Wednesday, February 17, 2016
My Thoughts on the Google Play for Education Tablet Program Ending
Over the weekend, it was leaked by CRN that Google was silently ending their Google Play for Education (GPFE) Android tablet program. I have been a very strong supporter of the program and have presented a number of webinars and training on the topic throughout the country. The school district I work for was also featured in a Google for Education case study on our usage of the tablets. While I am very disappointed to hear this news, I am not completely surprised by it. Even though I feel GPFE offered the best tablet solution for education, there was some key things I felt were going against it in the last year.
1. Uphill Battle with the iPad
Even though I believe GPFE offered the best tablet solution for education, Apple already had a four year head start on it. Many schools that wanted tablets already adopted iPad's in some capacity for their needs. Once a school district heavily invests in a particular product (such as an iPad), it is harder for them to drop it and move to another alternative right away. Even if that alternative is a better choice.
2. Internal Competition
In addition to the uphill battle with the iPad, the GPFE tablets were also having to compete against Chromebooks. When prices on Chromebooks dropped even lower last year ($150-200 range), it made it more difficult to justify a GPFE tablet over a Chromebook. Especially in grades above the primary level where a full browser experience and keyboard becomes more important in the classroom.
3. State Testing
With many states doing either PARCC, Smarter Balanced, or some derivative, school districts need devices that can easily handle these tests. Chromebooks are currently the best choice for this right now. When most schools are on a limited technology budget and trying to build up their testing capacity, they are not going to buy GPFE tablets over Chromebooks.
4. Multi-User Support
Where GPFE tablets got many things right, multi-user support was still not the best experience on the tablets. When setting up your GPFE tablets for multi-users, you could only have 5 users on the device. In many cases, this was still not enough spots for classrooms to have students share the tablets with their individual accounts throughout the whole day.
5. Standardized User Experience with Timely Updates
With Chromebooks, the OEM does not control Chrome OS or it's updates. Regardless of Chromebook model, you have the same Chrome OS experience for it in the classroom. That was not the case with the GPFE tablets. As you can see on this link, various GPFE tablet models are on different versions of Android and it is up to the OEM to provide the updates to the tablets. Something most of them haven't done a great job with unless it's a Nexus device. You also have a few OEM devices in GPFE that changed the "vanilla" Android experience, which could possibly cause confusion in a classroom with various tablet models.
While there are concerns about this announcement, I would not take "the sky is falling" approach to it. Here are some important things to keep in mind.
1. This is a Leaked Story
As with any leaked story, we don't have the whole story yet. My guess is if we do not hear something soon from Google on it, then we will know more at I/O in May.
2. End of Life Policy
For those of us using GPFE tablets, we are still going to be able to use all the features of it for awhile. Depending on your GPFE tablet models, they will still be supported until their end of life dates. This link shows all of those dates, but the newest models are until May 2018.
3. Google Play for Education Store
In lines with end of life policy, this should still be available to use on GPFE tablets until the last end of life date. My own opinion is that we will not see this completely go away due to it also servicing Chrome devices. I simply expect it to become a more focused location for teachers to easily push free Chrome apps and content from.
4. Admin Console Device Management
All of the device management features for Android devices are already in the Google Apps Admin console. This feature was not specific to GPFE tablets and you did not need any special licensing to access it like with Chrome management. Any Android device with the Google Apps Device Policy app on it can be managed by your Google Apps domain. So when the end of life dates approach, these features will still be available to you.
While I am disappointed to see the GPFE tablet program end, I look forward to what may take it's place in the form of new Chrome devices and/or features. Maybe we will finally get to see a merged Android/Chrome OS experience. :)