Google (GOOG) is becoming a force to be reckoned with in several arenas — but perhaps underlooked is its status in the education market. Not just at the college and university level, but also in elementary and high schools.
Why? Well, Google’s not just cherry-picking the best and brightest computer science and engineering grads. It’s also after a bigger share of the money that flows into the educational market by selling Chromebooks and Chromeboxes.
And if Google can turn elementary school students into converts at an early age … well, you’ll have kids asking for Android, not Apple (AAPL), which can help feed the beast for years down the road.
Google in the Classroom
In an era where computers are ubiquitous in the classroom at all levels, many school boards and college campuses spend a considerable amount of money on information technology.
Buying, configuring and maintaining PCs running Microsoft (MSFT) Windows or Apple’s OSX is expensive. So you know ears are perked when Google claims using one of its low-cost Chromebooks or Chromeboxes instead of a traditional PC saves a school board an average of $5,100 over the course of three years.
Google provides a helpful online calculator on its Chrome for Education website, with comparative costs broken down into categories including initial purchase price and IT software. Enter the number of students in a school district, and the calculator will spit out the estimated costs for equipping them with a PC versus a Chromebook.
Plug in a number like the 640,000 students who are part of the Los Angeles Unified School District and you get a jaw-dropping result — nearly $4 billion over three years for traditional PCs, but just under $603 million on Chromebooks.
While I have no doubt that Microsoft, its manufacturing parters and Apple would dispute those numbers, what they can’t dispute is that Chromebooks cost a lot less than PCs and iPads.
And as TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois notes, Google and its hardware partners moved a million Chromebooks to schools in the last quarter, so clearly that cost-saving pitch is finding some takers. That’s why Microsoft is rushing cheap Windows laptops to market, and Apple recently released a cheaper iMac by cutting back on hardware specs.
Those cheap Chromebooks are increasingly appealing to students (and their parents), too.
CNN Money’s Blake Ellis says the average student loan debt in 2013 hit $29,400. Facing that kind of expenditure, shelling out $200 or $300 for a Chromebook instead of $1,000 or $2,000 on a Windows Ultrabook or a MacBook becomes a pretty easy sell. Especially when free, cloud-based apps like Google Docs make costly, full-fledged productivity suites like Microsoft Office seem unnecessary.
Google also is stepping up its attack on what has been an Apple stronghold by opening Google Play for Education to Chromebooks, making education apps, digital textbooks and other classroom-friendly content available.
The size of the potential windfall for Google is huge if it continues to make education inroads. Because besides the prospect of selling Chromebooks and renting e-textbooks to school boards, there are the students themselves.
Start them young, get them hooked on Chromebooks at school, and the next threat to traditional PCs might not be tablets.
Get them hooked on Chromebooks at school, and when it comes time to buy a tablet or smartphone, chances are they’ll stick with what’s familiar and buy an Android mobile device.
Get them hooked on Chromebooks at school and there’s less temptation (or opportunity) to use alternatives to Google Search like Bing or Yahoo (YHOO).
It’s this mentality that drove the company to invite me and my kids to Google’s Geek Street Fair event in Toronto last week. With dozens of STEM exhibitors and the Google logo on prominent display, thousands of kids and their parents were inspired to think about a high-tech future and the role technology plays in education.
Naturally, “high tech” was synonymous with Google at the event — products bearing an Apple logo were rare, even among vendors.
As quoted in the National Post, a Google Canada manager described the event as being about “Giving them those cool experiences, those moments, that really would help them take it home and to their schools and hopefully achieve more.”
In other words, start them young, get them hooked on Google…
Chromebooks in schools and a bigger presence as a technology evangelist for younger generations are just two signs Google is serious about the education market. And good thing — it’s an early foot in the door to millions of American students.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.