Study Suggests That the Battle for K-12 is Already Over

Posted on May 9, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, iOS, Microsoft Surface, Mobile, Windows 10 with 78 Comments

Study Suggests That the Battle for K-12 is Already Over

In the wake of Microsoft’s renewed push for the education market, a new study suggests that the battle may already be over. And in K-12, at least, Microsoft has lost.

“Educators and administrators hold Google’s products in high regard and are willing to vouch for them among their peers,” EdWeek reports. “Google’s education rivals, Apple and Microsoft, as well as Amazon, earn mixed reviews … When asked which school-provided tools educators and students use most for instruction in their districts, 42 percent of survey respondents said Chromebooks, far outpacing PC laptops, at 15 percent, and PC desktops and Apple iPads, both at 13 percent.”

This market is important. Just before the event at which Microsoft unveiled Windows 10 S, Surface Laptop, and various education initiatives, I wrote that the software giant could not afford to lose education. But PC loyalists have a blind spot when it comes to Chromebooks because these devices are not as powerful as PCs. The problem is that schools love them, for their simplicity, low price, and manageability.

The EdWeek study confirms this.

First, Chromebooks now has a “dominant share of the U.S. K-12 market.” 42 percent of the school districts in the United States that provide their own devices to students use Chromebooks, compared to under 15 percent for PC laptops, under 13 percent for PC desktops, and under 13 percent for iPads. Macs sit at under 9 percent, and Microsoft Surface is used by only 0.71 percent of districts.

This usage shows us what schools are doing now. But satisfaction helps us understand what will happen in the future. Here, Microsoft gets mixed results.

“Microsoft scored lower than Google in a number of rankings of K-12 officials’ satisfaction,” the report notes. “But a much stronger percentage of those surveyed, 46 percent, rated their purchases of Microsoft products as excellent or good, than did those who rated them as poor or fair, at a combined 13 percent.”

A huge part of Google’s appeal in the cash-strapped education market is the price: Google offers its G Suite web applications for free to teachers and students. And that strategy is working: G Suite, like Chromebooks, dominate education: Almost 68 percent of school districts use this solution, compared to just 17 percent for Microsoft’s Office 365 Education.

Google also makes the Chrome OS that powers Chromebooks available for free to device makers. The result is a large market of inexpensive devices aimed specifically at education.

“Chromebooks boot up quickly and are easily shared,” EdWeek notes. “Chromebooks’ low cost gives district leaders confidence that they can buy large numbers of the devices and replace them if needed, without major financial consequences.”

Finally, Google has done a tremendous job making Chromebooks easy to manage, EdWeek notes.

“The support cost for computers was much higher than the cost of the device itself,” Google’s Rajen Sheth told EdWeek in an interview. With Chromebooks, “the manageability [is] simple,” and districts have found they “could buy tens or thousands of Chromebooks, and they didn’t have to hire a single IT person.”

Google’s popularity in education is all the more impressive when you consider the privacy concerns that many have voiced about this company and its business practices. And while the districts surveyed by EdWeek did express concerns, the overwhelming dominance of Google in education indicates that schools do trust Google.

The good news for Microsoft is that it continues to lead in the non-K-12 market, which I take to mean higher education. This, I think, explains the Surface Laptop—a product specifically designed for the traditional four-year college stint (a number that may be outdated, by the way)—Windows 10 S, and Intune for Education. Each is more applicable to higher education than to K-12.

Microsoft’s offerings are “richer” than those by Google, EdWeek notes, and its tools “better prepare students for the challenges of the workplace.”

And in a move that mirrors what we see in the business world, education seems to be abandoning the one provider model—where an Apple, Google or Microsoft might “win” an entire district—and are mixing and matching in order to get the best solution across the board.

In this hybrid world of the future, Microsoft might have a lower overall market share, but because the market itself is so much bigger and more inclusive, it could still grow and be very successful. The only issue for the education market is that such mixing is more complicated and could require more training or more staff.

Critics will note that this study reflects only the US market, and that Microsoft still dominates education worldwide. And yes, that is true. But as we’ve seen so many times—in the PC market, and in smartphones, as obvious examples—things are changing. And give Microsoft some credit: This time it is at least responding and not waiting an interminable number of years before doing something about a clear and present danger.

That said, it’s not clear how Microsoft’s announcements this week will win over K-12. The firm never said how much PC makers would save by using Windows 10 S, so it’s not clear if the product is free or just cheaper. (Consumers will pay $50 to upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro; the cost of doing so from Windows 10 Home is $100.)

PCs running Windows 10 S do cost about the same as typical Chromebooks, but as noted, it’s the maintenance that really weighs on school districts. To that end, PCs are still far more complex than Chromebooks. And it’s likewise not clear that Microsoft’s management solution for K-12 is as seamless or fast as what Google offers. Microsoft never compared its solution to Google’s at the event earlier this month, it compared it to what was previously available in the PC world.

So we’ll see. But with K-12 falling to Google, Microsoft has a tough fight on its hands. And it needs to truly match Google—on price, simplicity, and speed—before it can even hope to compete effectively.


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