Apple has 94% of the classroom tablet market–Why that’s a scary stat


“Apple is making substantial contributions to society,” by “reinventing education,” CEO Tim Cook said during Monday’s quarterly earnings call. Celebrating their “highest September quarter revenue ever,” and their “best education quarter ever,” Cook and CFO Peter Oppenheimer highlighted global education more than any other growth market for the iPad specifically. Here are some of the examples they cited:

  • Over $1 billion in the education category specifically for the first time ever, out of $37 billion in total revenue.
  • Education sales were up 8% year over year.
  • In the U.K., the number of iPads sold to K-12 schools has more than doubled year-over-year.
  • In Latin America, over 70,000 iPads in use across 800 schools.
  • The Coachella Valley School District in California is currently distributing over 19,000 iPads to its student body.
  • Horry County School Districts in South Carolina will distribute 10,000 tablets to middle school students this year with a goal of providing all students in grades 3-12 with their own devices within three years.
  •  iBooks textbooks are now available across the U.S., U.K. and Australian national high school curricula.
  • Apple’s share of tablets in education is 94%. 

“It’s sort of unheard of,” crowed CEO Tim Cook. “I’ve never seen a market share that high before. So, we feel like we’re doing really well here and feel great to be making a contribution to education.”

The rise of the iPad in education has been impressive but not uncontroversial. As documented elsewhere on this blog, the devices have both passionate fans and passionate detractors among educators. Notably, Cook and Oppenheimer did not mention the ongoing $1 billion iPad rollout by the second largest school district in this country, LA Unified. Perhaps that’s because the rollout has been delayed due to security concerns and other implementation problems, a “fiasco” that led to resignation rumors for Superintendent John Deasy.

As I see it there are three major problems with one company having a 94% market share in a particular kind of classroom device. The first one is price and competition. In response to a question on the call about competition from the more modestly priced Google Chromebook, Tim Cook said “We do see Chromebooks in some places, but the vast majority of people are buying a PC/Mac or an iPad.”

Even with high-volume discounts, iPads can cost over $600 per student. Apple has consistently resisted making truly budget versions of its devices even when that meant losing market share to competitors, to say nothing of its purported social mission in an area like education. Not only are iPads expensive, they require monthly data plans for most applications, their components are near-impossible to repair or upgrade, and like most Apple products they are designed to be replaced every few years.

The second problem with massive iPad adoption is control of curriculum. The star iPad educators I’ve talked to are masters of the remix. They use dozens of different apps in their classrooms daily, most of which put students in an active role as content creators and communicators. It takes careful scaffolding and professional development to make teachers confident in applying this kind of technological creativity. In large scale iPad adoptions, especially those motivated by the transition to the Common Core, what we’re far more likely to see is Apple subcontracting out to providers like Pearson for an all-in-one, off-the-shelf curriculum solution that is little more than an automated textbook. As we’ve seen in LA, this can simultaneously disempower and confuse teachers, taking them out of the drivers’ seat, as well as lead to subpar experiences for students.

Finally, compared to bona fide computers, iPads are far less hackable. You can’t reprogram them without jailbreaking. Using them to write code is unwieldy. You can’t even open them up to change the battery. This puts an entire technological world off-limits in tablet-based classrooms.

Here’s a blog post by a friend of mine who is building a PC out of parts with his two school-aged daughters, using free videos found online as their coach. The girls will use the computer to play the wildly popular educational game Minecraft. The total cost is well under $300. Imagine if our public schools took this DIY approach to provisioning classrooms with computers.

POSTED BY Anya Kamenetz ON October 31, 2013

Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Post a Comment

Jeremy Rudy

Anya, I would imagine much of the benefit from iPad deployment in schools is the controlled implementation, managed updates, and general reliability — qualities less likely with DIY hardware.

[…] One take: Apple’s dominance in education tablet market isn’t good for teacher flexibility. (Digital/Edu) […]

Matt Candler


Great coverage of an important topic.

Bad for entrepreneurs, too.

In our work encouraging early-stage entrepreneurs, one of the most powerful forces we’ve seen at work is entrepreneurs connecting directly with educators who are paying out of their own pockets for solutions to acute problems they face. Apple owning so much of the market creates a huge disincentive for problem solvers interested in this more granular, often more powerful iteration, where the distance between the solution builder and the user is really small. And it creates even more pressure from VCs and others to push entrepreneurs to build to Apple’s specs, expose their business to their app approval process, at a time when most start-ups’ most important competitive advantage is staying lean and nimble and fast.

Anya Kamenetz

Really good perspective, Matt, thanks!

John Vorian

Please accept these comments in the spirit of healthy dialog, not in opposition to what you’ve pointed out.

Is Apple’s position here different than the dominant PC OS being Windows or Google’s drive to push their advertising in front of every person possible? No one forces schools to choose the devices they do. They make the best decisions they can, given the information and effort they apply.

Is it possible that Microsoft and Apple dominate the education space because they provide something others lack? I refuse to believe that my profession simple goes down this pathway like blind sheep. Apple is simply doing what Apple does as do all the rest of the instructional technology providers. We all wanted a cheap device and thought we had it in the netbook. Most of the educators I have talked to on that front, were left holding a lot of dead paperweights. I think most of us agree that cost alone does not solve the device issue when trying to transform our classrooms. It’s what we do with them that does. Just like I can’t blame the bear for raiding my trash, I can’t blame Apple for their market share. The issue is educational leaders bringing devices into their schools for the right reasons. Not blindly doing so because the neighboring school does.

If I may quote you here… “The star iPad educators I’ve talked to are masters of the remix. They use dozens of different apps in their classrooms daily, most of which put students in an active role as content creators and communicators. ” describes what I as an administrator would want every one of my teachers to aspire to. Yes it takes professional development and effort, but isn’t it worth it? If Apple’s devices are the ones which allow my teachers to be a Star Educator (notice I dropped the iPad) then that is the device I want for my teachers and students.

Lastly, if the other statistics from their earnings call are correct and iPads are in the vast majority of Fortune 500 corporations, then doesn’t it follow suite that Education would mirror that statistic? Isn’t that the logic Window’s proponents have been using all along for Microsoft’s dominance on school computers?

[…] So Evans says this: Microsoft’s education business strategy is not primarily about hardware–a pragmatic attitude since they’re losing out on hardware. […]

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