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No more Apples for the teacher? Schools now more likely to use Chromebooks

After a slow start in the 1980s, computers in schools are now ubiquitous. Apple controlled much of the market for decades, but its machines are no longer the most common in schools. Apple is still a player, but for several years, the Cupertino company has been losing educational market share. Windows OS system sales have crept up and now exceed iOS non-desktop devices, but the classroom increasingly belongs to Chrome OS and Chromebooks, according to Business Insider.

Selling products to schools in the U.S. has traditionally involved a marketing and branding strategy. Singer gave sewing machines to schools for Home Economics classes back when students learned how to sew. Driver’s Education classes often had free or heavily discounted use of new vehicles from local dealers.

Related: HP’s new Chromebook 11 for education can take a beating, but won’t bust budgets

Today the same thinking has been in play when it comes to getting computers into schools. Apple’s desktop and portable devices were the standard as early as the 1980s when Apple had special educational computer purchase programs as well as support for teachers trying to figure how to use the new technology.

It’s ironic that current Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke dismissively of Chromebooks in December 2015, referring to them as just “test machines.” In 2015 those “test machines” accounted for 51 percent of K-12 school sales in the U.S., according to figures from FutureSource Consulting for non-desktop systems.  The same year Windows devices had a 25-percent market share. Mac OS accounted for 4 percent and iOS for 17 percent of the institutional sales.

While Windows device sales stayed roughly the same for three years, from 2013 to 2015 (ranging from 22 to 25 percent), Apple OS sales (Mac OS and iOS combined) fell from 34 percent in 2013 to 25 percent in 2014, and then to 21 percent in 2015. Clearly Apple lost share to the “test machines” as, in that same period, Chrome OS devices increased from a 38-percent to a 51-percent share. It is notable that when Cook made his comment, ChromeOS devices had already been outselling Apple OS devices handily for two years.

So what does this mean for parents today? When computers were first used in schools and most parents didn’t have a clue how to use them, it made sense to buy an Apple computer for your children to use at home. They were familiar with them and, if they had questions, teachers or other kids at school could help. Even back in the 1980’s Apple computers cost more than other brands suitable for home use, but the higher cost didn’t deter parents who often felt they had to get what was best for their kids’ education.

Today with computers becoming commodity devices, and when so much of what everyone does with them is internet-based, Chromebooks’ web utility and lower cost is a driving factor. Apple Inc. has never sought to compete on price, but that may mean the end of Apples for the teacher.