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Google Chromebooks get Schooled, quite popular in US Education Market

Google and its manufacturing partners are trying to shed the Chromebook's perception as underperforming budget devices

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A Google Chromebook displays Candy Crush Saga in New York, Feb. 8, 2017.
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The Google Chromebook, a type of stripped-down laptop, isn’t a practical mobile device for many people – mostly because it basically turns into an expensive paperweight whenever it can’t find a Wi-Fi connection.

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Yet Chromebooks have defied expectations and made major inroads in an unexpected environment – U.S. schools.

In retrospect, that shouldn’t be too surprising. Chromebooks are cheap and easy to manage, making them popular with budget-constrained schools with limited tech-support staff. And Wi-Fi is now common enough in U.S. schools and homes to make an internet-dependent device practical for students.

Google doesn’t want to stop there. It’s releasing new models in partnership with Samsung that are designed to appeal to a broader range of consumers. They have several tablet-like features, including a stylus, touch controls and a 360-degree hinge that allows you to turn the screen faceup. One starts selling Sunday for $449; a more powerful version comes out in April for $100 more.

Google and its manufacturing partners are trying to shed the Chromebook’s perception as underperforming budget devices. But even with premium models, expanding beyond U.S. schools won’t be easy.

Chromebooks get schooled

For personal computers and tablets, Chromebook’s share of the U.S. education market was 49 percent last year, up from 40 percent in 2015 and 9 percent in 2013, according to IDC figures released this week.

But education accounts for just 14 percent of the 110 million devices shipped in the U.S. last year – and Chromebooks make up just 9 percent of that broader total. Their numbers are also low abroad, even in schools.

The Chromebook’s popularity in U.S. education is also largely limited to grades K-12, analysts say. Macs and Windows laptops are still dominant on college campuses.

Rough start

Chromebooks use a lightweight operating system designed to get people online faster, without having to wait around for the computer to start up. Much of the heavy lifting on Chromebooks gets done on Google’s remote servers, so Chromebooks themselves don’t need fast chips or lots of storage.

Early on, though, that made Chromebooks seem cheap and underpowered, which “soured consumer expectations right off the bat,” IDC analyst Linn Huang said.

Online storage for photos and documents online was much less common in 2011 when Chromebooks launched, so their limited local storage was initially unappealing. And the few apps available for Chromebooks didn’t work offline, at least at the time.

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Differing needs

But what constrains consumers can actually be liberating in education. Most kids don’t need laptops on the bus or other locations where they can’t connect to Wi-Fi. And they don’t miss business software like Microsoft Office; Google’s online apps for documents and spreadsheets do just fine for homework.

“What surprised us was how quickly it took off in education,” said Kan Liu, who oversees Chromebooks at Google.

Apple’s iPad was hot at the time, but Google sold the Chromebook on convenience. They’re easier for classrooms to share; just sign in with a Google account, and a student’s apps and documents instantly appear. Teachers also have online tools to lock down what apps and sites students can use.

And with models available for less than $200, schools can get a few Chromebooks for the price of an iPad or a rival laptop.

“It allows us to put more devices in students’ hands,” said Aaron Slutsky, chief technology officer for McDowell County Schools in North Carolina.

Far from universal

But Chromebook’s success story in schools is largely an American one, and it’s likely to stay that way. Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa notes that Chromebooks are useless in China because the device depends on Google services that aren’t available there. And in emerging countries, where a budget laptop would be ideal, she said internet access isn’t reliable enough.

Even in the U.S., the iPad is better for many creative tasks such as recording and editing movies. Students studying engineering, robotics and graphics won’t be able to use Chromebooks to run the kind of specialized software that’s available for Macs and Windows laptops.

“But that’s not needed for 98 percent of our students,” said Tracy Dabbs, coordinator of technology and innovation at the Burlington-Edison School District near Seattle.

Many school districts limit Apple and Windows computers for the students who specifically need them, then provide Chromebooks for the rest. McDowell County, for instance, has 5,500 Chromebooks, 1,200 iPads – and only 100 Macs and 200 Windows PCs.

Rivals stage comeback

Last year, Apple gave iPads in schools some Chromebook-like features unavailable to the general public. That includes ways to let multiple people use a single tablet and management tools for tech-support staff. A new Classroom app lets teachers control what apps students run and track their progress.

Apple also provides classroom tools for teachers and students. Free e-books offer teachers step-by-step guides on using iPad apps and curriculum suggestions for everyday subjects. A separate app lets kids learn programming using the same language developers use to build iPad apps.

Meanwhile, Microsoft announced last month new online apps and management tools for schools, along with Windows PCs priced similarly to Chromebooks.

