iPad vs. Chromebook: Which is the real apple for the teacher?

Apple has long maintained that education is an iPad market. In fact, Apple's prior Education Event in New York City was all about iPad and iBooks Author. Apple seemed on a roll — it e scored a major deal with the LA School systems in 2013 worth up to 1.3 billion dollars. But... It ended. Apple even had to pay back millions in a heated lawsuit (that ultimately involved an FBI investigation). Few schools adopted iBooks Author. iPad in education... stalled.

Now, Apple is trying to reclaim the education crown, with a new Education Event a new lower-cost iPad with support for Apple Pencil, some updates to iWork, and a better system for schoolwork management.

It makes sense. For a company that was once synonymous with education, Apple has lost a lot of ground to Microsoft and especially Google. The Chromebook platform and service offerings are now what dominate education.

I spent some time with Apple's latest iPad and iWork suite. I'm not going to go into detail here — you can read Rene Ritchie's review watch Serenity Caldwell's brilliant video for that.

Instead, to get some perspective, I thought it might be good to take a look at a Chromebook equivalent. Tough to do, Chromebooks aren't totally low-end devices. They go from under to $200 to over $1,500. I settled on a Samsung Chromebook Plus. It's a pretty fair comparison, I think. At $429 (often discounted to as low as $319) it has a touch screen, full keyboard ,and an integrated pen. In other words, it's roughly the same as an iPad with a keyboard and Apple Pencil.

iPad vs. Chromebook

In addition to Chrome web-based applications, Chromebooks now offer access to the full Google Play store and all the Android apps available there. I won't try to count the number of "education" apps on the Google Play store, as I don't know anyone has defined what an education app is, something necessary to quantify. I did find more than enough for any classroom discipline relative to iOS.

The Plus worked well. Its ARM processor handles Android apps better than Intel-based Chromebooks. Apps can either run windowed or full screen. App flexibility depends on developer support, much like iOS feature support is dependent on developers. Flipping the screen around switches to a tablet mode with all apps running full screen. Removing the pen brings up a series of contextual menus for drawing, highlighting, clipping and annotating. A micro SD slot allows for expansion to 200gb. In short, it just works.

The key differentiator is not hardware, though, It's software. Google has honed Google docs and the Google education platform to deliver what most schools want: A flexible platform for management, sharing, and collaboration with a core suite of apps. Of course, Google docs is also available for iOS and schools can mix and match devices to some extent. Likewise, both platforms support mobile versions of Microsoft Office, if that's the standard.

So where's the difference? Chromebooks come in multiple sizes, multiple form factors and multiple price points. iPads don't. iPads deliver a powerful iOS experience that's familiar to kids. Chromebooks don't.

The bottom line — for now

It's hard for me to call a winner in terms of recommendation. I do give Apple the edge with an added focus on more creative content creation but, sadly, that's not the focus of many schools that are looking to get the basics right.

In short, it's a photo finish for me. Apple has a compelling story but not one that fundamentally changes the current narrative. Google has the home advantage, and, if schools deploy iPads with Google services, it's still a win for Google.

They say issues in academia are so important because the stakes are so small. Not when it comes to information technology. Today's Google, Apple, or Microsoft kids are tomorrow's knowledge workers.

It's too early to say how well Apple's efforts will work here. There's a lot more to making education platforms than selling devices. The good news for administrators is there's never been a better set of tools to help change old education paradigms. That means, no matter which platform wins, students will be the ultimate winners.

I’ve covered the personal technology beat for more than two decades at places like Gartner, Jupiter Research and Altimeter Group. I’ve also had the fun of contributing my $.02 on the topic at Computerworld, Engadget, Macworld, SlashGear and now iMore. Most recently I spent a few years at Apple as Sr. Director of Worldwide Product Marketing. On Twitter I’m an unverified @gartenberg. I still own some Apple stock.

