Apple forfeits teachers' pet rep as U.S. share sinks

Chromebooks continued to grab K-12 hardware share in 2016

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Apple last year again lost ground in the U.S. K-12 market, as Google with its Chrome OS continued to make gains, a research firm said Thursday.

In 2016, 58% of the 12.6 million mobile computers shipped to educational customers -- or approximately 7.3 million -- were powered by Chrome OS, up from 50% of 2015's 10.7 million (or 5.35 million), U.K.-based Futuresource Consulting said in a report yesterday.

Meanwhile, Apple's OS X/macOS and iOS operating systems -- which power Macs and iPads, respectively -- fell from a combined 25% share in 2015 (or 2.7 million devices) to 19% in 2016 (or 2.4 million).

Futuresource counted laptops, tablets, Chromebooks and the aged category dubbed "netbooks," but omitted desktop computers in its tallies.

The downturn in Apple's K-12 fate last year was the second consecutive decline, according to Futuresource: In 2014, OS X + iOS accounted for 34% of educational mobile computer shipments in the U.S. That year, Chrome OS's share was 38%.

While Apple's share was falling and Google's was climbing, Microsoft's remained stable, said Futuresource: Windows powered 25% of the shipped computers in 2014, dipped to 22% the next year and held steady at the same share in 2016.

Apple's educational reputation harks back nearly 40 years, with roots in the Apple IIe that became the de facto educational computer in the K-12 world. But the higher prices of the Mac successor, and continued premium cost of the company's iPad from 2010 on, allowed first the Windows PC and then later, Chromebooks, to curry favor because of their lower acquisition costs.

Futuresource cited Chromebooks' affordability and manageability as selling points, but not surprisingly in an environment where school district dollars are ever more precious, stressed the former above all else. "The rise of Chromebooks has also set new industry benchmarks with regards to average device pricing, with prices reaching as low as $120 on certain projects," the research firm said.

Microsoft has announced initiatives to better compete with Chrome OS -- an attempt to move Windows' share from its mid-20s mark -- such as January's trumpeting of Windows 10 devices as low as $189, and Intune for Education, cloud-based device management priced at $30 per machine, the same Google charges for its Chrome OS management suite.

The Redmond, Wash. company is also reportedly working on a new edition of Windows 10, tagged as "Windows 10 Cloud," to power Chromebook competitors. Even so, Microsoft "continues to face challenges to win back end-user mindshare" in the educational space, said Mike Fisher, an analyst at Futuresource, in a Thursday statement.

futuresource 2 Futuresource Consulting

Apple's share of the U.S. K-12 educational market has slipped two years running, while Chrome OS's has climbed to claim the largest chunk by far.

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