Chromebooks’ Popularity. Each week, Educating Modern Learners will pick one interesting current event – whether it’s news about education, technology, politics, business, science, or culture – and help put it in context for school leaders, explaining why the news matters and how it might affect teaching and learning (in the short or in the long run). This week (the week of November 10), Audrey Watters looks at reports that Chromebooks were the bestselling device in the K-12 computing market this year.
Posted on the Google blog this week: “according to IDC’s latest report on tablets and laptops in K-12 education, Chromebooks are the best-selling device in the U.S. this year.” There’s no link to that report. There are no hard numbers here to prove Google’s case.
But that didn’t stand in the way of technology blogs regurgitating the company’s PR. “Google’s Chromebooks rule schools,” Techcrunch pronounced. Edsurge also ran with a headline that “Google Reigns US K-12 Devices” but at least chased down some actual numbers from IDC.
In the third quarter of 2014 — which technically does mean “this school year,” I suppose, at least in the northern hemisphere — Google shipped about 713,000 Chromebooks. Apple shipped about 702,000 iPads. So an 11K device difference. “Rule schools” indeed.
“The third quarter is especially important,” IDC analyst Rajani Singh told Edsurge. “It captures a major portion of technology purchases that schools make in the year.”
Much of the punditry around Google’s alleged “triumph” here involves the cost savings involved with adopting Chromebooks versus adopting iPads. And fair enough, a Chromebook is far cheaper than any Apple piece of hardware.
But comparing two devices — the iPad versus the Chromebook — doesn’t seem quite right as the functionality, if nothing else, is quite different. One is a netbook; the other a tablet, for starters.
The Chromebook centers around what has been (some of) Google’s mission: the Web. Students need access to the Web, and Web apps — particularly Google’s suite of free productivity tools — are not only sufficient but they’re free.* (* the only cost, of course, is handing over your data.) Chrome OS is deeply intertwined with Google’s products, not really “the Web” at large. That does provide some ease of administration, no doubt. As the devices are all managed under a Google admin panel.
Similarly, Apple’s iPad drives users into Apple’s ecosystem, one that’s much more interested in iOS apps than in the open Web and one that is frustratingly not designed for schools, but rather for individual consumers.
Bypassing the “are iPads better than Chromebooks” debate (because I really think it’s the wrong debate, if nothing else), I do think Google Chromebooks’ staying power, if not ascendancy here, is fairly noteworthy. I admit to being pretty skeptical about Chrome OS, worried from the outset that Google would abandon the effort, like so many other Google products. (RIP Google Reader. I miss you almost every day.) And that day could certainly still come. But Google has tapped into something quite interesting here: a low cost device, that is integrated with the Google apps many schools have already adopted, that fulfills much of the word processing and information retrieval demands that schools point to computers as “good for.”
It is worth asking, of course, who’s the winner here. (There can be more than one, of course.) What does it mean if Google rules, if Google reigns? (And what happens if Apple reigns? If Microsoft does? And so on?)
Image credits: Carlos Luna