Why Apple Lost its Lead in Education

Sometimes the best is too good

Key Takeaways

  • Lenovo and HP both have new education laptops and tablets.
  • Apple doesn’t make any education-specific computers.
  • Chromebooks are cheaper and easier to manage.
Two children and a parent working on school work at a kitchen table, one is using a convertible tablet computer.

HP

Apple used to own the education computing market, but now it doesn't even seem to care. 

HP and Lenovo just announced new education laptops and tablets. Chromebooks have taken over schools, ousting iPads. Meanwhile, the cheapest Mac laptop costs a grand. Apple offers some education-specific services, as well as education discounts, but the strategy looks to be the same as it is for business: 'Our products are so good, you can just buy them and use them for your school/business/university, just like a regular customer.' So why are Chromebooks taking over?

"As more schools turn to remote, hybrid, blended and full-time online schooling options, Apple devices are being left behind in the elementary, and middle school segments as wider devices such as Chromebooks come Google For Education ready and are very easy and cost-effective for schools to implement at speed," Melissa McBride, founder of London-based online education specialist Sofia, told Lifewire via email. 

We Don’t Need No Education

HP's new Fortis lineup includes Windows laptops and Chromebooks. They have reinforced corners, are designed to survive a drop from kid height, and can even shrug-off liquid spills on the keyboard. They offer 4G LTE connectivity, touch screens with pens, and a thick-bodied, grippy-surface design. 

A MacBook Air has none of these features. It's an incredible computer, but it's not made for kids. Apple's K12 strategy is the iPad, but while these are tougher and offer better connectivity and world-class multitouch, they're limited by price and software. Chromebooks are just cheaper, and because they're essentially thin clients for cloud-based computing, they're absurdly well-suited to deploying in schools, where you want central control. 

HP Fortis 14-inch G10 Chromebook

HP

"I can't speak to university-level purchases, but I helped my kids' local schools make the purchase decision. So we bought iPad's for K and 1st grade. 2nd grade and up got Chromebooks. iPad's for the little kids because of the touch screen, of course!" parent and entrepreneur Mark Aselstine told Lifewire via email. "We went Chromebooks for a few reasons. First, we already are using Gmail and Google Classroom, so the integration, especially for younger kids, was going to be easier."

That's not to say that Apple doesn't offer centralized tools and even a method to let different kids log in to the same iPad. It's just that Chromebooks go further. And then there's the price. 

"Price plays a big part," said Aselstine. "Not just the initial cost, but a pretty good percentage of these won't come back every year, and as a public school, there's only so much we can do to collect them. Additionally, kids are rough on these, and we have found the lifespan tends to be about half of what an adult would get from them."

When kids are dropping computers or taking them home and not bringing them back, iPads and Macs get expensive fast. You can get an older Lenovo Chromebook for just $99. The cheapest iPad education deal is $399

Higher Education

Take a look at this famous photo taken at the Missouri School of Journalism in 2007. That's a sea of glowing Apple Logos. Of course, you won't see that anymore, partly because MacBooks no longer have glowing logos,

Université Missouri School of Journalism - an auditorium full of college students, most who have Apple laptops.

Wikimedia Commons

Apple's college dream took a dive back in 1999 when Dell overtook it in the education market, although, as the photo shows, the Mac held out in some niches. 

In universities, MacBooks make more sense. They're still expensive, but that's only because Apple doesn't make a cheap version. The M1 MacBook Air is streets ahead, performance-wise, of any Intel-based PC, even more expensive ones. And Apple's laptops have a reputation for lasting a long, long time. It's also more likely that university students will bring their own device rather than use college-supplied computers, and price may factor in there, as well. 

Overall, Apple's strategy of making the best devices it can doesn't seem so crazy. It might lose out on the kids' education market, but then again—as Mark Aselstine's school plans show, it might not. The biggest downside might be that kids get so used to Chromebooks they have little interest in Macs when they get older. But then again, Apple has the iPhone, which seems to draw everyone in. Apple might not own education anymore, but it's far from dead.

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