Beyond schools

Huang said some businesses are giving Chromebooks a second look, especially in retail, banking and other settings where people share computers.

But in many offices, the lack of business software such as Office is a major hurdle. Google’s alternative lacks many advanced capabilities found in Office, and habits are hard to change.

Google is trying to make Chromebooks more palatable by letting them run Android apps designed for phones and tablets. It’s testing this capability on a handful of Chromebook models, including the new ones from Samsung. That makes it possible to install Office, Adobe Photoshop and many apps on a Chromebook, though these tablet versions have limited features compared with versions for Macs or Windows laptops. (VOA)

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  • YY

    There simply isn’t a serious alternative for Chromebook in Education.
    Google should buy Adobe and make all their software Cloudable. And GNU/Linux of course 😉

Next Story

The year Chinese smartphone players dominated Indian market

India this year surpassed the US to become the second-largest smartphone market in the world after China.

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Smartphone. Pixabay
There are nearly 650 million mobile phone users in India — and over 300 million of them have a smartphone. For these users, Chinese players became the first choice this year as they launched devices with compelling features, thus dominating the budget and mid-range price segment in the country.
Chinese vendors captured 49 per cent of the Indian mobile phone handset market in the first quarter of 2017 — with a 180 per cent (year-on-year) revenue growth — threatening to wipe out domestic players from the overall handset segment.
Among the top Chinese brands, Xiaomi witnessed the biggest growth this year.
With a market share of 23.5 per cent and having shipped 9.2 million smartphones in the third quarter this year, Xiaomi became the fastest-growing smartphone brand with a growth rate of nearly 300 per cent (year-on-year) in the third quarter this year.
According to IDC, Samsung had 23.5 per cent market share in India, similar to Xiaomi, the Lenovo-Motorola combine was at 9 per cent, Vivo at 8.5 per cent and OPPO at 7.9 per cent.
For Xiaomi, its Redmi Note 4 device that was launched in January at Rs 9,999 for the base model (2GB RAM and 32GB onboard storage) proved to be a game-changer and its best-selling smartphone too. The company shipped approximately four million units of the device in this quarter, said IDC.
Chinese brands like Huawei (which sells its youth-centric sub-brand Honor in India), Vivo, Motorola (a Lenovo brand) and OPPO’s performance remained strong and contributed to more than half of the total smartphone shipments in the country.
Aiming to push its position up in the highly competitive Indian market, Honor launched flagship products at “unbeatable prices”, like the highly-successful Honor 8 Pro (Rs 29,999) and Honor 7X (starting at Rs 12,999).
Only one-fourth of India's population uses smartphones, thus making the country an attractive destination
Only one-fourth of India’s population uses smartphones, thus making the country an attractive destination
 Vivo and OPPO’s aggressive marketing spends also paid them hefty dividends. With smartphone growth nearing saturation in metros, Chinese players were also busy building their base in tier II and III cities.
When it comes to manufacturing in India, Xiaomi announced its third plant in the country based out of Noida and the first facility for power banks in partnership with Hipad Technology.
Spread across 230,000 square feet, the Noida unit is a dedicated facility for Xiaomi power banks where the Mi Power Bank 2i will be assembled. The company already has two smartphone manufacturing plants in Sri City, Andhra Pradesh, where more than 95 per cent of its smartphones sold in India are assembled locally.
Meanwhile, South Korean giant Samsung also announced that it would invest Rs 4,915 crore in expanding its Noida manufacturing plant to double the production capacity of both mobile phones and consumer electronics.
The Foreign Investment Promotion Board approved OPPO’s request to open single-brand retail stores in the country. With this decision, OPPO became the first smartphone company to get this opportunity in India.
The Chinese players also handled the post-demonetisation ripples well with high decibel marketing, increased credit line to distributors and efficient channel management.
Global vendors, led by Samsung, were able to withstand the aggressive Chinese players post-demonetisation owing to their good distributor coverage and penetration in the Indian market.
Aiming to gain a further foothold in the offline smartphone market, Xiaomi opened its first “Mi Home” store in Bengaluru in May and plans to add 100 such stores in the next two years.
Similarly, Lenovo-owned Motorola opened six “Moto Hubs” in Delhi-NCR and Mumbai and plans to open 50 more by the end of this year.
Huawei’s sub-brand Honor announced opening four more exclusive service centres in Kolkata, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Guwahati. Its service centres are already operating in 17 cities.
India this year surpassed the US to become the second-largest smartphone market in the world after China. Yet, according to Counterpoint Research, only one-fourth of India’s population uses smartphones, thus making the country an attractive destination for Chinese players in the mobile ecosystem. IANS