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?
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)?