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Why 2013 is the Year of the Chromebook

posted Jan 13, 2013, 6:52 PM by Eric Curts   [ updated Jan 14, 2013, 6:06 AM ]
Back in May of 2011 Google announced the general availability of Chromebooks. At that time they were still a new concept and people everywhere, including Google, were trying to figure them out.

Since then there have been several new versions of the Chromebook, made in cooperation with different vendors. The Chrome OS (operating system) has been improved and updated many times. And schools across the country have tested and implemented the devices.

It took about a year and a half, but Google has finally cracked the nut.

See below for four reasons why 2013 looks to be the year of the Chromebook: the Price, the Product, the Paradigm, and the PARCC.

Reason #1 - The Price

When the Chromebooks first launched, I put together an article mentioning the potential benefits of these devices but I also addressed the negatives mostly focusing on the prohibitive pricing structure Google had devised. Originally the Chromebooks were sold for $20 per month over a three year commitment, for a total cost of $720 each. You can see my original article why this was a terrible match for most schools.

My suggestion at the end of the article was for Google to drop the price to as low as $250, let schools buy them outright (rather than the monthly approach), and offer the management piece as a low cost optional purchase. Perhaps I should start buying lottery tickets, because that is exactly what came true.

With the new Samsung Chromebook the device is now priced at $249, with a one-time optional cost of $30 to add the device to the management console in Google Apps. This price hits the tipping point for schools, making the Chromebook an extremely affordable and desirable product.

Reason #2 - The Product

Price alone is not good enough to make the Chromebook a success, if it does not also have adequate specs. There have been lots of EdTEch products priced for the bargain bin, that belong in the trash bin. But not the new Chromebook.

I have been using my Chromebook for several months and am very pleased with its features and functionality. The Samsung Chromebook has the following specs:
  • 11.6 inch screen with a 1366 x 768 resolution - perfect for web use.
  • 6.5 hour battery life - great for a typical school day
  • Wifi
  • VGA camera
  • Two USB ports and an HDMI port
  • Bluetooth compatibility
  • 2.4 pound weight - making it extremely light and portable
  • Boots in 10 seconds - for no down time in class
  • Automatic updates - so you always have the latest, fastest, and more secure version
  • No need for anti-virus software
All of these features make the Chromebook a solid choice for schools.

Reason #3 - The Paradigm

Over the past few years we have seen an increasing migration from traditional computing with software installed on computers, to cloud computing where data and applications are delivered online through a web browser. There are many benefits to cloud computing including anywhere/anytime access and increased collaboration options (see here for more details and benefits).

The Chromebook is primarily a cloud computer. The intention is to use this device to access web-delivered content, services, and applications. When used as intended, the Chromebook should be mostly invisible, acting merely as a tool to connect you simply and securely to the information, tools, and services you need.

Of course without growth in cloud computing services, a Chromebook would be like a television with no channels to watch. Thankfully though there is an ever growing amount of web-based services including:
  • Email (Gmail)
  • Productivity (Google Docs)
  • Streaming media (YouTube, Netflix, Hulu)
  • Social media (Google+, Facebook, Twitter)
  • Image editing (Aviary, Pixlr)
  • Video editing (WeVideo)
  • Video conferencing (Google Hangouts)
  • And thousands of more apps in the Chrome Web Store
As more schools shift their paradigm to cloud computing, Chromebooks become a more viable option to replace traditional desktop computers and laptops.

Reason #4 - The PARCC


All the reasons listed so far explain why the Chromebook is a great fit for schools. However, the final reason is all about the motivation for schools to actually purchase Chromebooks on a large scale. It’s the push from the nest we are all getting whether we want it or not. For many of us, it is called PARCC.

PARCC is a 23-state consortium (including Ohio where I live) that is developing K-12 online assessments that will be required in many states. By the spring of 2015 students will be taking the PARCC assessments online in schools. That means schools need to have the quantity of devices to support their number of students, as well as the quality of devices to support the PARCC assessments. Many schools currently do not.

Recently (December 2012) PARCC released an updated guide with minimum requirements for the devices used for the test. You can see the full details here, but some of the key points include:
  • 9.5 inch screen size or larger
  • 1024 x 768 resolution or greater
  • Keyboard and mouse/trackpad
  • Microphone and headphones
  • 1GB of RAM
  • Security features that can be used to lock down the device
Many devices can meet these requirements from desktops to laptops to tablets. However, if a school needs to purchase new devices for the PARCC, the Chromebook is the lowest cost option I could find. Below are some rough costs for different devices to get them to match the PARCC requirements. I am sure for each example, someone can find lower and higher priced options, but this gives a good starting point for comparison:
  • Desktop - Dell Vostro 270 - $350 to $400 (plus monitor)
  • Laptop - Dell Vostro 2520 - $400 to $450
  • Tablet - iPad 4 - $500 (plus external keyboard)
  • Tablet - Nexus 10 - $400 (plus external keyboard)
  • Chromebook - $279 (including management license)
For schools that are moving to the cloud, and that need to buy additional devices for the PARCC assessments, Chromebooks will be a very attractive option. They provide a device that meets the requirements of the test, but can then be used by staff and students as an excellent mobile laptop for the rest of the year.

For states that are not part of PARCC, most are still moving to some form of online assessment, and will likely have similar needs.

Conclusion

Chromebooks have come a long way in the last year and half to become capable and affordable devices for education. They have even made a big impact in the consumer market, as they currently sit as the best selling laptop on Amazon. I believe they will still go much further in 2013 as they prove to be an excellent match for our educational needs.

If you would like to learn more, you can visit Google's Chromebook site. Also there is an excellent Google+ Community, "Chromebook EDU", devoted to the topic with lots a helpful discussions and links to articles. The community is located at: https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/111885171520981887334