There is a lot of talk on the web about how successful the Chromebooks are starting to be (or if they are successful at all). I have discussed this at length in this blog (although mainly in Japanese), and my conclusion as of now is that success is limited to education. As Ben Bajarin informed me via Twitter, most Chromebooks are being used as digital textbooks, so to speak.
Searching the web, the main allure of Chromebooks in an educational environment seem to be;
- Price of device.
- Ease of administration.
- Availability of a keyboard (compared to iPads).
In other metrics like the number of educational applications, Chromebooks fall behind Windows.
Given the above situation, the innovation in Chromebooks can be summarized as follows;
- Chromebooks are an “efficiency” innovation. They aim to reduce the price of personal computers (including cost of administration) in education.
- Chromebooks are targeting the “low-end”, trading off features for price. The assumption is that the capability of current day computers are overshooting educational requirements and that Chromebooks are “good-enough”. Whether Chromebooks can succeed as a “low-end disruption” is dependent on whether this assumption is true.
This approach is very similar to how Google approached office software suites with Google Docs and even Android.
In both cases, Google has simply done the following;
- Imitate the incumbent.
- Reduce the price.
Chromebooks are simply normal laptops with a browser focus. Removal of baggage has improved the experience for some tasks, but for the most part, Chromebooks are just another laptop. They are hardly the re-think of computing that iPads were.
Google Docs is essentially an underpowered Office suite. The user interface closely mimics MS-Office but a lot of the features aren’t there. There are also some collaborative features which are an improvement on what MS-Office already provided, but the main appeal is indisputably the price.
Contrast this to what iPads have enabled in education. There are many examples, but I will refer to an article that I came by this morning which discusses the many hurdles for adopting technology in the classroom (which clearly shows that computers in education are hardly “good enough”), but also illustrates the benefits.
iPads in the classroom: Not a bust, but not yet a boon
In the meantime, Cisneros notices how iPads help students new to the English language open up. She listened to a recording they did as they told stories about illustrations that were uploaded to their tablets.
“These students never speak in class,” Cisneros says. “But I hear them in the recording, telling these stories and providing all these elaborate details.”
Cisneros also uses the iPad to transport them to different places. Recently, she arranged for her students to meet first-graders in a special education class at Esplanade Elementary in Orange, Calif., via the iPad. One student used Braille to read a story to Cisneros’ class.
“My students were mesmerized, watching her hands move over the pages,” Cisneros said. “I got chills.”
This is “empowering” innovation.
Google’s hope is that by imitating current technology and making it free, more people will use it. The assumption is that price is the major barrier. They overcome this barrier by either subsidizing the price with their profits from the search business, or apply “efficiency” innovations.
Apple’s approach is that price is not the major barrier. They assume the barrier is simplicity. To overcome this barrier, they rethink and remake the product to make it simple. This result is an “empowering” innovation.
If Google had existed around the time Apple created the Apple I, I imagine Google would have worked to reduce its price by sacrificing margins. Their target would be hardware hobbyists who were short of money. What Apple did was to create the Apple II, thereby empowering people whom were not hardware hobbyists to experience personal computing.