SAN JOSE – In education, ’A’ has long stood for Apple. But nowadays, ’B’ is for the big school battle with ’C’ the competition — Dell Computer Corp.
With technology boot camps for teachers and computer-leasing programs for parents, Apple Computer Inc. has been fighting hard to regain ground after losing its lead in education sales to Dell two years ago.
It’s had some success: Apple boosted its market share from a low of 19 percent in the fourth quarter of 2000 to more than 23 percent in the second quarter of this year, according to International Data Corp.
Still, Dell had 37.5 percent in the second quarter.
Apple, the first computer maker to focus on the education market, gets an estimated 40 percent of its revenue from schools. But it has had trouble fighting Dell’s knack for keeping prices low and shipping supplies fast — the same advantages that give Dell the overall crown in worldwide PC sales.
And in an increasingly un-Apple world in and outside of schools, even Mac loyalists in the education community are skeptical Apple will ever reach the 45 percent market share it enjoyed in 1996 — before Dell and other Microsoft Windows-based PC companies revved up their school marketing initiatives.
“It’s incredible they’re still alive and kicking in the schools at all, considering that 95 percent of the world is behind Bill Gates,” said Christopher Werler, founder and president of Teacher Street, an education software publisher.
Today, 75 percent of the software Teacher Street sells to schools is for Windows users — a complete reversal from when most developers wrote educational programs for Macs only, Werler said.
Apple officials know they face an uphill battle.
“We hear from educators and parents — ‘I want my student to be trained on computers that they’ll be using at work,”’ said Cheryl Vedoe, hired last year as Apple’s vice president of education marketing to bolster school sales.
Apple has largely become a niche provider catering to graphics professionals, with less than 5 percent of the overall domestic PC market — compared to 24 percent for Dell and 13 percent for Compaq Computer Corp., according to Gartner Dataquest.
PC makers are increasingly going after sales to schools because education is one of the few market segments still growing despite the computer industry slump.
“It’s not necessarily an Apple issue: it’s that the competition has grown,” said David Daoud, a PC-education analyst for IDC.
Apple must also contend with the marketing muscle of Microsoft, which last month kicked off a 30-city tour to promote learning tools it has developed that include its new Encarta Class Server, lesson-management software that runs only on Windows operating systems. The Redmond, Wash.-based giant also is talking up multimedia applications like movie editing — an area in which Apple remains strong in classrooms with its popular iMovie software.
In the past year, Apple has lowered its prices to compete better and launched a program for parents to lease laptops for eventual purchase through schools. In March, Apple acquired PowerSchool, a maker of Web-based software that automates administrative tasks like grading and attendance.
In hopes of showing that its computers provide the better learning platform for students, Cupertino-based Apple held a three-day meeting with a national school superintendents’ group and eight technology boot camps for teachers around the country this summer.
“We try to convince schools that the highest rule for technology should be as a tool for teaching and learning ... and that’s not necessarily the best tool for accountants and aerospace engineers,” Vedoe said.
Apple needs more customers like the Englewood School District in Colorado, which has 1,500 computers — 70 percent are Apple and 30 percent Windows-based.
Two years ago, when technology director Dale Stout started to upgrade the district’s computer systems, some teachers, parents, and technology consultants tried to pressure him to convert entirely to Windows PCs.
“They were saying we should prepare our students for what’s being used in the real world,” Stout said. “In reality, the two systems are so close together, it really doesn’t matter which one you use.”
So he decided to get Apple computers for use where they work best — with easy-to-use learning and graphics tools — and Windows-based PCs for science and engineering.
But more often than not, school districts are choosing one platform over another — and migrating away from Apple.
Michigan’s Rochester Community Schools decided to switch this school year to Dell, buying $8 million worth of equipment upgrades and services for its 14,000 students. School officials cited cost as a reason.
At California’s San Lorenzo Unified School District, officials last year looked only at non-Apple systems for a $25 million project to equip its students with wireless laptops. The district chose Dell after the company agreed to subsidize one-fifth of the project’s cost and “sat at the table” with the district from the beginning of the planning process, said assistant superintendent Arnie Glassberg.