It’s not uncommon to find a fleet of gleaming, 20.5-inch iMac desktops lining the libraries of U.S. schools. School districts and academic institutions looking to make smart investments into their students’ futures have snubbed PCs in favor of Apple products. But now Google and Lenovo are trying to change that.
On Thursday, Lenovo announced a new version of its Thinkpad X131e education laptop running Google’s lightweight Chrome operating system. Due out Feb. 26, the 11-inch Chromebook is ruggedized, gets about 6.5 hours of battery life, and will be offered only to educational institutions, starting at as low as $429 per unit. Though more expensive than other Chromebooks, the X131e is more durable and kid-appropriate.
The educational sector represents a vast market opportunity that companies are scrambling to capitalize on. Amazon, for one, is attempting to push Kindle ereaders into the classroom by launching the new Whispercast service. One reason Apple has dominated the educational computing business is that it offers substantial discounts ($300) on their base desktop configuration for schools. But even after that, their most barebones computer still costs $999—not including the application suites necessary to make it useful. To pit a desktop against a Chromebook is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. But schools would be able to purchase two X131es for the price of one iMac—and still get a lot done.
Chrome OS hasn’t quite caught on with the general public. Between tepid consumer interest and the dominance of Windows and OSX, most users are unfamiliar with the improvements made to Chrome OS or the some 12,000 new applications introduced to the Chrome store since its revamping in 2011. But a cost-sensitive, fully functional computer for students could help Google demonstrate Chrome OS’s ability to meet broad needs. Language learning? Check. Video editing. Check? Perhaps schools are just what Google needs to show the public what Chrome can do.