Touchscreen Chromebooks: the iPad killers in schools?

iPads were a force in education. But with Chromebooks that have keyboards, touchscreens and apps, that all may change. (Image of Acer R11 used by fair use.)

iPads were a force in education. But with Chromebooks that have keyboards, touchscreens and apps, that all may change. (Image of Acer R11 used by fair use.)

I have worked with all sorts of digital devices in my own classroom — desktop computers, laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, student cell phones and a variety of others.

Hands down, the best experience for me has been Chromebooks. I’ve outlined why I choose Chromebooks for a 1:1 initiative or, as I had, for carts that stay in the classroom. I’m a huge believer in the power of G Suite and Google apps in the hands of students.

Recently, I got to take an early test drive on the Acer Spin 11 Chromebook, which is due to be released soon (as of publication of this post). Here’s what I loved about it:

  • It can sit on a desk as a standard Chromebook, fold up flat, and even sit upright like an easel.
  • It supports a Wacom technology, which lets you write with a specialized stylus quickly and accurately on the screen.
  • It is beefy. Feels strong enough to stand up to the drops and impact of day-to-day life at a school.
    • From this article in The Christian Post: “The laptop can survive drops from heights up to 48 inches and is equipped with a drainage system that allows for liquid spills of up to 330 milliliters. The display is also protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3 with antimicrobial properties.”

At one point, I was skeptical about the need for touchscreens on Chromebooks and laptops. Recently, something changed my mind.

Google announced that it would make Android mobile apps available on touchscreen Chromebooks.

This was HUGE news to me, at least from my background and perspective. I count myself a technology-using educator first, not an administrator or IT type. My experience is using technology in the classroom, not making the wires connect or the infrastructure work for a whole district. (If that’s your background, your thoughts on all of this would be very welcome and useful to everyone in the comments below.)

If Google can make this work — and if it’s true that Android apps will run seamlessly and easily on a touchscreen Chromebook — here’s what keeps occurring to me:

Touchscreen Chromebooks may well become iPad killers in schools.

Several things make me think this:

1. They’re made for using G Suite. — The sharing and creation power of Google apps in G Suite have been enough to transform classrooms around the world. Chrome OS is made to run Google products on the web. If you’re invested heavily in Google in education (and I hope you are), these devices are made for you.

2. They take advantage of iPad’s biggest advantage: apps. — iPads have their advantages. For one, you can create images, video and audio really well with them. Their biggest strength, I’d argue, has been the apps.

The iOS App Store, for a long time, has had the best selection. But the Google Play Store is catching up. If you can use mobile apps on a Chromebook and Android mobile devices, more people will use them. The demand for Android apps will grow. And the gap between the App Store and the Google Play Store will dwindle.

3. Everyone seems to want a keyboard. — If we’re doing academic work, a keyboard seems to be a non-negotiable. I talked to a school district today that has switched from an iPad-heavy environment to Chromebooks. One of their discoveries: Students who were so used to texting and using social media with a touchscreen keyboard didn’t want to do school work with one. I personally am faster and more efficient with a real, physical keyboard. People are talking to their devices more and more with Google Assistant and Siri. Voice typing is available in several Google apps. But we’re not to a place yet where those are usurping a keyboard.

4. They offer a blend of typing and writing by hand. — The Acer Spin 11 I mentioned earlier has an amazing combination of stylus and touchscreen with Wacom electromagnetic resonance technology. Cognitive science touts the benefits of writing by hand over typing for improved memory. I love the powerful learning and memory that come from sketchnoting / visual notetaking. For a while, when people ask me how to do sketchnoting on the Chromebook, the best ideas I’ve used and heard of just couldn’t compare with sketching on an iPad or on paper. Now, with a stylus with electromagnetic resonance, things are looking up for this option.

best 7 chromebooks

Source: TechRadar.com. Screenshot taken May 22, 2017.

5. You can’t beat the price. — TechRadar published its favorite Chromebooks for 2017. Most of them came in under $300 (although only a few had touchscreens). Granted, the Acer Spin 11 I mentioned earlier will likely be the Cadillac of Chromebooks and will come with a Cadillac price. A top-notch touchscreen Chromebook will likely beat the price of a top-notch iPad — and it will have both the apps and the keyboard when Android fully arrives on Chromebooks. Even without the touchscreen, you’re still getting more Chromebooks than iPads for the dollar.

