Will Google School Apple in the Education Sector?

Google's Chromebooks are making gains in education, but Apple still leads the way.

Jan 27, 2014 at 9:35AM

Though Microsoft and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) have had a long history of being the go-to computing devices in education, data over the past few months shows that Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is making huge gains in the space. 

Chromebooks
Source: Google.

Coming up from behind
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal showed that preliminary data from Futuresource Consulting has Chromebooks taking 19% of the K-12 tablet and PC market, with Apple at 47% and Windows at 28%. Those numbers may not seems like a big deal until you consider that Chromebooks had just 1% at the end of 2012. 

The Chromebook spike in education matches up with data from the NPD Group showing that commercial sales of Chromebooks, including for education, shot up from January to November last year, from 0.2% to 9.6% of unit sales in the commercial channel. Meanwhile, Apple's notebooks went from 1.8% to 2.6%. Those numbers don't include sales of Apple's iPad. 

Even back in July, a Forbes article noted that Chromebooks were edging in on Apple's education territory because of their low cost, ease of setup, and the fact that they can be easily shared without changing lots of account information.

One of the main concerns Apple should have with Chromebooks is obviously their low prices; some Chromebooks are priced just under $200. Even the several-years-old iPad 2 sells for $399 on Apple's website, and even with an education discount, the device isn't close to the Chromebooks' low cost.

But low prices may not be enough to buff current education trends.

Looking ahead
Futuresource Consulting said in a report back in December that, "Global penetration of mobile computing devices within K-12 education is forecast to reach almost 10% by the end of 2017, growing from just over 3% in 2012." So while Chromebooks are making headway right now, it may be a temporary trend among the bigger picture of in-class mobile computing.

CEO Tim Cook was asked about Chromebook competition on the company's earnings call back in October and responded saying that the company had its best education quarter, with over $1 billion in education revenue "for the first time ever". He went on to say:

"We do see Chromebooks in some places, but the vast majority of people are buying a PC/Mac or an iPad. Our share of tablets in education is 94%. I mean, it's sort of unheard of. I've never seen a market share that high before." 

With Apple reporting its best quarter in education to date, it seems Chromebooks' move into the space hasn't hurt Apple just yet. The company will release its latest quarterly earnings this week, though, and investors should look to see if Apple gives any updates on education revenues that might show if Chromebooks are making a dent. With the education sector trending more toward mobile computing, it's likely Apple will hold a strong position despite the current uptick from Chromebooks.

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