A snapshot of Google’s uphill battle getting Android into schools

In spite of a lot of interest in Android tablets, it looks like iPads are still the much preferred mobile device in for the classroom. Here is some of the latest information from GigaOM. These numbers might surprise you!


In May at its annual developer conference, Google (s GOOG) announced plans to launch a new Android app store, called Google Play for Education, for teachers this fall. But there’s some new evidence that it’s in for a tough battle with Apple (s AAPL).

According to a new survey, iPads are far and away the most desired mobile device among educators. When asked which devices their districts had adopted or planned to adopt in the next one or two years, 81 percent of educators said the iPad, compared with just 31 percent for a Google Chromebook (and 20 percent for an iPod Touch).

That’s not surprising given Apple’s aggressive push in education – last year, it sold 4.5 million iPads to schools and reported one billion downloads for iTunes U. But it gives an indication of just how big a gap Google may have to close. The survey involved…

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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 A snapshot of Google’s uphill battle getting Android into schools

  1. Jarrett says:

    Karen, yes, it’s true that iPad is still much preferred, but keep in mind that Google’s new initiative with Google Play for Education has not even started yet, so that’s much to be expected at this point in the game. Google started out behind in the phone market and look how quickly they overtook Apple there…by a large margin too.

    Here’s what’s most impressive though: Google started out behind in the tablet market too, but according to IDC, as of 1st quarter 2013, Android tablet outsold iPad by a margin of almost 2-to-1. That’s a complete reversal from just 12-months prior where iPad sales were 2-to-1 against Android tablets. That’s amazing for just 12 months! Now that’s mostly the consumer market, but we know that the school market eventually mirrors the consumer market after a certain delay. The question is just how long that delay will be.

    Android tablet hardware now easily outperforms iPad (higher screen resolution than iPad 3 Retina, faster processors, etc.) and the devices are definitely less expensive…a big issues for schools trying to buy by the thousand. But one of the big hurdles has been with finding, purchasing, and distributing apps. Well, that’s exactly what Google Play for Education will address. Now schools can use purchase orders, spending accounts, and school/district level management for this. And apps will be easier to find in the education-specific market.

    The iPad is a terribly expensive device for schools to purchase in large quantities and with a high quality, lower priced option available with a great app store behind it, I think that next year’s survey of educator plans for mobile device purchasing will look drastically different than this year’s survey, taken before Google Play for Education was even available.

    • karen mahon says:

      Jarrett, I think those are all good points and I don’t disagree, though I am more skeptical than you about Google Play for Education. Given all of your points (I saw the IDC report too), I was very surprised to see that there was still such a large preference reported for the iPad. I thought the Android tablets had made more progress than that with public perception. I still think that there is some confusion in the market with so many Android tablets available. But I certainly agree that it will be very interesting to see how things change!! Thanks for your comment!

  2. Jarrett says:

    I guess I’m not too surprised because I don’t think there’s been any time for the market to move yet based on how recent the announcement was and the fact that the system is not available yet. I did speak with a Google rep at ISTE though and found found that Google Play for Edu will be build using a lot of the same components as Google’s app store for Chromebook, which is already mature and works very well. With so many schools becoming “Google Schools” and using all the free services of Google Apps for Education, this gives one more smooth integration point. I think we’ll see more Chromebooks in higher grades where schools are finding the keyboards to be very important (a weakness of both iPad and Android tablets) and tablets will continue to rule lower and middle grades.

    Another big announcement might bolster Android in Education too: Intel has said that they’ll have a $200 Android-powered laptop by the end of the year. With a price-point like that, schools will take notice…especially when trying to equip every student with a device. These will have the advantages of a tablet AND a full keyboard too. Not having to pay for Android license (they way they would with Windows) is one way they’ll keep the price down.

    I think it will become harder for schools to justify a bunch of iPads with no keyboard for $500 ea. vs. a laptop with bigger screen and keyboard for $200 ea.

  3. karen mahon says:

    Sorry Jarrett, to clarify, I didn’t mean that I was surprised that there hasn’t been much movement SINCE the Google Play for Education announcement. I meant I’m surprised there hasn’t been that much movement in perception since last fall. I was just looking through some old Wired magazines I have and came across an article from last fall that was asking if Android tablets would be THE next big thing in education. There was a lot of hype about that last fall, yet the results from the article that I posted don’t show that much progress.

    I do still agree that iOS and Android will be the winners in this space. The news about the Microsoft Surface tablet bombing have been very interesting, that’s for sure. This just reminds me of the situation when I worked for Mimio: if schools had the money, they bought SMART. It was only if they didn’t have the money (and sometimes not even then), that they resorted to buying Mimio. It may be the same scenario for tablets.

    I will also be interested in seeing how this plays out when we launch Balefire Labs. Brand recognition is huge when it comes to purchasing/downloading educational apps. But our reviews show that MANY of the apps with known brands really stink instructionally. Will we find that we can help drive purchasing toward lesser known brands with better instructional quality? We’ll see. Brand recognition is a difficult hurdle, regardless of benefits.

  4. Jarrett says:

    Ah, yes, I see what you mean (sorry I missed that earlier) — that makes sense. Perhaps the landscape actually will start to change this year though now that the retail market has flipped in favor of Android AND there are better hardware choices, with even more to come soon, on the Android side.

