In an appeal to win back the classroom, Microsoft has announced its new $499 Surface 3 will be sold at a 10 percent discount to education buyers, and has plans in the works to offer a lower-cost version of the 2-in-1, a school-issued model with 32 GB of storage and 2 GB of memory.
The hope is that the Surface 3 will provide the shot in the arm that Microsoft needs to make it a leader in the K-12 tech market in the US, which has seen explosive growth over the past several years. As districts strive to put school-issued technology into the hands of every student, Microsoft has fallen behinds its competitors in this arena.
In 2014, Google and Apple dominated the market share for education users. According to FutureSource statistics, Chromebooks commanded 39 percent of classroom users in the U.S. while Apple took 26 percent of the market on the strength of the iPad 2. Windows devices came in third with 24 percent. To give you an idea of the current trend in the market, Chromebooks possessed a mere 1 percent of the market share just three years ago.
So what needs to happen so that the Surface 3 can turn the tides in Microsoft’s favor?
Price the Surface 3 under the Apple iPad Air 2
Affordability fueled the Chromebook’s rise to prominence for cash-strapped schools, and with certain Chromebooks already priced under $200, Microsoft will not try to compete for the lowest-priced 2-in-1 available. The Surface 3 should look to get under the Apple iPad Air 2 for pricing. With the discount packages, Microsoft appears to be making this play already. It might be a safe assumption that school districts that can afford an Apple price tag have made their tech purchases already. Getting a quality product underneath Apple’s price can potentially handcuff their future growth.
Play up the touch screen and stylus
Touch screen is something that the Chromebook doesn’t have. How important is a touch screen in a K-12 environment? Microsoft cites research that connects handwriting to the overall ability to learn in order to make the sell. Curmudgeons might point out that in their day, pen and paper worked just fine. But hey, this is the future, and in the future you can doodle on a computer, save it to hard drive that is physically on a server thousands of miles away, and recall it with a tap of your finger. Come on. Let’s admit that’s pretty cool.
Hope that free Office 365 and OneNote is enough to trump Google for Classroom
This year Microsoft made available Office 365 for free to students and schools, placing it on par price-wise with Google for Classroom. The two cloud-based offerings match up well with each other for applications and bulk subscription cloud storage. If Office 365 can simply compete with Google for Classroom, it will fare well for Microsoft. It will be interesting to see how much traction OneNote gets among educators, as it appears to be one of the only differentiators. It certainly looks like a contender in commercials.
The LAUSD iPad fiasco scares districts away from Apple
The $1.3 billion program that sought to put iPads in the hands of Los Angeles public school students fell flat last year. The school district blamed educational software that was found inadequate and unusable, and many schools reported problems getting the devices to function in the classroom. California state officials have gone as far to ask Apple for a refund. While this might be a case of poor planning rather than poor hardware, bad press has the tendency to resonate with school boards.
The IT team has a say in the purchase
Chomebooks are relatively easy and inexpensive to deploy on a per-unit basis, they are a major change of pace for many IT departments. This is especially true when existing Windows infrastructure is deployed throughout a school district. ChromeOS has come a long way, but does not match up against Windows Server 2012 for management features like Active Directory. Additionally, in schools where wireless infrastructure may not be up to date, Chomebooks, which rely on an Internet connection to function, may not be the best fit.
Educators: Are you considering the Surface 3 for your classroom?