The iPad is losing ground to a cheaper, bare-bones laptop backed by
Google, which in the third quarter became the best-selling device for
higher education and K-12 schools nationwide, according to research firm
|Third-graders Alex Lu (left), Richie Ngo and Ray Chuang use a Chromebook
computer to research Indian tribes at Marshall Pomeroy Elementary
School in Milpitas. Chromebooks are becoming more popular for use in
Chromebooks sold during the third quarter in the U.S. education market for laptops, desktops and tablets, beating 793,000 iPads, IDC said
The results come as schools are struggling to update classrooms and help students keep up with technology. Some are moving to what’s called a one-to-one system, in which every student receives a loaned device, causing tech companies and their partners to aggressively market to educators.
Schools are a key battleground for tech companies, because whatever grabs the education market will probably remain or become the dominant technology in the future, said Rob Enderle with advisory services firm Enderle Group. Students will become so accustomed to a certain operating system, the thinking goes, that they will continue to use that software in college and eventually in the workplace.
And companies are willing to sacrifice profit and offer steep discounts to get students’ undivided attention.
“It's seed corn,“ Enderle said.
To win the market, companies are hosting sessions for educators where they can discuss technology, including one by Google this month at Thomas Russell Middle School in Milpitas.
The sessions aren’t just a boon for companies. Only 27 percent of teachers feel confident in their own digital literacy, and more than half believe their students have a more advanced understanding of tech in classrooms than they do, said Monica Woodley from analysis firm Economist Intelligence Unit.
When it comes to preparing students for careers, just 40 percent of teachers feel that businesses are satisfied with the skills of students entering the job market, she added.
“We see a lot of room for improvement,” Woodley said.
When Chromebooks were released at the end of 2010, they weren’t envisioned entirely as an education product. But the education market — which includes K-12 schools and colleges — represented 75 percent of the laptop’s total U.S. sales in the third quarter, IDC said. The market accounted for 21 percent of total iPad sales in the quarter, it said.
“It’s just been a very solid fit with the needs of schools,” said Rajen Sheth, a director of product management at Google.
Chromebooks start at $199 — about $180 cheaper than the least expensive iPad Air. That helps in a market where budgets matter.
“We are seeing great demand of Chromebooks in education primarily because of its low price point,” said Rajani Singh, an IDC senior research analyst. “The education market is very, very price sensitive.”
Google doesn’t manufacture most Chromebooks used in schools — partners including Samsung, Dell and Hewlett-Packard do — but it provides the operating system. For every Chrome book sold to schools, Google charges a $30 fee so that schools can manage the devices.
“There is not a tremendous amount of revenue that comes directly to Google here,” Sheth said.
Sheth said that what separates Chromebooks from its competitors is its simplicity, low cost and its ties to the cloud. The laptop doesn’t have much memory, and instead relies on the Internet to connect students with their documents and apps. By having everything online, students who end up breaking or losing their Chromebook can easily go back to class with a different device and access their documents and apps, educators said. That’s different from devices like the iPad, in which students would need to manually back up their files.