In education circles, Apple’s iPad has been stealing the spotlight the last few years, as it sweeps across the country’s schools. Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest school district in the country, is joining the long list of smaller districts that have invested heavily in the popular iPad tablet for learning. Apple has reported that 10 million iPads are currently being used in schools, and the company’s share continues to grow in the education market.

But the famous rivalry between Google and Apple is finding its way into schools, and Google is looking to dethrone the famous iPad with its new Google Play for Education, a suite of apps and management tools that will be available to teachers and students this fall.

When it was unveiled at last spring’s I/O Conference, Google Play for Education was billed by engineering director Chris Yerga as more intuitive and easier to use than the iPad.

“In education, [teachers told us] there’s a huge gap between what’s possible with technology, and what’s practical, especially with mobile technology,” said Yerga. “And then they told us it was Google’s job to fix this. Google should make it affordable to give every student a tablet, and Google should make it way easier to find the best tools and content from a really diverse set of developers, and get that content to the right students.”

While no prototypes of Google Play for Education are yet available, Yerga unveiled some of the new ways Google will interact with teachers and students in the classroom. Apps will be arranged by both grade level and content subject, and educators will be able to read reviews from other teachers. And instead of worrying about multiple iTunes accounts and credit cards, teachers using Google can draw from a pre-loaded account to purchase apps, then push out apps, YouTube videos, or e-books to students through Google Groups. The content will appear on students’ tablets in seconds.


But iPad users are not giving up on their Apple devices in light of the new offerings. When Director of Technology Andrew Marcinek started building a two-year iPad program for the Burlington, Mass., public schools in 2011, there was only one choice for student mobile technology. “When we came into the game, there was only the iPad,” he said. “A lot of other places have caught up. But that’s what Apple does. They’re on that cutting edge, still leading and setting the bar.”

Marcinek said that both he and teachers have been more than happy with what the iPad can do for students, but it’s by no means perfect. One of the programs Marcinek wanted to create at Burlington was a way for teachers to curate their own curriculum using iBooks. But he soon found out that, in order to use iBooks and iBooks Author, teachers would have to use Apple Pages and literally build the textbooks themselves. “It was a very clunky process,” he said. “iBooks Author is really good, but as far as a K-12 model it doesn’t really fit, because you have to build a textbook. It can be done, but that’s a lot to put on the teacher. Time is always the adversary, it takes time to build these.”

Marcinek sees no reason why Google Play for Education wouldn’t be popular with educators, because many schools are already using other Google products and management tools like Google Docs and Google Drive, as well as Chromebooks. All the pieces — content creation, management, email and educational apps — will fit together. “What I do like about Google is that it’s all-inclusive. The majority of teachers have a PC, a few have a MacBook, but for the teacher who has a PC and doesn’t have the Mac products, iTunes U can’t be used.”


Marcinek sees that curating textbooks with Google would be much easier than with the iPad. “With Google Play for Books through Chrome, you now have the ability to create and publish content, and distribute through there. You’re going to see more [Google products] coming into play because of the universality.”

Heather Vardis, who taught fourth grade last year at Franklin Arts Center, a Chicago Public Schools magnet, had a 1:1 iPad environment and used the iPad with her students every day to drill math problems, create projects and even make e-books of poetry. Most of the ideas for apps to use in class, like Math Skills and Educreations, came from a two-day teacher training Vardis took at the beginning of the year. And during the year, when she discovered a new app she wanted to use, Vardis would bring it to the school’s technical coordinator and he would handle the process of buying the app and downloading it to all the student machines. But while Vardis was proud of what her fourth graders were able to do on the iPad, she also thinks that working on the Apple tablet had its limitations.

One frustration, she said, was the lack of a flash player to watch certain videos in class. Vardis also recalls students trying to use multiple apps at the same time in order to create a complex video for an assignment: “You can’t have multiple windows side by side. The kids had to go out of an app, back into another app. It was a frustrating moment.”


Most frustrating of all, though, was not being able to save student work created inside of apps. “Because the iPad is not designed to be shared among multiple users, it’s difficult to protect student work,” Vardis recalls. “Book Creator created wonderful books, but there’s no way to save that information through email, PDF or print. [The work] was not tangible once the school year was over.” The poetry ebooks the students worked so hard on were only available via the screen on the school’s iPads.

Some of these issues might be solved by using a Google/Android tablet; there’s a free Floating Browser app on Google Play for opening multiple windows, and Android can also support Flash. And while many Google Play for Education learning apps may or may not be able to be saved into a PDF or printed on paper, smooth transfer between Google Docs and Gmail might make saving student work easier.

Whether Google Play for Education and the Android tablets will be as useful and revolutionary to schools as the iPad — or even more so — remains to be seen. Temple University academic and tech writer Jordan Shapiro makes the point that, after this transitional period of getting tablets into kids’ hands, the Apple or Google question isn’t going to matter much. One company always adapts to what the other is doing.

