Android Tablet Use in U.S. Schools: An Update

android professorAbout six months ago I wrote about Android tablets, here, wondering if they would be the next big thing in education. And given what’s been happening in the market since then, I thought it would be a good time to write an update of what I’ve been seeing and reading.

First, an overview of the tablet sales. According to IDC (2013), tablet sales worldwide outpaced predictions with 52.5 million units sold in Q4 of 2012. That’s a lot of tablets, with the Q4 tablet market growing 75.3% year-on-year and up 74.3% from the previous quarter’s totals of 30.1 million units sold.  IDC attributed this to lower average selling prices (ASPs), a wide range of new product offerings, and increased holiday spending all acting as catalysts to push the already climbing tablet market to record levels.

In Q4 of 2012, Apple continued to lead the tablet market with its sales of iPads and iPad Minis totally 22.9 million units, a 48.1% increase in year-on-year. Not too surprising. But here’s the really interesting number: Samsung, the number 2 vendor, sold nearly 8 million combined Android and Windows tablets, a 263% year-on-year growthASUS, with its well-known Nexus branded Android tablet, enjoyed a 402% year-on-year growth during the same period.

So we know that the growth of tablet sales is huge. And we can see that the overall sales growth of Android tablets is far outpacing the growth of Apple tablets, though the absolute number of Apple tablets sold is still quite a bit higher.

But what about in education? Well, the market is still pretty fragmented. There are a number of tablet providers targeting education. There’s LearnPad,  Kuno, TabPilotKineoIntel Studybook, XO-4 from OLPC, MEEP, Tabeo, ChildPad, Kurio, Lexibook, Nabi and Vincito name a few. And most of you have probably heard about the new Amplify tablet just released by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and headed up by former NYC Schools chief, Joel Klein.

All of these tablets are trying to differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded hardware space. I haven’t reviewed them all and quite honestly, I can’t tell you what the differences are among them. So how will these companies differentiate themselves in the market? I really can’t say. It will be very interesting to watch. It may well end up being a price race to the bottom.

So far, at least, we’re not seeing a big rush for schools to buy Android tablets. Why is that, given the price differential vs. Apple? My guess is that it is due to two big reasons:

1. Nobody ever got fired for buying Apple. I think I’ve told you all before that back when I worked in the interactive whiteboard (IWB) business we used to say this about Smart Technologies products. And Apple is the tablet corollary. Apple is a well-known, premium brand. Just like in the case of Smart, many schools would rather buy fewer units of a trusted brand, premium product, than numerous units of an unknown brand.

2. Android apps for education still aren’t cutting it. Having looked at hundreds of app for both iOS and Android as part of my day job over at Balefire Labs, I can say that the percentage of crap educational apps for Android is higher than that of iOS. Don’t get me wrong, the percentage of crap is high for both operating systems. But about 20% of the ed apps we’ve reviewed for iOS are decent; Android is nowhere near that. And even then, the better Android apps that we see tend to be made by developers who are making cross-platform apps; that is, apps that run on both iOS and Android.

So that wraps up my perspective on where we are with Android devices and apps in education right now. I still think that Android tablets pose a major threat to Apple in the education space. But I think the jury is still out on the timeline for that. Truthfully, it’s happening more slowly than I expected.

Please chime in with your opinions on this, particularly if you are an Android tablet user and can give some pointers to others in education who might be shopping! Do you think we’ll see more schools shifting to Android tablets? When? And why do you think that will happen?

About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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12 Responses to Android Tablet Use in U.S. Schools: An Update

  1. David Jones says:

    I lived in Britain around the time when the only heard of Telecommunications company was British Telecom and they dominated the market with little or no competition to begin with. Of course, it is very different today with an array of companies to choose from. Educational tablet solutions, in certain ways, has similarities: biggest is not necessarily the best, but biggest is usually the most expensive. As a parent and teacher I prefer the LearnPad over any other educational tablet. One of the advantages (apart from price) the LearnPad has over the iPad, is that it can can run Flash-based resources from a range of well known publishers.

    • karen mahon says:

      David, thanks so much for your input on this. I haven’t used the LearnPad yet. You say that you prefer it over any other educational tablet…which others have you used in the past? Always interested in hearing from a comparison shopper!