What I’m not in favor of is banning iPads from schools outright. I still think the best situations are where students have access to a variety of devices and can use whatever suits their learning best. A cart of iPads or having a handful of them for checkout is a great option still.

Again, remember who this is coming from — someone who has used Chromebooks in the classroom (among other devices) and who is totally bought in to G Suite.

We’re still not there yet. Not every Chromebook can run Android apps yet. (Here are the ones that can.) (And if yours can, here’s how to install Android apps on your Chromebook.)

If I had the decision-making power for a school district, I personally would do whatever I could to get touchscreen Chromebooks with Android apps in the hands of my students. As the integration of Android and Chrome OS improves and becomes widespread, I think there’s a good chance that this could be the deathblow to widespread iPad adoption in schools.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this — and what your background is.

Question: How do you view the future of student digital devices in light of these touchscreen Chromebooks? What do you envision as the ideal going forward? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Matt is scheduled to present at the following upcoming events:

 DateEvent / Event DetailsCity / More Info
+ 10/03/2017—10/04/2017
"The Digital PIRATE - Ditch That Textbook" 
  Private Event
+ 10/06/2017
8:00am-3:00pm
GooglePaloozaVandalia, IL
 Sponsor:ROE #3 
+ 10/14/2017
7:30- 4:00 p.m.
Suffolk Excellence in Education Conference (SEEC)Suffolk, VA
  Private Event
+ 10/23/2017
8:30-3:15 p.m.
Show-Me Curriculum Administrators Association SMCAAOsage Beach, Missouri
  Private Event
+ 10/30/2017
8:00-3:30 p.m.
Sedalia School DistrictSedalia, MO
+ 11/07/2017
8:00am-3:00pm
Goshen Local SchoolsGoshen, OH
  Private Event
+ 11/15/2017
NIESCPlymouth, IN
 Venue:Christo's Banquet Center
830 Lincoln Hwy E
Plymouth, IN 46563
Private Event
+ 09/29/2017
8:30-3:15 p.m.
Meaningful Tech Workshop-Cleavland, OHIndependence, OH
 Venue:Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County
Essex Place, 6393 Oak Tree Blvd
Independence, OH
Register to attend

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15 thoughts on “Touchscreen Chromebooks: the iPad killers in schools?

  1. In the small rural school where I teach, we have access to desktops, laptops, ipads, and Chromebooks in our classrooms (grades K to 12). Of these devices, I most prefer the Chromebook because of its versatility and durability. As technological devices become readily available to the general population of students, teachers need something easy to understand and manipulate that students of all levels of technological ability can use. Chromebooks seem to have combined to ease of ipads with the computing strength of desktops and mobility of laptops. As we continue to replace the computers in our classrooms, the teachers at my school are now asking for all Chromebooks.
    Finally, a device that seems for fit education rather than trying to cram education into a one size fits all device.

  2. We have 1:1 Chromebooks for 8th grade, carts of Chromebooks in classrooms for 7th and 6th, a computer Lab full of iMac desktops, another computer classroom of iMac desktops, 6 carts of Mac laptops for checkout, and 4 carts of iPads for checkout. As much as we like Chromebooks for classroom devices, no one wants to get rid of our Mac laptop and iPad carts, because there are still so many things you can do with them that you CAN”T do with Chrome/G-Suite/Chromebooks that are easier/better/possible on a Mac platform. Android apps? not a deal-breaker, sorry– nowhere close to the interface on so many apps that run on iPads or Macs… So, yes, Chromebooks are great for keyboard and cost, but we still LOVE our Macs and iPads. We are premium users of G-suite and Schoology, BTW. If Apple would come out with a competitor for Chromebooks, we would be there in a heartbeat…

  3. Matt,
    It is exciting that Chromebooks are constantly evolving! I have been using Chromebooks since our District started piloting them and I love them, but there are still some limitations. I’m not sure if Chromebooks will ever totally replace the iPad due to the portability factor. The students at my school (I am a Teacher-Librarian so work with many grades), particularly the K-3, use the iPads for demonstrating learning using Seesaw, Shadow Puppet, iMovie, GSuite, and others. It is far easier to upload pictures and video right into Google Drive using an iPad than it is using the Chromebooks (iPads are far smaller and more portable, have better picture resolution, plus a back and front camera). These options are only available to my students on the iPad, and being an avid Apple device user, I’m not sure if I’d ever recommend replacing the iPads with only Chromebooks.

