Classroom Desks

You snooze, you lose.

That appears to the be the lesson governing Apple’s foray to the education market. The company, which initially was the obvious and only choice for tablets in schools, has slowly been losing device market share to its nemesis: Google. In the past year, Google has rapidly expanded in the education market to snap up a fifth of the mobile computer purchases made in American schools with its Chromebook product. (Although debates over what qualifies as a mobile computer remain.) In contrast, in 2012 Chromebooks only owned 1 percent of schools’ mobile computer purchases, according to research from independent research firm Futuresource Consulting.

The latest urban district to choose Chromebooks over iPads for a one-to-one device plan is Boston. In May, the Boston Public Schools district wrapped up its first full month with Chromebooks in schools. The district received 10,000 Chromebooks so that there would be one for every six students.

Unlike Los Angeles Unified School District’s notorious struggle rolling out its iPad program — which included everything from students hacking tablets to look at porn to the final whopping $800 per tablet price tag coming in $100 over budget — Boston’s Chromebook roll out was positively serene according to the district. It may be in its best interest to say so, but if there’s been any big goof-ups with the Chromebooks roll out local news has not yet gotten wind of it.

Chromebooks have been gaining prominence in schools for some time now. Multiple industry experts have told Pando that the Chromebooks’ cheaper price tag (usually under $300), accompanying keyboard, and simpler management tools for teachers make them far more effective than iPads in the classroom.

For Google the spread of Chromebooks in the classroom is nothing but good news. It fits with Google’s regular playbook: Own the medium where content is consumed, and money will follow.

Chromebooks require a user to have a Google account, which means that teachers and students at these schools all have to set up Gmail (and potentially Google+) profiles. It’s the classic get ‘em while they’re young trick that many attribute to Apple’s current popularity among millenials. Furthermore, Chromebooks are integrated with Google Apps for Education, a suite of products like GDocs and Google Calendar that were developed specifically for the education sector. Those apps are free, much to the delight of cash strapped schools.

The iPad does have some popular education apps that Chromebooks are lacking, but Chromebooks reportedly make it far easier to run web-based applications, so each has its pros and cons.

With the rise of Chromebooks in the classroom, Google gets both to make money off the device sales, while capturing consumer interest early and to continue owning the world’s data, down to a child’s earliest educational years.

There are, of course, privacy concerns which have been raised by a handful of critics. In a class action lawsuit levied against Google for privacy invasion currently winding its way through court, two of the plaintiffs are college students who were required to use Gmail for education while finishing their college program. That data was then collected by the company and used to build user profiles.

Google, for its part, recognizes that the idea of mining students’ data will not go over very well with the public. At the end of April, it announced it would no longer scan any information coming from its educational Gmail product.

And as for the fate of the iPad? “Apple has been in education technology for a long time, but they thought they didn’t have to do anything special and that teachers would want to use it because it’s Apple,” says one industry insider who asked to remain anonymous. “Google was better at making its software work in schools.”