As Tech in Education Matures, it calls for more than Hardware

Our kids might not remember what schools were like before so many started focusing on STEM, and coding. Most schools had a computer room but technology, or computer science, was very much a subject rather than a tool to use throughout the school day. We can argue whether or not technology made things better or worse but that deserves a totally separate discussion. Like it did in the enterprise market, since its launch in 2010, the iPad started making its way into education bringing technology into classrooms. It did not take long for the first one to one iPad school to get established.

The first Chromebooks hit the market in 2011 but it was not until 2013 that they started to make a considerable impact in K-12 education and they have been growing ever since across American schools and mostly at the expense of Apple.

When the iPad was first brought into the classroom it was done in schools where, by and large, budget was not an issue and teachers were empowered to invest time in finding the best way to use technology to reinvent and energize teaching. It was really about rethinking how to teach and connect with students. As technology became more pervasive, schools discovered that it was not just about teaching but it was also about managing the classroom. This is what Google was able to capitalize on. Yes, schools turn to Chromebooks because the hardware is cheaper but also because the total cost of ownership when it comes to deployment, management, and teacher’s involvement is much lower.

A very Different Approach

When analyzing a go to market strategy I always point to how the “why” of the approach rests on the core strength of the brand in question. In this case, Apple’s strength is in the ecosystem and its weakness is in the cloud. For Google the opposite is true. So it makes sense that Apple built its education strategy around the ecosystem of developers that jumped at the opportunity to sell into the education market. Google, in the meantime, built on its cloud strength to enable a device that could be easily shared and managed as well as strong collaborative tools in their G Suite for Education.

I am focusing on Apple and Google as Microsoft’s efforts into K-12 are more recent at least outside of the administration and into the classroom. Yet, even with Microsoft, the approach fits their strength which is Office first and then cloud.

There is no right or wrong in the approach but there is more or less scalable and that is linked to total cost of ownership and it starts with hardware. While it would be belittling to Google’s effort to say they are winning in education because Chromebooks are cheap it is fair to say that they get in the door because of that and from there the conversation is certainly easier.

Three Areas that Would Help Apple Grow Share in Education

Apple just announced an education event in Chicago for March 27 and, as you know, I am wiser than trying to predict what they will and will not do. That said, there are three areas that I would like Apple to address when it comes to their education offering: hardware pricing, an improved productivity and collaboration suite and a bigger focus on managing the classroom.

Hardware Pricing

Apple already cut the price of the 9.7” iPad to $329 in March last year but even with education discounts, there is still a considerable gap with Chromebooks. Of course, I do not expect Apple to ever reach the below $200 that we see with some Chromebooks but I do think the prices still need to be lowered considering most schools also have to consider the cost of rugged cases, storage carts, and styluses on top of the iPad itself.

Considering the design of the invite, I do wonder if there might be some bundling of Pencil as, of course, this will be a great tool across the board from writing to arts. This would, in turn, imply that Pencil support would be expanded outside the Pro family, which is something that makes perfect sense given its popularity.

For higher education, I would also expect an updated MacBook Air at a very competitive price. A sub $900 MacBook would certainly put pressure on Windows manufacturers as well as make it harder to justify a PixelBook, Google’s second attempt to show Chromebooks don’t all have to be lower end hardware.

Improved Productivity and Collaboration Suite

Apple giving up on iWork in favor of Microsoft Office 365 might be ok with people like me (AKA older users!) who have grown up using Office for the most part of their career. But Gen Z and Millennials live and breathe G Suite. While Google has been platform agnostic when it comes to consumer tools, I very much doubt they will support education skews on other devices as deeply as they do on Chromebooks.

This opens up an opportunity for Apple to create a productivity suite that competes with G Suite. Of course, this will require a bigger investment in iCloud as Apple will need to push collaboration to the next level. iMessage is such a powerful workflow tool for many that I am surprised that Apple has yet to integrate it into the Classroom tools.

iWork, which could do with a different name altogether, should be the toolset the next generation wants to work with no more so than the Mac has been the computer students wanted to have when they went off to college and then to work.

