern-workplaces-still-more-vision-than-reality/48867

          Even as cloud services aren’t ubiquitous [in the workplace], Google Drive has made much larger inroads than any Apple solution, even among heavy duty Apple users. Is that innovation driven or brand driven? Either way, it possibly makes Chromebooks at least more palatable than Mac or iOS devices. Apple solutions in the workplace are super niche.

          But then, I can only speculate since my PTA days are now behind me.

          Joe

  • leebase

    You know, there are actual studies about teen tech preferences. Perhaps those studies are much more relevant than your sample of two. In fact, those recent studies of teen preferences are more relevant than Apple’s 30 year ago strategy.

    Are Chromebooks great for schools…better so than iPads? For sure. Do Chromebooks lead to Android phones? You didn’t provide any reasoning to support such a notion.

    Android is a worthy competitor to the iPhone. Lots of teens are going to like Android just as lots of adults do. But again, there are actual studies you can refer to to speak of Apple being in trouble with the youth…or not…as the studies tell us.

    Apple of the Mac era needed the school market far more than Apple of the iPhone era does. The rest is just a huge supposition on your part that there is a connection between Chromebooks use and smartphone choice

  • avro

    Interesting, but the author forgets that outside of the US Ed markets Chromebooks are a mere curiosity. Certainly they have been looked at elsewhere, but no one is really interested. iPads are rather big UK Ed market which is very fond of Tablets and especially the iPad. A study was done whether it was better for a student to have an iPad or a Chromebook and while the Chromebook had lots of advantages for the institution they had no advantages for the student.

    Like Automatic Transmissions and Baseball, Chromebooks in Education will probably remain a US phenomena. They have been around for years, but no one else is really interested.

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