Chromebooks’ Rise in U.S. K-12 Schools Fueled by Online Testing

By Michele Molnar — September 09, 2015 3 min read
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Cross-posted from the Marketplace K-12 blog.

More than one-sixth of teachers and students will receive a new computer in K-12 schools this year, according to Futuresource Consulting. In the second quarter of 2015, a record 49 percent of those devices were Chromebooks.

This growth in personal computers for schools is mirrored globally, with 8.6 million devices of all types shipped worldwide to K-12 schools from April through June—more than at any other period in history, according to the research and information consultancy based in the United Kingdom.

In the U.S., online assessments and the move to common-core standards fueled the growth of the market, with 1.9 million Chromebooks shipped in the second quarter, said Phil Maddocks, a Futuresource research analyst, in a phone interview.

Competition among the platforms is keen, and has driven down the price of devices. Almost 52 percent of all computers—including tablets, notebooks, and Chromebooks purchased in the first half of the year—cost schools under $300. (See the chart below.) In 2013, only 25 percent of devices sold were at a price point under $300, Futuresource found.

Tablets continue to be popular, with Apple’s iPads representing the largest marketshare for this form of computer, Maddocks said. Apple’s changes to device management for its products, and the announcement that it is providing iOS9 support for the iPad 2, helped the company. “This quarter we did see some resurgence from Apple,” Maddocks said, adding that rather than having a declining market share as it has for more than a year, Apple saw its sales remain flat year-over-year in the second quarter. Within the Chromebook realm, Dell has surpassed Acer as the leading manufacturer, according to Futuresource. Other manufacturers are Asus, Lenovo, HP, and Toshiba.

Creeping onto the chart are Chromebooks costing less than $200, manufactured by Asus, Haier, and Hisense. In the meantime, Acer announced that it will sell a Windows 10 “Cloudbook” for less than $200.

With profit margins declining on devices, it’s more important for hardware companies to find ways to add value to their products by “bolting on” software. Although no announcement has been made, Maddocks said he anticipates a cloud-focused version of Microsoft’s Office 365 and OneDrive will be added to Windows devices to increase their value.

International Picture

Earlier this year, my colleague Sean Cavanagh wrote that 60 percent of Chromebook sales in the U.S. are for education, based on a report by Gartner, the information technology research and advisory company. But outside of the U.S., Chromebooks have not been adopted at the same rate. In fact, the U.S. accounts for 91 percent of Chromebook sales overall, according to Futuresource. Maddocks attributes Chromebooks’ lack of popularity outside of the U.S. to less of a taste for online assessment in other countries, and less awareness and adoption of cloud-based options in devices.

Different purchasing models are another factor. “In the U.K., we have school-by-school buying,” said Maddocks, which makes the “one size fits all” device solution less likely. Connectivity differences from country to country impact the market internationally as well.

Maddocks said Microsoft is expected to come on strong in 2016 with Windows 10-based devices. Two major international “coups” have been scored by Microsoft already, with the company winning the major Mexico national tablet project away from Android-based devices, and securing the latest round of the Bin Rashid Smart Learning project in the United Arab Emirates.

Meanwhile, a 41 percent drop in shipments year over year in Asia—down to 1.1 million units in the second quarter—is largely attributable to the halting of Thailand’s One Tablet Per Child project, after a government change, according to Futuresource.

In the European, Middle Eastern, and African region, a 23 percent decline in the second quarter compared to the same period last year is from delays and changes in schedules, but projects within the region are expected to pick up again in the second half of 2015.

As for the United States, Maddocks said the analysts are watching and wondering how long the strong growth can continue. “How long can that market sustain itself?,” he asked.

Photo: Students use Chromebooks at Ridgeview Middle School in Gaithersburg, Md.--T.J. Kirkpatrick for Education Week

Chart credit: Futuresource Consulting, copyright 2015

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.