Lastly, given the recent focus on families, I would like to see how Apple can better address parents who are often left out of the classroom physically and digitally. G Suite is great for kids to log in and do their homework or projects from any device they have at home, but parents are not necessarily included in that loop. Thinking about how better serve parents will certainly help Apple to be more top of mind in family choices.

Classroom Management Tools

In 2016, Apple released Classroom which allows for automatic connectivity across iPads and helps to manage iPads in schools that are not 1 to 1 by allowing the teacher to log students into the most recent iPad they used. Classroom also allows teachers to launch apps, websites or books and push such content to students locking their device on a specific view.

With the release of iOS 11.3 it also seems that Apple has developed a framework called ClassKit that aims to help developers of educational apps to create student evaluation features like questionnaires that they can fill in and then automatically send to their teacher. It also seems that there will be a “kiosk mode” so that the students will not be able to access anything else on the device while they are undergoing the test. These are features that Chromebooks already make available which I am sure will be welcomed by educators using iPads.

It appears that with the addition to ClassKit, Apple will check many boxes in a feature by feature showdown with Google.

Aside from not talking about their education offer as much as they should, I fear that Apple comes across more as a DIY solution. While this allows for flexibility for every teacher and allows them to pick best of breed apps for their specific classroom needs it can feel as quite a daunting task compared to Google. Of course, now that Chromebooks support Android there is a choice of apps there as well but the core of what Google brings to schools is nicely wrapped up into their G Suite for education and most teachers do not even look past that.

I am sure if you ask any school, aside from budget, time is the one other thing they will tell you they do not have enough of. As Chromebooks get more and more established in education the biggest issue Apple will face is having schools consider a change. The advantage Google had here was cost. For Apple to have schools make a switch convenience and ease of use should be the key. Freeing up teachers time from administrative tasks and empowering them to teach is a great selling point.

Chromebooks: What Netbooks Should Have Been All Along

When netbooks were first launched in late 2008, they were billed as clamshell devices meant to access the internet. About a decade earlier, these devices were also referred to as internet appliances. These netbooks were much less expensive than notebooks at the time, partly because of their limited functionality and partly because of their sleek size (eliminating components such as optical drives). The concept of these devices quickly devolved as consumers focused on price. Brands seized the growing demand opportunity and slapped together miniature notebooks using what they had at the time: notebook components.

What the industry was left with was inexpensive small notebooks, not internet access devices, but “net” books. Many research firms, including DisplaySearch, took to calling netbooks “mini-notes” because they were recognized as miniature notebooks. Research firms took a lot of heat from PC brands, component makers, and others who were worried that if these inexpensive mini-notes were thought of as notebooks, they would lead to lower average selling prices of notebooks. That is what ended up happening. Now the mini-note category is shrinking as brands move away from the modest margins of mini-notes to tablet PCs, while the need and opportunity for devices specialized for internet access remains.

Enter the Chromebook, a clamshell device whose main objective is to access the internet, with some versions coming in at mini-note prices; a case in point is the Acer AC700-1099, selling for $349. Some have said that Chromebooks will be doomed from the start because of the impression that they need a mobile broadband connection to be of any use. I’d say that’s a marketing error that needs to be corrected: Chromebooks can use WiFi to connect to the internet and can be useful anywhere there is a hot spot. The goal is convenience, not productivity. For consumers looking for an instant-on device with a long battery life and sleek design, just for connecting to the web for email and accessing digital media, Chromebooks will be of interest.

Chromebooks have recently started selling, so it’s too early to judge the market’s reaction. However, informal indications seem to point to some traction. As of this writing, the Acer Chromebook was ranked sixth on’s bestsellers list for laptops, and the more expensive Samsung Series 5 in silver with WiFi and 3G versions in white were also in the top 20.

Click here to read more analysis from Richard on the DisplaySearch blog.