    Of course, we hope that a school-specific management system like our Tabpilot offering, that will work across all Android hardware vendors, including the up-coming Intel Android laptops will be a part of this. We’re pretty excited about it. And hopefully there will be enough growth that Balefire Labs will be doing some great reviews on the Android side too! And perhaps with an official educational sales outlet for educational apps provided by Google, the developers will be more willing to offer ad-free paid versions, whereas they’ve not had much incentive until now. Naturally, that improves the app landscape and further makes for a more enticing platform choice and it all comes full circle.

  5. Another aspect that could potentially make Google a key player in the education game is that their devices operate using open source coding. Meaning, there can be more customization and educational possibilities using the Android operating system versus Apple’s iOS. Although Google Play may not have had the time to ramp up yet, I am sure if they were to provide a low-cost comparable device to compete against the iPad in the classroom, they’d easily overtake Apple.

    Sarah, Blog Editor
    American College of Education Teacher Blogs

    • karen mahon says:

      I would agree with Jarrett’s response to you (below) that there are Android devices on the market that are competitive with the iOS devices. I think the challenge is more with the fact that there are so many devices. I happened to catch this article just today, that might interest you: http://opensignal.com/reports/fragmentation-2013/. It says that there are nearly 12,000 different devices in the Android ecosystem! I was stunned by that! Not to mention numerous operating systems. I think this fragmentation is what makes it difficult for app developers to create apps for Android.

      • Jarrett says:

        Well, there’s been a lot of talk for a long time about Android “fragmentation”, especially from distractors. Owning a company that develops for Android tablets though, I can tell you that it’s blown out of proportion. The complaints come in three main areas: hardware, multiple OS versions, and screen size/resolution.

        Well, the first one simply means consumer choice. Just like with PC hardware, vendors can have different specs.

        In terms of OS version, the same is true with Windows PCs. As a developer, we simply develop only for the most recent few versions. For example, we only officially support Android 4.0 and above. The “fragmentation charts” show all the minor releases in the 4.X line as if they are completely different OSs. That’s hogwash. There’s not a single feature of TabPilot that we had to code differently for 4.0, 4.1, or 4.2. Apple quickly stops supporting old versions, forcing users to upgrade, and if their hardware won’t support it, they are stuck. Know anyone who tried to keep using an iPhone 3 (not 3G) and found that no new apps would run? I do. Have a junk one around. It won’t run newer iOS and the Apple development kit won’t let developers compile code to run on the older version anymore. It’s now a useless device even thought it technically works just fine.

        For the third area, screen sizes, again, this offers consumers choice. For developers, I admit, it used to be a problem to design compile and test for various screen sizes. But that’s been almost completely resolved with the latest releases of the developer kits (namely Android Studio, based on the IntelliJ environment) that can show a developer a live preview of how their app looks in one window live, while they are actually writing the code in the other window. We can even choose to see the layout in different languages on those screens to check for things like word-wrap on buttons in the translated text.

  6. Jarrett says:

    Sarah, I would suggest that Google and their hardware partners have already released powerful tablets at a lower cost than the iPad and iPad mini in the past year. Take a look at Google’s new Nexus 7 (2nd generation) released last week…it easily outperforms the iPad mini. It has a quad core processor vs. iPad mini’s dual core and it has 4 times as much memory (2GB vs. 512KB). The Nexus 7 display blows away the iPad mini having a gorgeous 1920 X 1200 vs. a low 1024 X 768 of the iPad mini (more than 160 more pixels per inch). That meas super sharp text for schools using them as e-book readers. I just received mine and it’s a fantastic device!

    In the 10″ arena the Nexus 10 also outpaces the full-size iPad in similar areas, including having a higher resolution display than the iPad 3. Samsung, Acer, and Lenovo have some nice tablet offerings too, most of which are less expensive than Apple’s versions. Things like cases and proprietary cables in the Apple line makes Apple’s offering even more expensive by comparison.

    It took awhile for the hardware to catch up and surpass Apple’s offerings, but I think we’re there. Now it’s more a matter of the OS platform itself to gain popularity in schools the way is has in the consumer market. Google Play for Education will definitely help this happen. With it, will come even more education apps too.

      • Jarrett says:

        Wow, interesting article Karen — long but very informative. There are definitely signs that Google is trying to move more things to Chrome. About a year ago is when I heard the first suggestions that eventually Android and Chrome might merge into a single platform. This might really be the way things are going, especially with the same guy now in charge of both teams. Who knows, the future mobile platform from Google might be a mix of the best of Android and Chrome and sounds like it will most likely use the Chrome name.

        The only part of the article I have a bit of trouble with is the wording of the title “Google “appears ready to ditch Android” implying that it will drop it cold, and drop it soon. It’s far more likely it will be transformed as it moves closer to Chrome and Chrome moves closer to it. And of course Google will try to drop the parts most likely to cause trouble with patent disputes. But I don’t think users of current devices have to worry about some immediate drop – after all, it’s now the world’s #1 mobile platform on both tablets and mobile phones, far surpassing Apple in both now.

      • Jarrett says:

        Duh, I should not have been surprised at the suggestion in the headline and should have noted earlier that article is from Apple Insider! The article is well written, but of course the final conclusion and big headline will be one designed to appeal to Apple fans. 🙂

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