Acer Chrome logo on Chromebook

Opinion post by
C. Scott Brown

Today, Apple officially took the wraps off its latest laptop, the 16-inch MacBook Pro. To commemorate the occasion, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing Philip Schiller conducted an interview with CNET to hype up the new $2,399 machine.

During that interview, the topic of Chromebooks came up, specifically the popularity of the devices in classrooms around the world. Schiller threw some serious shade at Chromebooks, even going so far as to say — and this is a direct quote — “they’re not going to succeed.”

Just so you don’t think we’re cherry picking here, this is the entire quote from Schiller when CNET asked for his perspective on the success of Chromebooks in education:

We did a study, many many years ago in education, about the importance and the role of technology in the classroom, how can it help with the education process. The result of this education research we did was that the students who succeed are the ones who are most engaged, which is really simple.

Kids who are really into learning and want to learn will have better success. It’s not hard to understand why kids aren’t engaged in a classroom without applying technology in a way that inspires them. You need to have these cutting-edge learning tools to help kids really achieve their best results.

Yet Chromebooks don’t do that. Chromebooks have gotten to the classroom because, frankly, they’re cheap testing tools for required testing. If all you want to do is test kids, well, maybe a cheap notebook will do that. But they’re not going to succeed.

Earlier on in the interview, Schiller talked about the success of iPads in classroom settings, so it’s not hard to connect the dots on what he’s trying to say. He’s saying iPads will inspire students to do better in school because they are “cutting-edge learning tools,” while Chromebooks are simply “cheap testing tools.”

As a quick aside, there is no doubt that Chromebooks are unequivocally successful. Chrome OS is the only personal computer operating system that has seen steady growth over the past few years. Over 60% of all mobile computing hardware purchased by educational institutions today are Chromebooks. In 2016, Chromebooks outsold macOS-based systems for the first time. Since Schiller is in the business of selling laptops, he no doubt knows these facts.

Related: 8 years on from the first Chromebooks: Google was right about them

Schiller isn’t saying Chromebooks won’t continue to be objectively successful from a market standpoint. What he’s saying is that kids who learn on an Apple product such as an iPad will be more “inspired” to do well in school as opposed to if that same student uses a Chromebook instead.

What Schiller is forgetting is that the main reason Chromebooks are so beloved by educational institutions and the students who depend on them is because they are cheap, reliable, simple, rugged, and secure. Sure, iPads and MacBooks are reliable and (kind of) secure, but they certainly aren’t rugged, simple, or cheap, which is why educational institutions don’t buy them like they do Chromebooks.

So let’s step back here for a second: Phil Schiller, a multi-millionaire who works for the richest company in the history of humanity, is talking down on the runaway success of cheap Chromebooks that normal, everyday students of all ages rely on simply because that’s what they can afford. That’s not a good look.

Phil Schiller thinks students would be more inspired to learn by using expensive, luxury machines over practical Chromebooks.

While this interview segment isn’t quite as obtuse as when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs told an iPhone user that they were holding their phone wrong or when Schiller himself labeled the removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 as “courage,” it’s still a real zinger. Schiller is sitting up in an ivory tower throwing shade at his competition because Chrome OS isn’t “inspiring” enough for our youth.

I would encourage Schiller and Apple to walk the walk rather than talk the talk. If Schiller really thinks Chromebooks aren’t inspiring enough for the millions of students who depend on them because that’s what their educational institutions can afford, why doesn’t Apple introduce some actual competition in this sphere? Where is the cheap, reliable, simple, rugged, and secure MacBook that’s affordably priced for school systems? Where is the incredibly simple and versatile version of macOS or even iPad OS that will allow systems admins at even the smallest of schools to easily and effectively oversee a fleet of computers?

Frankly, until Apple has some skin in the game, we don’t need the company to talk about how much better students would be doing if only they had luxury Apple products instead of Chromebooks. If I was a student with a school-owned Chromebook and I heard how some rich Apple executive thought I could do better with a more expensive and “inspiring” product, I’d say, “Thanks for pointing that out. We’re broke over here, so your commentary isn’t really necessary or helpful. Thanks anyway.”

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