One place where Apple is about to get squeezed is in education. My daughter’s elementary school has aging Macbook laptops which the district bought for the school when it opened six years ago. Those laptops are ancient, the batteries are dying and we are looking at new solutions. Luckily we have a very strong parent organization that funds a lot of programs and has the desire to put money into technology.
Last year, our first year putting money into tech, we bought the school 20 Macbook Airs at $1000 each and 50 iPad minis at $500. The Macbook Airs replaced one of the old Macbook carts. All of the systems are in such high demand that the lower grades can’t get their hands on any of them. Our expectation was to replace laptops each year, meaning that the school would end up with a total refresh of devices over five years.
For next year we looked at Macbook Airs but have instead decided, after consultation with our teachers and input from people who have worked with them, to purchase Chromebooks. The price difference is substantial. We can buy 3-5 Chromebooks for the price of one Macbook. Add in the drop in price for iPad minis (now $280 educational purchase) and the parent organization can buy more systems for less money.
Next year not only will we replace laptops and add more iPad minis for 3-5 grades, but we will also be able to purchase iPad minis for the lower grades as well. They will still be shared, of course, but now we will have full classes of devices (30 in a cart) at 3-5 and a couple of partial carts for K-2. We couldn’t do that if we were acquiring Macbooks.
And that’s the problem for Apple. As more students do everything online — and these kids are almost completely on the web and Google Docs — then the logo on the box no longer matters. This same effect helped Apple sell devices when the world was Windows. Now it is about to happen to Apple, too, at least in education. A completely online device is fine for students who are doing everything online, and the price is hard to beat.
Of course, this is where tablets come in for Apple. I think they see this writing on the wall — that an online, ridiculously inexpensive Chromebook laptop could be the laptop of choice — and is working hard to make iPads an educational alternative. Notice in our school there is more than enough demand for both.
Apple’s at an inflection point. Chromebooks are finally good enough. It will be interesting to see what happens in our classrooms the next few years.
UPDATE: Let me simplify: 6 grades, 4 classes per grade, 30 computers per class = 720 computers
720 iPad minis = $201,600
720 Chromebooks = $144,000
720 Macbook Airs = $720,000
Assuming we had $720,000 lying around to buy computers, which we don’t, instead of buying Macbooks we could buy EVERY STUDENT IN THE SCHOOL TWO Chromebooks AND TWO iPads and still have almost $30,000 left over.
Of course we are looking very closely at Chromebooks and iPads. This is not good news for Apple in one of its best markets for laptops.