Google beat Apple in education, one of its oldest strongholds — but now it’s time for round two

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Getty

Over the past few years, Apple, which was synonymous with educational technology, has seen its foothold in the classroom slip.

In 2013, iPhones, iPads, and Macs made up half of devices sold to American classrooms. Now, Apple products are in third place – behind Google’s Chromebooks and Microsoft Windows, according to a Futuresource Consulting estimate.

Apple’s announcement on Tuesday, in which it introduced a new low-cost iPad starting at $329, could change that trend, analysts told Business Insider. Some online joked that Apple should call it the iPad “education edition,” partially because it’s priced at $70 less than the iPad Air 2 it replaced.

“I’d guess education will play a heavy focus for this product,” Futuresource analyst Mike Fisher said.

“I think education is a big motivation,” Geoff Blaber, vice president of research at CCS Insight, said. “When you’re buying in bulk, price will be a huge factor in education, and that’s where Apple needs to compete more aggressively with Google.”

The education market is only a fraction of the larger PC and tablet market. But it’s seen as important because students who become used to a platform in school might be more likely to continue using the same computers when they graduate.

“We’re incredibly passionate about education,” Apple’s VP of product marketing Susan Prescott told the New York Times earlier this month.

But will a lower price be enough to turn around Apple’s fortunes in the classroom?

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Futuresource Consulting

Buying in bulk

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Logitech’s new iPad case targeted at schools.
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Logitech

Even at $330, or even possibly lower thanks to an educational discount, the new iPad isn’t going to be the low-cost option for school districts. But it does represent a better value after the price cut.

“Its obviously positive, but it doesn’t totally overcome the pricing gap,” Fisher said. “Apple will remain a ‘premium’ product.”

After the price cuts, Blaber said, the iPad is “vastly more competitive against Chromebook. But that said, it’s necessary to say that Apple still faces some pretty significant competition.”

For example, he points out, “with volume, you can get Chromebooks under the $200 price point.” 2-in-1 devices running Windows, which can be transform into both a tablet and a laptop could cost less than $300, Fisher said.

Apple is unlikely to ever beat low-cost computer makers, especially when Google and Microsoft give their operating systems away for free or for very low cost – which means it’ll have to beat its rivals on experience in the classroom.

Another issue facing the iPad is that it doesn’t come with a keyboard, which is required by many school districts for standardized tests. It’s a trend that once elicited one of the most annoyed public comments from Apple CEO Tim Cook ever: He called Chromebooks mere “test machines” in an interview from 2015.

Apple’s low-cost iPad doesn’t have a keyboard case, unlike its $599 iPad Pro – too expensive for schools – but third-party casemakers are already filling the gap.

Choosy parents choose… iPad?

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Getty/Mario Tama

To get more schools to choose Apple products, Apple has to clearly state the value of the iPad in the classroom – which isn’t easy when some teachers have said that iPads “provide no educational function in the classroom.”

Apple has clearly been making moves – last year it bought LearnSprout, an education-technology startup. Last summer, it also launched Classroom, software that allows teachers to track an entire classroom on their progress.

And on Tuesday, Apple announced that its acclaimed programming tutorial program, Swift Playgrounds, is newly available in five new languages. Apple has also been running Apple Teacher, a program to train teachers how to best use Apple products in the classroom.

Even that might not be enough though, analysts say. Google has similar classroom software, and it’s easier to manage a fleet of Chromebooks. “It’s not just about pricing either, it’s all about the ecosystem and Google ecosystem has just gained real momentum,” Fisher said, pointing to software like GSuite, Google Classroom, and its management console.

“To a large extent globally, rather than just the US, there’s still an awful lot of experimentation for schools, and in education broadly, to get a grasp on which OS is most appropriate,” Blaber said. “The base level, both [iPads and Chromebooks] are very competitive. It’s also worth noting that Windows has had excellent classroom and fleet management tools for years.

It’s also possible that iPads may make inroads into school districts that don’t issue their students laptops, but rather let them choose their own.

“Apple is getting pretty aggressive with iPad pricing. Smart and offering a direct to .edu price at $299 is a shot at Chromebooks,” Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin tweeted. “[Bring your own device] in lower education grades is a growing trend. New iPad pricing makes this an interesting choice for parents vs. Chromebooks.”