41 Comments
  • Nice, balanced, opinion piece. «Chromebooks come in multiple sizes, multiple form factors and multiple price points. iPads don't.» + from multiple vendors. Period! Full Stop! END!
  • The price point is the main concern for the education sector, I don't think they care too much about multiple sizes/form factors, so long as they're usable for the age group
  • I remember the 'Netbook' craze. There was a time when some of the school districts I worked with got more concerned about price point, so they stopped buying iPads and bought Netbooks. A year later, they all regretted it... the low end devices were barely useable, and then they broke like crazy. While I would agree that Chromebooks are better positioned to perform their functions than Netbooks were, I still don't believe that the key consideration should be price. For a high school audience, having a device that is geared mostly toward email, web surfing, media consumption and word process is probably just fine for most students. I do not believe this same device is best for younger children or those who wish to create media.
  • I am a teacher in a 1:1 district. Our district uses Ipads at the elementary grade levels and chromebooks at Middle/High School. Ipads are nice, but for older ages, the chromebooks work well, and hold up pretty well to everyday use from pretty clumsy kids.
  • And, once again, you provide a pathetic reply. Why is it taken into account then? So they can fit 50 more words onto the screen? So it can fit into people's bags? At least give some info. My main point was that it's the price which is why schools aren't buying them, not the form factor.
  • Drink your own Kool-Aide Fandroid. Many schools use iOS and iPads. Mine for example. We've tried the alternatives. And the only thing that outshines iPads in our curriculum development is high-end PC laptops for CAD. Google Docs is fine and all, but it's pretty much an Office clone. Apple offers tools that outshine Google. Of course there are lots of developers of education management software out there to pick and choose from. And for curriculum development. One size does not fit all.
  • I would love to use iPads in my classroom, but we are all Chromebooks here in my district, as in many other districts. Its simple math. The iPads are around $300 for education purchases. The Chromebooks are $150-$175. I know that you note the price range for Chromebooks in your article, but the simple fact is that school districts will pay as little as possible for each device, and no district is going to pay $429 for something they can get for $150 (yes not the same quality, but that isn't a concern in school purchases). That means they fill the room with devices at $150 that all have "free" software (I very well know that Google's "free" is anything but free, and they are happily hoovering up all the personal data they can get on my students, but I don't make the purchasing decisions). I don't see how Apple can crack this monopoly, and I'm not sure they should do what it would take to do so (sacrifice privacy controls and start giving away stuff). The worry is that Google grabs them in their ecosystem from the start, so they stick with Google going forward. The problem with that thinking is that as soon as they put the Chromebook away in class, the students then take out their iPhones. The iPhone is the best gateway drug to get someone into an ecosystem, far better than Google Docs!
  • To crack the monopoly they would need to price them level with the Chromebooks, at least for the education sector. But I guess then people would say if the education sector can get iPads so cheap then everyone else must be getting ripped off.
  • "I very well know that Google's "free" is anything but free, and they are happily hoovering up all the personal data they can get on my students, but I don't make the purchasing decisions)" Not the case. Googles privacy policy for both education and business do no such thing.
    https://edu.google.com/k-12-solutions/privacy-security/?modal_active=none
    https://gsuite.google.com/terms/education_privacy.html As a teacher I'd hope you read this instead of just believe what you hear. I'm sure that what you'd want you kids to do. I'm grateful for all teachers so thanks and keep up the good work.
  • It is incredibly ridiculous that you’re of some sort of technical discipline in your district yet you spout the ridiculous nonsense about google gobbling up student data. I fear for your students if the people in charge of their tech hasn’t even educated himself on the differences between Googles consumer policies and their G Suite for Education policies. Man that’s scary.
  • Do you really believe Google devices used in education don't gather a significant amount of data? This is part of what keeps Google going when they're offering so many free services. I would say you're the uneducated one here, or more so the naïve one. Of course the G Suite for Education policies are different, but Google are still looking for any way possible to gather as much data as possible, that's their business model.
  • It's of no real loss to Apple for them to compete in the education sector even if they're not selling many devices. For one, it's great PR for them; Apple are pushing themselves into education. Secondly, they will keep improving their devices to keep them ahead in quality of the Chromebooks, making it each year more tempting for schools to switch. The number of iPads in schools is increasing, just at a very slow rate
  • PR gets people buying Apple products, even if it's not the education sector doing so. That answered your question?
  • Again, I’ll emphasize something talked about very little in this whole discussion. Classroom management. With the iPad I can easily keep the kids on track. With the Chromebook it’s a constant wrestling match, another potential discipline issue to monitor, and something the kids are constantly trying to circumvent. Surprisingly, kids would rather try to play a ridiculous .io game than do their schoolwork. Managing this is a headache. A major headache.
  • One of the many reasons I wish we could use iPads instead of Chromebooks in the classroom, but the district will never pony up that much money. Most won't.
  • Look into GoGuardian.
  • I assume that's a sarcastic "Surprisingly", otherwise you've forgotten what it's like to be a kid. But yes, it's a lot easier to manage with an iPad, sadly it costs more to get that control :(
  • GoGuardian solves much of the headaches you describe.
  • >>iPads deliver a powerful iOS experience that's familiar to kids. Chromebooks don't. What are you basing this on? How is an iOS experience 'familiar' to kids? I feel like this was added only to give a point to iOS.
  • Agreed! That's conjecture at best.
  • Read andyster's comment below. Many of the kids in the classroom using Chromebooks have an iPhone or similar device, or are used to an iPad/Android tablet. Chromebook is more of a learning curve, than a tablet which they can pick up and instantly know how to use
