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Chromebooks taking iPads to school in education market

A new IDC report claims that more laptops based on Google's Chrome OS were shipped to schools in the third quarter than Apple's tablets, thanks in no small part to the notebooks' low price.

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The education market has long been Apple's to dominate, from the early days of its first computers to today's iPads. Challengers have tried to encroach over the years, but the company may have met its match in Google's Chromebook platform.

The cheap laptops running Google's Chrome OS got off to a slow start , with schools ironically being one of the first places the devices were embraced. But 2014 has seen a rapid adoption of the machines, to the extent that Microsoft shifted its strategy and started offering low-cost licenses for Windows 8.1 in order to offer inexpensive Windows laptops to compete against Chromebooks .

According to a report from market research firm IDC and cited in the Financial Times (paywall site), more Chromebooks were shipped to schools in the third quarter than Apple iPads. While the difference in sales was pretty slim (715,000 Chromebooks to 702,000 iPads), it was still a breakthrough performance considering how trendy it's been for school districts to hand out Apple's tablets to students as part of a technological "revolution" in education.

But it's not too hard to figure out why this happened. IDC speculates that the low cost of the Chromebook laptops — often $200 — is half the price of a new full-sized iPad. It also obviously comes with a built-in keyboard, which can make it more productive out of the box for students to use for typing documents, though IDC points out that the iPad's touchscreen has advantages of its own (especially for younger students).

With their cloud-based apps, Chromebooks are fairly easy to deploy and manage, and Google has developed tools for educators (like Classroom ) to use to get the most out of the devices, which is why ZDNet's Ken Hess called Chromebooks and education "a perfect match" earlier this year. Intel has started paying close attention to the platform, revealing a reference design for Chromebooks specifically tailored towards education.     

While momentum for Chromebooks in schools is substantial, this is still only a single quarter where they outsold iPads, so Apple is a far cry from flunking this latest test to its educational hegemony. Chromebook makers also need to show similar success outside of the classroom to meet analysts' lofty sales projections. But one thing's for sure: This new (tech) kid in school is looking pretty cool right about now.