Tech Giants Battle for Piece of Apple Education Pie

When debating programs that see students issued with personal pieces of digital equipment for use in school, many district leaders are considering tablets instead of more traditional laptops or personal computers. And for many, “tablet” means Apple’s popular iPad — yet for the first time other players are now in a position to compete for providing education’s most popular digital tool.

Avi Asher-Schapiro, writing for DistrictAdministration.com, lists the companies that are lining up for a chance to take Apple’s mantle as the king of education technology. Among them are “heavy hitters” like Google, Samsung and Lenovo, along with many others. But the challenge facing these companies is daunting.

It might feel like the iPad came out of nowhere to take over classrooms not only around the country but around the world — however, looks can be deceiving. As a company Apple has been laying the groundwork for this takeover for more than a decade with a strategy that courted the education market from kindergarten to university and beyond.

Not only was Apple’s Macintosh computer a familiar presence in school computer labs, but a substantial number of colleges boasted Apple proto-stores where the company’s products were sold at a discount and where Mac enthusiasts were always on hand to help or just evangelize.

This is the kind of institutional advantage that Apple’s competitors are now seeking to overcome.

Still, it won’t be easy toppling a leader, especially one as popular as the iPad, which has hundreds of applications for K12 education and a range of lessons available through iTunes U, more than any other tablet. Hardly a month goes by without a new wave of school districts announcing iPad initiatives. “The iPad aligns perfectly with Maine’s statewide 1:1 technology goals,” says Rick Lyons, superintendent of District 22 in Hampden, Maine where the New Hampden Academy high school recently bought 840 iPads—one for every student and teacher. “Students and parents are already familiar with the device and we are getting great feedback.”

Still, slowly but surely inroads are being made. Google, for example, recently landed an order from the Rocketship Charter Network for its Chromebooks – lightweight computers that run on the company’s Chrome operating system. As Asher-Schapiro explains, the machine has a number of advantages over the iPad: the price and the sheer simplicity.

Langan’s pitch resonates with Mike Teng, technology team manager at Rocketship Education, a California public charter network that serves 3,800 students across seven schools in California and Wisconsin. Teng acknowledges that choosing between the iPad and its alternatives can be difficult. “There are major tradeoffs when considering iPads, Chromebooks or any technology device,” he says.

But when Rocketship began to move toward 1:1 last fall, Teng and his team ultimately went with Samsung Chromebooks, rolling out 1,300 devices across its seven campuses. And price was a major consideration. “If you are choosing between 1,300 Chromebooks or 600 iPads, you have to go with what gives you the most instruction per student,” he says.