  4. I have found an excellent keyboard for the IPad. It is called The Snugg, and runs about $60. It is a hard case for the IPad, and the keyboard hooks up via Bluetooth. I carry my IPasd with me everywhere, and it is very durable. The keyboard works very well, and I even do my college work on it! You can find it on Amazon.

  5. For grades K-4, I think iPads are still the way to go. Students do not need the keyboards as much and right now, the iOS apps do way more than any Android apps. I do think this touch screen Chromebook could be a contender for grades 5 and up (maybe grades 5-8?) in our district, but again there are things that Chromebooks can’t do because it has to be internet based. So far, we have 0 Chromebooks in our district and right now I just can’t recommend them for our needs. However, maybe in a few years this will change as technology continues to evolve on a rapid pace.

  6. I have been an avid iPad user since 2011 and LOVE the iPad for the ease of use, in particular with the K-2 students. The keyboard issue has not bothered me as the ipad on screen keyboard is fine and easy to use for little fingers.. I myself have an iPad pro with the keyboard attachment which I use exclusively. I have had no issues running the main google G suite apps on the iPad and actually use those frequently. As much as I would hate to see the iPad loose, I must say that Apple has not been very useful when it comes to managing iPad cost effectively for a small schools. I do not like the Volume purchasing program for schools and it is hard to get customer support. Ive heard that Book Creator will soon be available for the Chromebook as are some of the other “creation”apps I use wiht my kids. One big issue I have with the chrome book is the camera… a camera that can swivel is a must and for little hands the ipad is mush better at this than the chromebook… Ok, this is a much longer post than I thought….

  7. A few years ago, my school invested in android tablets for each student at our school. And, that program has worked well. However, Google is dropping the tablet program, and it is now time for me to replace the tablets with something new. A decade ago, I made the point that students needed to have access to Microsoft products because that is what they would see in the workplace. But today, I think the G Suite provides adequate access to all types of production software that is comparable to Microsoft, and the learning curve from one to the other is not that bad. On the positive side, my students still go to a computer lab when they need to use a keyboard – and they do need to use keyboards! So touch sensitive Chromebooks is what I am going for next. The touch makes art, note taking, and other applications easy. A keyboard is great for most everything else. I agree that an Android/Chrome OS devise could be the most valuable electronic tool in the classroom.

    As far as the future, I really see voice making the stride to eventually eliminate keyboards for most applications. once that happens, I think you will see powerful handheld devices will come to be the norm for many classrooms. And the only drawback for voice is that there are times when you want to communicate without being heard, and then you are still looking at some sort of manual entry device.

  8. I am a retired K-12 computer trainer in the DOS, Windows and Mac platforms. I have been using Chromebooks for four years. I am totally sold on them. They give the most bang for the buck; and they have a keyboard. The G Suite is ideal for most users. No wonder they are becoming popular in K-12.

  9. Now that you can purchase an iPad for $294 each (education pricing), I’m not sure I agree that Chromebooks are the best way to go for education. With an iPad, I can choose to use the Apple Suite, Microsoft Suite or G Suite. I can also use the Safari browser, Firefox browser or Chrome browser. With a Chromebook being locked to only using the Chrome browser and the G Suite apps (excluding the web versions of Apple and Microsoft suites), I’m not sure it’s the best. I believe in choice. I do agree that once you move from a clamshell Chromebook to a touchscreen tablet running Android apps, you do get something that is close to an iPad; however, that already exists in Android tablets.

  10. The touch screen is THE tool for the modern student. Just for navigation purposes. I have two touchscreen chromebooks in my classroom that I loan out to students when their device is busted. When they find out the screen is touch, they navigate the environment in a different way (I personally use keyboard shortcuts, but I’m an old timer in the world of computers).

    As a math teacher I’ve always wanted the Surface Pro because it was the only device with true pen input and navigation that would be able to use the applications I wanted. Starting to sketchnote, written note taking is essential to any device now. With the chromebook and Wacom tech, I’m excited that pen input is finally getting the attention it deserves!