Why Apple still has a chance against Google in education

  • Apple's new iPad should give it a meaningful grip on the education market, despite Google's popularity, according to firms that coordinate large-scale Apple device deployments.
  • Google is not as popular in many international education markets.
  • About 55 percent of educators surveyed by Jamf said that they favor Mac because it's more secure, while 48 percent noted the operating system requires less maintenance.

Apple's new $299 iPads are likely to spur interest in classrooms — even if they're not as cheap as low-end options from Google — according to firms that work with Apple on education.

Apple hosted a low-key event on Tuesday in Chicago focused on the educational market, where it revealed an updated iPad and a suite of software for classrooms. Companies that help large organizations use Apple products said that Apple's recent push should give it a meaningful grip on the market, despite Google's popularity, thanks to Apple's advantages internationally and its commitment to data security.

Google offers highly popular Chromebooks for students, alongside resources like Google Expeditions (field-trip like content in augmented and virtual reality), G Suite for Education (tools like email and documents), and Google Classroom, a dashboard for teachers. Google has only been making a concerted push into education for about five years, but it appealed directly to teachers to gain fast on Apple and Microsoft, which had a long head start in schools. Chrome is now the leading operating system in the US with nearly 60% market share, according to Futuresource Consulting.

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago, Illinois on March 27, 2018.
Jim Young | AFP | Getty Images
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago, Illinois on March 27, 2018.

But Apple still has some places where it can shine.

International markets. First, Google is largely absent from China, which is a strong market for iPads. It's also not as popular as the iPad in many other international education markets, according to Larry O'Connor, CEO of Other World Computing (OWC), which provides services for Mac users.

"Overseas, in Europe for example, where Chromebook doesn't have the adoption it's enjoyed in the U.S., I believe Apple is pretty much making them the platform of choice," O'Connor said.

"There will always be lower cost options — but it is the entire platform, available software and apps, management of the deployed hardware and software, security (virus/malware considerations included), and the time for this support and uptime of solutions where Apple is hard to beat."

Privacy. Dean Hager of Jamf, a company that helps organizations manage Apple technology, said that Apple is still growing fast despite Google's encroachment. He said that Jamf has added 1,000 to1,500 new schools to its Apple customer base every year.

In particular, he said privacy is becoming an extremely important topic for his customers. Apple has taken a lot of strong public stances in favor of user privacy, such as refusing to help federal investigators crack security on iPhones, which helps perception.

"None of the tech companies put as much emphasis on privacy and security as Apple does," Hager said. "Apple is renowned for creating products that the users use but the data is private. Other companies consider the data as part of their product and ... they keep the prices low.

Apple TV. Hager also pointed to compatibility with devices like Apple TV, the third most popular device for his education customers behind iPads and Mac. He said the ease by which teachers can shuffle content students and the screen at the front of the classroom is important when annotating students' work or projecting illustrations on a screen.

Different strengths for different ages. While iPads often draw direct comparisons to Chromebooks, this may be a false choice, like asking teachers whether a school should buy basketballs or footballs — a set of each, shared among classrooms, could serve more purposes than choosing one or the other.

Chromebooks, Hager said, could be suited for looking up information for research or for word-processing, while iPads might be more useful for activities where students are moving, drawing, taking pictures or playing games — areas that Apple has historically invested in across all devices.

Venture capitalist Gene Munster said iPad is strongest in grades kindergarten through fifth grade while Chromebooks are more popular among older students in middle and high school, when activities like essays and spreadsheets come into play.

"We believe Apple and iPad are uniquely positioned toward creativity, while Chromebooks are better positioned for the utilitarian aspect of education," Munster said.

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