Google Inc. (GOOG) seems to have found its mojo in the education technology market. 

According to an IDC report released last week, sales for Google's Chromebooks or laptops rose by 310%, the highest such figure amongst companies selling devices to educational institutions in 2014.   

That is a substantial win for Google because the hardware devices market in edtech is expected to reach $19 billion in sales by 2019, according to a report by research firm FutureSource Consulting.

Google's win is all the more surprising since Apple's iPad had already garnered a substantial chunk of the market after its launch in 2010. Google's Chromebooks were launched in 2011. However, by the final quarter of last year, Google claimed that it was the best selling device in the edtech market for 2014. (See also: 3 Industry-Impacting Innovations on The Horizon.)  

Meanwhile, Apple Inc. (AAPL) has seen its share of the educational technology industry dwindle as it hit roadblocks with its devices. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District demanded a multimillion dollar refund from the Cupertino-based company earlier this year for not delivering their promised state-of-the-art technological Instructional Technology or IT initiative. According to the same story, the $1.3 billion iPad program, is “fraught with problems.”  

Even as Apple's efforts in the educational tech industry have floundered, Google's initiatives have been a success. Unlike Apple and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), both of which lead Google in the educational technology market, Google has broadened its array of offerings for the market. It bundles a suite of free apps along with its laptop. There have been other notable players in the market as well. 

As mentioned earlier, Microsoft is a leading player in the space. However, it is burdened by its Windows past and is yet to release devices that can seriously compete with iPads or Chromebooks. Unless it is able to come up with a winner, Microsoft will only see its share decline over time.  

Media conglomerate News Corp. (NWSA) looked like a serious competitor in the edtech space when it invested more than a billion dollars and partnered with content provider Pearson to launch Amplify, its tablet device. But, Amplify had technical glitches and content problems and, eventually, the initiative folded earlier this year. (For more, see: How Tech & Data Analysis Is Reshaping Education.)

So, what's Google doing right in the edtech space? Here are three reasons why Google's Chromebooks are popular. 

Chromebooks Are Cheap and Diverse 

Even for their pilot programs, school districts typically place bulk orders running into tens of thousands for hardware devices. A high price point translates into greater risk (and, consequently, bigger expectations from the device) for school districts. 

With prices as low as $199, Google's Chromebooks are the cheapest devices in the hardware market for educational technology. While bigger school districts, such as LAUPD, may have opted for Apple, Google started with relatively medium-sized school districts in the Bay Area (such as the Milpitas School District). This enabled it to perfect processes and, also, establish viable price points for its services and devices.

Google's experience with pricing its Chromebooks also aligns with research firm Gartner's predictions for the hardware device market. According to a report released last year by the firm, the next wave of adoption will be driven by lower price points rather than superior functionality. Also, Chromebooks come in multiple shapes and sizes 

Google has outsourced manufacturing of Chromebooks to multiple partners, such as Samsung and LG. This partnership has ensured a variety in terms of price, feature sets and services. This is unlike Apple, which has a relatively defined set of products and services under the iPad umbrella. For example, there are at least five variants of Chromebooks available in the market today at different sizes and prices ranging from $199 to $399. (For related reading, see: Samsung and Google: A Beautiful Friendship?)

Google Apps for Education

This is, perhaps, the biggest draw of Google Chromebooks. Google Apps For Education is the company's productivity software (a premium version of which is sold to organizations), which it bundles with the hardware device for free.  

Google Docs, Slides and Sheets are the cloud equivalent of word processing, presentation and excel sheet software. But, they are an improvement over traditional software because they enable real-time collaboration between diverse groups, including between students and teachers. Also, they can be combined to form a classroom workflow solution

While the iPad and Microsoft have their own version of productivity software and apps, they have yet to match Google's collaboration capabilities. 

The Google Brand 

Not enough is written about Google's branding as a company focused on productivity and fun. For example, Google organized the world's information through the simplest of search boxes. What's more, in popular perception, it is considered to be a company that does no evil (although that is changing fast), and promotes an open approach to information and learning. Such branding can be especially helpful in an era of open educational resources, where kids harness the power of the Internet to gain knowledge instead of submitting to a prescribed curriculum. 

On the other hand, Apple's aura is individualistic. Its pricing strategy and product finesse appeal to artists and adults who do not mind paying extra or curtailing their access to the open ecosystem for a classy product. In its bid to provide a superior product for edtech, the company partnered with content provider Pearson. That partnership is yet to show tangible gains. The iPad's creative branding also works against the device as far as school work is concerned: kids tend to spend their time doodling and, also, exploring various features of apps. 

With their focus on a limited number of cloud apps for tasks such as getting class and homework done, Google's Chromebooks are the antithesis of the iPad's creative meandering. This can be especially important for schools focused on educational goals and scores. 

The Bottom Line 

Although it was a latecomer to the educational technology market, Google has garnered a significant market share within a short period of time. Its strategy of cheap pricing and focus on productivity seems to have paid dividends in the education market. Whether it can hold on to its success, however, remains to be seen.    

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