The emerging three-cornered K-12 computing ecosystem

What computers are American K-12 schools using these days?  It’s a three-way battle at the moment between Apple, Google, and Microsoft, according to an IDC report, summarized in the New York Times.

Each has about one third of the market, at least for devices purchased over the past couple of years. iPads are popular, apparently because of apps.  (Anecdotally, I’ve heard they appeal to elementary schools, where typing isn’t as crucial as in secondaries)  Chromebooks are growing in demand because of low cost and ease of use.  And Microsoft has a two-pronged strategy, getting both tablets (Surfaces) and laptops into schools.

What can we learn from this latest iteration of schools’ computing ecosystem?

Chromebook in school, by Laurie Sullivan

Cloud computing is no longer a big deal.  Chromebooks rely on persistent internet connections and off-site storage.  It’s an interesting note in the development of educational computing that many (not all) schools can now count on reliable internet access.

The Chromebook’s keyboard leads some to choose it over the iPad.  Despite the latter’s attachable keyboard, its reputation (and probably major use) is as a touchscreen device.

Price matters a great deal, especially for low-resourced K-12s.  Hence another source of the appeal of Chromebooks and low-cost Windows machines.

Microsoft remains a major player, despite its anti-buzz. (“In terms of the sheer numbers of devices sold, however, Microsoft remained in the lead. In 2014, about 4.9 million Windows devices, including notebooks and desktops, shipped to schools, giving Microsoft a roughly 38 percent market share in unit sales, IDC said.”)

That Microsoft reach does not include the prominence of the Office suite.  But that’s another aspect of this 3-cornered competition, as Office, both in desktop and 360 versions, dukes it out with Google Apps.

Chromebook versus iPad can also appear as an instance of the apps versus Web struggle.  Some teachers and administrators prefer iPad apps for their diversity, their creativity, and their existence away from the much-feared Web.  Others prefer the Chromebook because they value the Web and/or see the value in teaching students how to use that crucial communication channel.

From the IT side, comments on the New York Times piece and on HackerNews claim that it’s easier to configure many Chromebooks than iPads.

So I have two questions.

First, how will experiencing this device tripod shape the next generation of traditional-age college students?

Second, will this threesome maintain, as each device set meets scholastic demand, or will one player win (or drop out)?

(link via HackerNews; photo by Laurie Sullivan)

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9 Responses to The emerging three-cornered K-12 computing ecosystem

  1. My oldest son (incoming 6th grader) has been using Chromebooks for several years now. Specifically, in New Jersey, the new testing standards required availability of computers for nearly all students at once, and since the testing is online, Chromebooks were the perfect alternative for that. He also works on assignments in Google Apps, and can seamlessly work on it at home and at school with his school Google account. I realized the mantra from our days about the criticality of saving your work frequently (to 5.25″ floppy) is irrelevant when using Google Apps and things are saved constantly.

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  2. I think that this will take a while to play out and I don’t know that there will eventually be a “winner.” If anything I can see Microsoft losing ground on the hardware front but making up for it on the software/cloud side. The Surface 3 is reasonably priced compared to an iPad but is still more expensive than most Chromebooks.

    My local school district is in the process of working our way through the best way forward for us and it isn’t an easy decision. Chromebooks are certainly more cost effective but I haven’t seen data on how well they hold up over time, whereas iPads are known to have very good staying power.

    From a device management perspective Google is the clear winner in this space but from what I understand OS 10.5 and iOS 9 will be introducing some features that will narrow that gap. There are certainly good tools for managing Windows devices but in general they are too cost prohibitive for schools.

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  3. Pingback: Trends to watch in 2015: education and technology | Bryan Alexander

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