  2. Jarrett says:

    Karen, as the developer of the TabPilot Tablet Manager system that you reviewed here:, I read this entry with great interest and have been giving it some thought over the past few days. Of course, we’re pleased to see more and more capable Android hardware that can compete with the iPad, as the early attempts were just not even in the same ballpark. But what I’ve been thinking about the most is your analysis on the educational apps themselves.

    While it’s great to see so many app vendor finally releasing Android versions of their apps simultaneously or just slightly after the iOS versions, there is definitely still a gap that we had hoped would be more tightly closed by now. And as far as weeding through the junky little apps to find good ones, that’s still tough. But then it hit me: finding educational apps from the standpoint of “instruction” is only ONE of the reasons schools look at tablets. When we consider the other areas, the Android-to-iOS gap is much smaller and sometimes even flip-flopped, and given the price savings of going the Android route, it now makes sense why we’re seeing Android interest levels grow. Of course, we’d also like to think that having a management system like TabPilot to lock down Android devices in a way that’s simply impossible with iOS will help this along too! 🙂

    Your analysis might help explain why we’re seeing far more interest in Android at the higher grades than the lower ones. So you’ve definitely shed some light on one of the trends we’re seeing. My guess is that lower grades are the ones that focus and benefit more from actually “instructional” apps, whereas the upper grades use them for a wider variety of reasons, from productivity to research. Here are some reasons I’ve thought of based on the past few months in the field. They are not in any particular order, but you’ll see that many (especially #1 and #2 apply more to the upper grades):

    1. Internet Research: This may be the #1 factor at middle and high school levels. With so many more resources on the web, from the school’s subscription databases to NASA videos to Khan Academy, having an Internet-accessible device is more important than ever. And there’s nothing OS-specific about these resources…only a browser is needed. I’m guessing that this is 80% of the reason our customers went with tablets…the least expensive way to get students online.

    2. Productivity: Most of this is still word processing and perhaps presentation software. Yeah, it sounds old-school and not “cutting-edge creative”, but let’s face it, at higher grades students still do a lot of writing! You don’t need dozens of apps for this, just a good basic office suite, and the free Kingsoft Office for Android fits the bill for MS-Office compatible Word and PowerPoint Documents. Google Docs is another great free way to go. Both of these are free, cross-platform, and offer cloud-based storage.

    3. Testing: This is a new driving force of tablet sales. Schools are moving to online testing like Common Core Assessment and realizing they need a ton of new devices to support this. They don’t have enough computers in the labs nor do they have the funds or space for more computers and the testing is expected to begin 2014. Tablets are less expensive and easy to store. But with the iPad, the price ends up higher than that of PC (especially by the time you add the case and extras). Android tablets offer a lower cost alternative. Most 10” tablets meet the required specs published by groups like PARCC & Smarter Balanced.

    4. Keyboards: most Android tablets feature a USB port, allowing for the connection of a very inexpensive (i.e. $15) full-sized keyboard. This allows for online keyboarding lessons. Also it’s expected that a physical keyboard will be one of PARCC’s requirements for online testing. Buying Bluetooth keyboards for every student iPad device is simply not practical.

    5. LMS Access: Some schools are moving more and more curriculum to an online learning management system such as Schoology and Edmodo. All that’s required on the device side is a compatible app, and the most popular LMSs like the ones I named here have both Android and iOS apps.

    6. Student Response Systems: Free systems like Socrative bring student response capabilities (i.e. “clickers”) to mobile devices in true cross-platform fashion.

    7. Online textbooks: When Apple’s attempt to dominate the electronic textbook industry with iBooks ran into so much trouble, publishers have looked elsewhere, and creating platform-agnostic content as PDF, ePub, HTML5 or other formats is on the rise.

    8. Teacher Presentation: Splashtop Whiteboard allows a teacher to control their computer an annotate on the scree, just as if they were on an interactive whiteboard, but with the ability to move freely around the room or had the device to a student to allow them to work a problem. If students have devices then a fantastic app like Display Note is worth considering. It allows teachers to take existing desktop content and publish it to student devices for annotation, note taking, or problem solving, and then display work from any student device back to the rest of the class. Both of these great apps are available for Android.

    So once we step away from apps that actually teach a particular subject matter, there are many types of tools that are cross-platform, taking the advantage away from the high-priced iOS-specific solutions.

