Apple's education event has elephant in the room named Google

Apple's March 27 field trip is all about education, but the company has a tough task trying to gain share from Google's Chromebook, G Suite, and Google Classroom stack.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Video: Can Apple cut into Google's tech lead?

Apple is holding an event at a Chicago high school on Tuesday, and it's likely that the company will roll out new iPads with an education market twist. The hardware approach is vintage Apple, but the company has one huge issue in the education market: Google.

The platform battle in K-12 is one for the future of platforms. Apple historically has been strong in education and was in the market early in its history. I still remember the Apple IIc like it was yesterday. Toss in the iPhone, iPad, and the Mac and Apple has a solid footprint in education.

Must read: Apple's March 27 event: What to expect and how to watch

But the education game has shifted to an approach that favors Google and Microsoft. Simply put, Apple can roll out whatever hardware it wants, but its devices will likely be used with G Suite and Google Classroom or education flavors of Office 365. There are instances where Apple's app-centric approach works well for school district, but the cost of Chromebooks and G Suite are hard to beat.

In this Google education world, the likes of Apple have to compete with $40 a year for a student to take home a Chromebook and get a new one every three years or until you wreck the device before that time period. Suddenly, Apple devices look like a luxury that's not needed.

Add it up and the education game may already be lost. Microsoft also has a solid footprint in education, but it's about Office really with 2-in-1 devices. In the end, Excel and Office matters for education, so Microsoft will have a role regardless. FutureSource Consulting puts Google's education market share at 58 percent or so.

FutureSource noted:

At an operating system level, Chromebooks continue to gain market share, reaching 58% in 2016, up from 50% in 2015. The strong combination of affordable devices, productivity tools via G-Suite, easy integration with third party platforms/tools, task management/distribution via Google Classroom and easy device management remains extremely popular with US teachers and IT buyers alike. The rise of Chromebooks has also set new industry benchmarks with regards to average device pricing, with prices reaching as low as $120 on certain projects.


Through the third quarter of 2017, FutureSource reported that Chrome OS was edging close to 60-percent marketshare. So, where does that leave Apple? Perhaps the Chicago event will give us something to ponder, but in the trenches Google dominates and is moving up the stack. The education game is about cutthroat pricing and productivity. It's worth noting that Google's K-12 site speaks to IT setup, security time, cost savings, management, and low hardware prices.

Apple speaks to its Classroom app for iPad, creativity, and coding. Pricing isn't the lead dog. Microsoft has a similar theme, but it does tout competitive hardware pricing as well as management.

Read also: Leaving Windows: How the Pixelbook replaced my Surface Pro 4, no regrets | Lenovo introduces new Windows, Chromebook education laptops to classrooms | Windows 10 vs Chrome OS: Acer reveals new $350 Chromebook Spin 11 convertible | Microsoft touts Office dictation, new Windows 10 devices starting at $189 aimed at Chromebooks in education

Overall, Google has already won the perception war.

Consider my high schooler. She has a Chromebook, G Suite, and uses Google Classroom for all but one of her classes. That one class uses Canvas, a class management tool that competes with Blackboard. Her take is simple: Canvas is too complicated and Google Classroom gets the job done. Her biggest gripe about Google's presence at school is that the Chromebook could be a bit snazzier, and the device is locked down in ways that don't make a lot of sense. The school district IT team obviously has a different view.

Read also: CNET: Best Chromebooks for 2020

Top iPhone and iPad apps for productivity (March 2018 edition)

Another wrinkle is that Google Classroom is seen as a learning management system (LMS) for some. Microsoft's Education Teams is a rival. Gartner recently noted in a market overview:

Simple (and sometimes free) "LMS lite" products, such as Google Classroom, are providing some LMS functionality, but without the capabilities of a full enterprise product. However, some districts are finding this sufficient, even if just for the short term. This is adding some pressure to the enterprise LMS market to ensure customers are clear on why this additional functionality is important.

Read also: Chromebooks and Office 365 together will challenge Windows laptops | Windows is gaining on iOS in the education market

For higher education, the mix of tech vendors is going to be more diverse. G Suite, Canvas, Blackboard, Adobe Creative Cloud, Box, and a various of other applications are supported. Bottom line: The education market is software centric, and Apple is historically about hardware.


The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

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