“I really don’t think it matters, for this transitional moment in learning, one may be a little ahead of the other, eventually it’s going to equalize out,” Shapiro said.

  • Leon

    Interesting article, but some inaccurate information that once again uses Flash to try and point potential buyers in one direction or another. Adobe doesn’t support Flash on mobile, so both android and iOS devices need to use web browsers for Flash. No advantage to either system in this regard.

    Will be great to see how android and future iOS deals with environment that aren’t 1:1, and the management of student created content.

    Thanks again for the article.

    • tbarseghian

      Thanks for the note. It’s true that both tablets need off-site web browsers like the Photon app (free on Google Play, $4.99 on iTunes) to run any Flash sites. But many reviewers of those apps complain that neither work very well. And Vardis was actually told by her tech director that Apple couldn’t support Flash.

  • Gonzalo Garcia

    Looking forward to the introduction of Google Play for Education. Google Play for Education is a long awaited answer to Apple’s Volume Purchase Program… It also seems to be an improvement on that concept. I applaud Google for seeking educators and adjusting their product to fill the gap left in the marketplace. This move however is no iPad killer… comparing software vs hardware does not work.

    To our friends with “iPad Programs”… “What I do like about Google is that it’s all-inclusive. The majority of teachers have a PC, a few have a MacBook, but for the teacher who has a PC and doesn’t have the Mac products, iTunes U can’t be used.”

    Apple couldn’t be more all-inclusive… and iTunes U can be used on both Mac and PC.

    • proeger

      iTunes U works on a PC running Safari.

  • Cornelius VanderWeide

    There are some serious inaccuracies in this article re. Book Creator, Book Creator for iPad supports all sorts of exports, through iBooks, DropBox, PDF, Email and print etc. Pretty much everything this persons says can’t be done, it’s obvious not enough time with the app was spent to explore all options. This is an amazing app and lends itself for sharing just beautifully, shame that didn’t come through.

    • Charlene Chausis 

      Yes, and, PC users ARE able to use and create courses in iTunes U — they only need to download Safari for Windows:

    • tbarseghian

      Thanks for pointing that out. Vardis explained that there were formatting issues with the books her students made through Book Creator, and even though she got her tech director and even the CPS district tech coordinator working on the issue to try to use DropBox, PDF, Email, etc., they couldn’t resolve the issue. Hope this clarifies.

  • Asmus Neergaard

    Great article!
    What one could hope for with Google Play for Education, is a stricter curation of of the store. When looking at the education category of Google Play right now, quite a few of the bestselling apps are more like toys with only a superficial educational content, than proper educational apps.
    Having a clear separation between apps and games for children, and educational apps would benefit both the appstore and users. The return of investment is poor, when teachers have to go through several, perhaps completely unrelated, apps to find one that can be used.

    • Brian W

      At the same time…teachers can locate apps outside the Play store (and the Apple store as well) using web sites like Android for Schools. Neither app store is built for the education market. Browsing through an app store to locate apps almost never is a good idea if the goal is to locate something for in or out of class use. Find a web site, blog, some tweets, etc. where an educator writes up how he/she used a particular app with students. Many of the “education” apps found in the Apple app store are also not very “educational”. They are more like edutainment.

  • Jarrett

    My company, TabPilot, produces a school-based management system for Android tablets, that allows teachers to keep students on-task by locking them into a set of teacher-selected apps. The lack of a good way to find the best education-specific apps has been one of the issues to overcome. Google Play for Education will be a HUGE step forward by filling this missing piece, especially when used in a shard-use tablet environment like many of our customers have where they can’t afford 1 to 1 and thus, don’t want to install regular Google Play accounts on every device. The other key is making it easy for schools to purchase apps with a system that accepts purchase orders, sets up spending accounts for teachers, etc. Google Play For Education will fill this gap nicely too, and promises to be much more streamlined that Apple’s process. I hope that turns out to be true.

  • Lori

    Agree, I use to collect opinions from educators. As a matter of fact my Scoops picked up this article.

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  • Brian Casey

    One factor not really discussed was the cumbersome nature of using iTunes to manage tablets vs the ease of use of google apps for education. Every student has an account. Apple never bothered to to provide a way for students to log in like with Google. Also you can buy two android devices for the price of a comparable iPad

    • Paul

      Actually, you can buy 3 or 4!

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  • Lee James

    the iPad is not designed to be shared among multiple users, it’s difficult to protect student work.Casquette Snapback


Holly Korbey

Holly Korbey's work on parenting and education has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Babble, Brain, Child Magazine, and others. She lives in Nashville with her family. Follow her on Twitter: @HKorbey

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