The two largest technology companies in education keep developing new products, pushing new features, and fighting for the hearts and minds of administrators. This first article is a summary of our analytics in the education space so you can see where things stand. No matter how you dice it, these two are taking up new districts at unprecedented pace.
We believe this is the most comprehensive analysis to date as it covers (almost) all public and charter school districts in the US and most private schools - over 100,000 data points
Most other analyses use intermediate data and vague assumptions to guess their information, given the complexity of the study. Our analysis is based on straight facts (as shown next) with no manual tweaking.
Methodology & assumptions
Like any analysis of this magnitude there are going to be key assumptions. Our tests show that the results are generally correct
We ping-ed all the servers of all school contacts on record (and it's huge, covering the whole nation). We made the key assumption that if you are using ChromeBooks / GMail, you are likely in the Google ecosystem (and same for Microsoft).
From our experience and anecdotal evidence this assumption is quite valid. We corroborated with the districts we are working with (or in the process of working with) and the data was bang on! In other words, the cases where a district is using GMail but running iPads exclusively is going to be minute and therefore statistically insignificant.
In the odd case where you are using GMail but running Windows devices, chances are you are using the Google ecosystem regardless, given authentication is Google-based. So we would identify you squarely as a Google district as you are embedded in their ecosystem.
If you are using Microsoft Outlook and maybe some other Microsoft tools (aka Azure) but are not fully in digital classroom mode yet, you are more likely to be looking at the Microsoft ecosystem (and devices). This assumption means we expect the imminent choice of ecosystem to follow status-quo based on key technology choices today (don't miss the lock-in section next).
'Vendor lock-in' means a customer is unable to easily switch out
This could be due to integration with other systems, or a history of development that is hard to replicate (e.g. all your docs are already on Google Docs). Before we go any further, we need to be clear that vendor lock-in is unfortunate and real, and has prevented many districts from embarking on the digital classroom journey from fear of making a long-term mistake.
We have worked very hard on mitigating lock-ins by providing the same consistent interface, features, universal log-in and even migration tools so you can switch easily. ClassroomAPP will remove this element of risk and concern from your decision-making
Here it is, this chart shows the percentage of students on each platform on June 1st 2017.
Given both providers essentially offer their platforms for free to schools (hoping students keep their loyalty when they hit the workforce), the threat of switching based on cost alone is quite low. There are additional costs to using the Microsoft platform (e.g. higher cost of devices, cost of some monitoring tools) but they remain low, at least comparatively.
Further, this is compounded by both the lock-in effect and the affinity of supers, administrators and often teachers which weighs in as well.
In the coming years, these two big players will be aiming the bulk of their sales efforts at schools in the 'Other' camp (about a quarter of all schools)
It's easier to justify to a new school the savings and benefits of a managed and free email service, user authentication and productivity suite than to tout incremental benefits from switching.
Secondly, we see a reduction in technology offerings in education. For instance, if we have only two types of common logins, why does a district need to buy / use single-signon tools when most apps support Google and Microsoft logins? This will have an impact on large publishers who so far have chosen to be isolated technologically (which was beneficial in the past).
We are quickly moving away from publisher ecosystems to technology ecosystems
For all practical purposes, Apple is now barely a real presence in the US education space (specifically in purchase intents). Anecdotally, we saw many iPads gathering dust in teacher drawers. The lack of a complete ecosystem, the high cost of devices (instead of buying an iPad with an external keyboard you can get two ChromeBooks, and MacBooks are prohibitively expensive for mass deployment), and the public setbacks have made adopting Apple a hard decision for administrators.
If you go the Apple route, you are faced with issues relating to authentication, email, data, collaboration etc. Even with deep pockets, the technical & implementation barriers can be very high, especially for larger districts
Marketing to consumers who want flashy and snazzy can only work go so far in the education space, and it's showing. Also, anecdotally, we see Apple purchase intents mostly in private schools.
Things to think about
The following are key points to keep in the back of your mind as you plan your digital deployments. We can't turn back the clock, but we can certainly prepare for challenges in advance.
- Will ChromeBooks be around for much longer? Google has discontinued Chrome apps on most platforms, and is investing in the Android ecosystem. Many hardware makers have already pulled out citing low margins
- Will low-cost Windows devices flourish? New school-focused devices are out and the price points are tightening. Will this trend be maintained?
- Will we see many switchings from one platform to the other?
- Will Microsoft catch up? Trends indicate they are now investing in the space both technologically and marketing-wise. Historically, they have counted on loyalty in the corporate space to make up for late products. Education could be a harder beast to tame
- How will the big publishers adapt to this changing landscape? Especially as dollars move way from curriculum to instructional material & technology and more high-quality open materials become available
- What will happen to smaller technology players (or even larger ones like Edmodo / Schoology), namely niche players or ones without a clear business model, will they survive this consolidation?
Given how fast these two tech giants have grown in education (and with the introduction of cheaper Microsoft devices and Microsoft Classroom), we expect three things will happen:
- Competition will heat up - Microsoft has a short window to gather what remains
- Device prices will keep going down (which may not be a good thing, as hardware makers will drop out, hence reducing options)
- Schools using neither of the two may be forced to make a decision soon, an important one since lock-in effect can be real (see note above about how ClassroomAPP will mitigate that)
For future years, we are concerned the total cost of ownership will start to rise (hidden costs such as management consoles, increase in device prices, reduction in free disk space) once the number of schools in the 'Other' camp dwindles and vendors look to capitalize on lock-in
Tune in next year to see if we are right about our predictions. Exciting times!