Google Challenges Apple’s Dominance In Schools With Google Play For Education, Now Shipping

Google is no longer the best-kept secret in education — that is, if Google’s presence in any market is ever “a secret.” Over the last year or so, the search giant has been quietly expanding its footprint in education and is moving quickly to capture a greater share of the K-12 market.

Thanks to Google Apps for Education sweeping through schools much as it did through the business world, Google’s presence in education has been growing fast, but has been mostly limited to its cloud productivity services. However, with the launch of Google Play for Education, Google’s march into education has become more pronounced, as it revealed a service today that will eventually combine the best of its hardware, software and marketplace businesses into one.

The company first revealed its plans to extend Play — its app and content marketplace for Android — into the classroom at Google I/O in May. Today, after spending the last give months beta testing the new service with students and teachers at more than 50 schools, the company is finally pulling the trigger.

In practice, Google Play for Education essentially aims to make discovering educational apps a breeze, while helping content providers reach a wider audience of teachers and schools. After surveying teachers and IT admins, Google said today in a blog post, the number one problem they wanted Google’s help solving had to do with time. In other words, already overwhelmed with busy schedules, they wanted time savers — both tools to help students learn in the classroom and tools to help them transition those classrooms to new curriculum standards.

To do that, Google is taking this familiar, two-pronged approach, combining hardware and software. This starts by offering schools the ability to choose one of three “classroom ready” Android tablets. First is the Nexus 7, Google’s 7-inch Android tablet, which will be available to K-12 schools beginning today at a cost of around $229 (plus a $30 management fee for those who want to get more Google assistance). Beginning next year, Google will be adding to its roster of education-focused tablets with a 10-inch ASUS Transformer Pad and an 8-inch HP Slate 8 Pro, though pricing is not yet clear for the latter two.

But to really lure in schools, Google knows it has to go further. In the K-12 education landscape, the company is not only going up against the familiar duo of Apple and its iPad, but a growing list of education-focused mobile devices as well, like Rupert Murdoch, Joel Klein and Wireless Generation’s Amplify and whatever becomes of Intel’s acquisition of Kno — to name a few.

To do that, Google is tying in Google Play and a few other things to sweeten the deal, like offering bulk purchasing with purchase orders and instant distribution of educational apps, videos and other content to their Android tablets via the cloud.

With Google Play for Education, teachers can discover apps “approved by teachers for teachers,” the company says, as well as videos and books. Teachers can search for approved apps by grade, subject, by price — and, most importantly — by Common Core standards. In fact, the company will even be paying some teachers to review apps for them, marking those reviews with a yellow badge. As of launch, there will be “thousands” of “edu-approved” apps, through which Google will be offering the standard 30/70 split with developers.

To reduce the time and work needed to get schools up and running, Google’s new tablets with Google Play for Education are built on Google Apps for Education, which means that students can use their existing Google accounts to log-in without having to begin the set-up process all over again.

Another key element: When teachers find an app they want to use, they can proceed to check out, where they’ll now have the option to make a purchase order rather than having to use their own credit card and get reimbursed by the school.

On the other side, schools and IT administrators can now set up a classroom of tablets in a few simple steps. Once they set up the first device, admins will be able to load a class list from a local spreadsheet, the company said, and provision additional tablets simply by bumping a new device with the administrator’s tablet. The idea, Google Play for Education product manager Rick Borovoy told EdSurge today, was to enable classrooms to “provision a class in under 10 minutes.”

While teachers and schools would usually avoid deploying a bunch of tablets during the school year, by using this simple “bumping” provisioning process, schools can circumnavigate this headache and potentially provision thousands of tablets during the school year without missing a beat. Or at least that’s the idea.

With its new tablets that come with Google Play for Education built-in (and built on top of Google Apps), schools can now adopt Google’s education tools all in one go. This allows Google to have another entrance into the classroom on top of its Chromebooks initiative, which have already seen hundreds of districts adopt the company’s web-centric laptops.

So far, Google says that it’s been working with startups like ClassDojo, Socrative, Explain Everything, NearPod and thousands more to get their apps up and running on Play for Education. In terms of what this means for K-12 schools in the U.S., Google had this to say in its announcement today:

With more than 30 million people using Google Apps for Education already, tablets with Google Play for Education easily plug into many schools’ existing technology. This is an affordable, 1:1 solution that puts greater power in the hands of teachers to find the best tools and content for their classrooms. We’re continuing to evolve the Google in Education offering and are happy to bring even more choice in devices and content.

So, stay tuned for more.

For developers looking to learn more, check out the Android Developers blog here and teachers can find Google Play for Education here.

More in Google’s intro video below: