Microsoft is trying desperately to get into schools—but Google has already won this fight

Playing catch-up.
Playing catch-up.
Image: Reuters/Paul Hackett
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Microsoft recently and dramatically unveiled what it says it is “the complete solution to education.” The company’s bundled launch last week included an education-specific version of the Windows 10 operating system, a handful of new programs and applications to be distributed to schools as teaching materials, and a “buttery”, classroom-friendly laptop. Clear was the message: Microsoft wants in on the exploding education technology market.

Less clear is whether or not it has a good shot, given that there is already a much bigger player in the game.

According to a report from US publication Education Week today, more than half of 1,000 teachers and administers in a kindergarten-to-high-school national survey said that if they had to incorporate more technology into students’ learning, they’d place their trust in one particular ed tech business above all others—Google.

“Google has made huge amounts of headway in the school market and, at least for the time being, is winning the confidence of many educators,” Sean Cavanaugh, an author of the Education Week report, tells Quartz in an email, pointing to hardware like the company’s cheap, no-frills Chromebooks and software like G Suite for Education as products that have won schools over.

Educators’ preference for Google is also reflected in sales numbers. In 2016, of the 12.6 million mobile devices shipped to US grade schools, 58% were Chromebooks.

Microsoft, for its part, seems to know what it’s up against. The company’s new hardware begins at $189, making it a mean rival to Google’s $199 Chromebooks, and CEO Satya Nadella stressed the importance of affordability during last week’s press event. (Apple, which once targeted education via its eMac computer, now is more focused on offering small discounts to students on its $1,000 MacBooks.) With a new arsenal of simply-designed learning applications, such as a program that designs science experiments with everyday objects, Microsoft is now also going head to head with Google in the race for accessibility.

“School officials overwhelmingly told us they want ed tech tools that are easy to use—things that make the jobs of teachers easier and simpler, not digital platforms that confuse them or pile on their workloads,” Cavanaugh says. The question now is whether educators have enough incentive to switch from something that already seems to be working for them.

Microsoft’s chances—and those of any other companies trying to make a name in the digital learning space, for that matter—also rest on how much more room there is for the edtech market is to grow. Some estimates say there is enough growing interest from schools for the global market to increase 17% a year, to $252 billion in 2020. But Google’s head start means everyone else is still almost sure to come in second.