  3. Hi Karen-

    VERY interested to read your article about Android tablets in school. At my PK-8 school, I’m responsible for the tech direction and we’ve decided to go with Android tablets in Pre-K- 2nd grade. So far, we have 8-12 per classroom, which we have put in place over the last 16 months. We’ve been very cost-conscious, while still trying to acquire name-brands. So, we’ve got a mixture of Acer Iconia, Toshiba Thrive and Samsung Galaxy at the school (all 10″). This hardware mix has all performed well- no issues at all. And certainly, the cost differential (I was manic for a while finding all the sales around Christmas of 2011 and 2012…) is amazing between Android and iOS.

    I can totally relate to the ‘app crap’ you referenced – it’s been an interesting challenge to find good apps. We’ve succeeded, I think, at least in giving the teachers some of the basic apps to support/reinforce classroom learning in the lower-order learning areas anyway (spelling, math facts, some reading, phonics, etc.) – Intellijoy is a good example of a company who seems to get how to build an appealing app that actually serves a purpose and works as advertised, so we have several of their apps for the little guys.

    I’ve also been surprised that the adoption level of Android has not been higher in the education space. Within our diocese (28 schools), I think we may be the only Android school. Some are trying out Nooks and maybe Kindle Fires, but no one else that I am aware of is on the Android platform. Obviously, it’s very attractive for people to go the iOS route, and I appreciate that and all the underlying reasons why it’s done. Since the total cost of ownership sure appears to be lower than that of iOS, we’re sticking with this decision for the foreseeable future. The teachers support it and have embraced what we’re doing overall. I have not seen any show-stoppers yet where a teacher wants to try something, and there is not a reasonable, free/cheap app and ‘classroom process’ allowing the teacher to do what they need to with the students using the tablets.

    Next step up the learning curve is to work with my teachers to include more ‘creativity’ and higher-order thinking student opportunities in their lessons that involved the tablets, and find ‘better’ ways to exploit what they can do (the cameras on board the tablets definitely come to mind…), and that is starting to happen, particularly in first and second grades.

    I can’t wait to see Balefire Labs has in store regarding apps reviews – we’re starting to get more comfortable with DIgital WIsh’s App Review page, Common Sense Media, and also something called AppCrawlr that I just just found. The Google Play store is still in need of work – not at all easy to find good apps there, which to me is just plain weird… Oh well.

    Again, thanks for your article – great to see this sort of attention getting paid. Sorry if this response is a bit long…

  4. David Jones says:

    Hi Karen, I have tried the iPad, Kuno, Kurio and the Intel Studybook, however I find the LearnPad the most user friendly.

  5. Donny says:

    I have had apple products and have two sons ages 6 and 9. I finally went out and bought them both Nabi 2’s. It has excellent parent controls which apple does not and I the fooz app along with wings university teaches my sons core standards. It times them and pitches them to the next level of math reading social studies and science. It has apps for teaching four languages at the child’s age level. I can’t even find anything close in my apple products. Nabi 2’s go to sixth grade and the new XD is for Tweens . By years end it too will have parental controls and the google play store. I really think you should look at Nabi if you have children. They use it in class and come home. I can see what they did and do more. They get no game time until the assignments are completed . Who could ask for more? I LOVE MY NABIS!

    • karen mahon says:

      Donny, thanks for your comment. I haven’t used the Nabi myself, but, I confess, I have read quite a few negative reviews, so it’s nice to have your comments to balance those out. I’ve heard that kids find it harder to use than the iPad and that the battery life really stinks. I am not generally a fan of pre-loaded content because I often find that content to be sub-par, from an instructional quality perspective, and I have read that you can’t access Google Play from the Nabi, is that true?

      The more general comment that I have about Android tablets with proprietary management systems and walled gardens of content is that I have my doubts about their ability to survive over the medium to long term. Is that a concern for you, or are you thinking that the low price point for the Nabi means that you can just replace it if necessary?

  6. fabrice raud says:

    I am a true believer in android tablet but..We purchased 18 devices from them in a bundle because we loved the portal. As with other brands we have, we expected the same quality and did not purchase accidental damage or extended warranty. the device were not put into the classroom before 6 month after purchase ( summer break, training.. etc) a little than a year after purchase, 3 of them have a broken screen even though we purchased the protection case and half of them have lose mini jack that prevent using headset which is a real drag in a classroom. All the Learnpad company could do for us is to refer us to a repair shop and give us nothing but a sorry to help finance the repairs. And they dare admin that this first generation of their product is not as tough as the new one which they advice we purchase..Stay away from this Learnpad company. And the tech support is a nightmare, I have been trying to get help for over 4 month on this.

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