  • I don't disagree, necessarily, that kids are familiar with some type of touch screen experience. My response is related to the iOS experience specifically.
  • This is an iOS centric site, but yes, it's more referring to general touchscreens/tablets rather than just iPads/iPhones
  • Kids adapt. They are far more adaptive than you’re all giving them credit for. Chrome books are extremely simple and with the right administration tools they are just as easy as iPads. Do you work in education?
  • Do I work in education? Do you? Also what you said has nothing to do with the original statement in the article: "iPads deliver a powerful iOS experience that's familiar to kids. Chromebooks don't." This says nothing about kids not being adaptive, it's just stating a fact. If iOS devices are presented, there is barely any learning required. If Chromebooks are presented, there's a lot more learning because it's not familiar. But of course, they can adapt, it's the time taken to adapt which is what the article was pointing out
  • All kids are different, basing it solely off your own isn't exactly great evidence. Sure, kids adapt quickly, but again the article is still correct. "iPads deliver a powerful iOS experience that's familiar to kids. Chromebooks don't." There's nothing stated in here about kids struggling to adapt. It's purely just more familiar to them, and that means that doing pretty much any task on the device will require little to no thought or training.
  • Maybe it's your kid writing these comments, I'd believe it.
  • It's not conjecture. Most kids have access to hand me down iPhones, iPod Touches and especially iPads. Almost nobody goes out and buys a Chromebook for personal use. These are cheap devices that are forced on our children because they meet the basic functionality and cost criteria and school districts generally have very tight budgets. Don't get me wrong, Chromebooks are easy to manage and have collaborative features. However, most kids, at least in the US, would be more familiar with an iOS interface.
  • iOS is second to Android in the mobile space in the United States. Not sure how "most kids" would be more familiar if that's the case. I mean, a statement like that should be supported by at least some source, I think.
  • This person comes probably from a more wealthy areas where Apple products are more popular. Some of these people like us really only know what we see and not the whole market.
  • I think that's rather assumptive. He probably meant a lot of kids, rather than most. There are a lot of kids that have iPhones, and I can source that, but DMP89145 is right in that it is still second to Android
  • "iOS is second to Android in the mobile space in the United States." Nope. iOS is #1 in the U.S. 56% iOS, 43% Android. In tablets its even larger, of course. 76% iOS, 23% Android. From gsstatcounter. So I would say that "However, most kids, at least in the US, would be more familiar with an iOS interface" is a true statement.
  • LOl! Well, I don't know where gs gets their data sets from, but that definitely isn't the consensus and never has been. "Despite new handset releases including the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, iOS share fell by 0.6 percentage points across the big five European markets to 23.9% and by 3.8 percentage points in the USA to 39.8%." https://www.kantarworldpanel.com/global/News/Stellar-iPhone-X-performanc... "In June 2017, 53.3 percent of U.S. smartphone subscribers were using a Google Android device. Apple was the second most popular smartphone operating system with a 44.9 percent market share." https://www.statista.com/statistics/266572/market-share-held-by-smartpho... gs statcounter seem to be sole believers of their own metric.
  • No, your stats are just a year out of date. gsstatcounter shows them as much closer last July (52% and 47%), but iOS was still in the lead. The figures I quoted above are as of March 2018. iOS is growing, Android is dropping. These are USAGE shares, not sales. Numbers of devices hitting websites, worldwide. Broken out by regions/countries/platforms.
  • I mean, all that stat measures is how much users serf the web, not number of devices. They don't even edit for unique users. "StatCounter measures internet usage trends. We track which browsers are actually used most. To accurately measure browser usage, we base our stats on page views (and not unique visitors). This means we take account of how frequently browsers are used and we also track multi-browser usage by individuals." If you want to use that as a measurement of market share, then by all means do. I'll stick with the actual number of devices activated.
  • I am a teacher and you would be surprised how many kids actually want a chromebook and own one on their own. Yes the district chooses the device, but many of the students within my classes have a chromebook at home (the first year we got chromebooks I can't tell you how many kids asked for a chromebook for christmas after using them while at school).
  • I’m a 2nd grade teacher at a title 1 school and feel this is pretty right for what it’s worth. We have Chromebooks and I really like them but there’s a real learning curve that there isn’t with tablets. Kids likely have either an iPad or Android tablet at home and the open the app and the device becomes the app mindset of tablets is drastically more familiar than the GUI of a Chromebook or Windows machine. Even if they don’t they’ve used their parents phones and even Android phones are more similar to iPads than a computer with a touchpad.
  • Once again, the real secret to the Chromebook's success is price, "corporate buying" and a prepared suite of software that toes the school board line. I'd like to know the kids' reactions to Chromebook vs. iPad.
  • I'd reckon the kids would prefer the iPad purely because of familiarity, although I guess it depends on the age-range.
  • I had a Chromebook for 5 years and no intention of buying another one. Mine wasn't a cheapy either, but the screen and keyboard were crap quality. Living in Googles browser is limiting. However for schools it different. Chromebooks, can download/save/share files through USB/cloud; Google has made it easy to manage for teachers; many models and quite durable; cheap and replaced easily. It maybe thats all the schools need. Google also benefits immensely from this as well. iPad is just too expensive, especially with the keyboard, and too fragile, and buying a case is another cost, and maybe overkill if Chromebook is good enough for what the teachers want.
  • A protective case costs barely anything, and I've no doubt that Chromebooks are going to get damaged through drops and whacks so you'd probably want a case for them anyway. If iPads weren't so expensive I think teachers would much prefer having them, but it's the financial side that's purely the problem.