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Microsoft's Big Education Announcement - Some Thoughts on What to Expect

27 Apr 2017 - Under the moniker of 'Learn What's Next' Microsoft has scheduled a major PR event for Tuesday May 2nd with CEO Satya Nadella expected to present. Microsoft has given some clues as to the announcement, by referencing its Education hashtag #MicrosoftEDU.

Education has been a huge area of focus and strength for Microsoft for many years. In addition to the opportunity for sales of its devices, OS and associated solutions there is a commercial argument that acclimatising young and impressionable users to your Operating System in early life will seed the desire to utilise that platform in professional and personal lives later-on. In addition, the obvious philanthropic angle of education plays a strong role.

Microsoft has sizeable investment programmes in place globally that seek to encourage and effectively implement technology usage in education.

Existing Market Status

Apple and Microsoft have traditionally dominated the education market but the rapid emergence of Google has significantly altered market dynamics (especially in the US market). Growing from a negligible share in 2012, Chromebooks accounted for 58% of mobile PC volumes shipped to the US K-12 market in 2016. The strong combination of affordable devices, simple but effective productivity tools via the ever-popular G-Suite, a growing number of 3rd party solutions partnerships and simple device management remains extremely popular with US teachers and IT buyers alike.


Outside of the US it is worth noting the picture is very different with Chromebook penetration levels currently much less developed (although growing fast in some specific countries). Microsoft remains the dominant market leader with a strong position in both developed and emerging markets.

Microsoft Fighting Back

Whilst the growth of Chromebooks has certainly been a major headache for Microsoft, it is not standing still. The past couple of years have seen a large number of developments across the Microsoft education offering.

  • Hardware - Much wider range of education designed entry level, cost competitive PCs, including devices at $189 RRP*

  • Software – Launched Microsoft Classroom, an assignment management tool

  • Software – Launched School Data Sync, a tool to assist admins integrate platforms and data/information transfer

  • Software – Announced InTune for Education, a tool to allow IT admins to easily set up and provision fleets of devices

  • Software – Launched integration with key third party platforms

  • Programmes – Tailored a wide range of its engagement programmes to increasingly focus on entry level parts of the market (i.e. Competitive to Chromebooks)

Squaring the Circle – The Announcement

This brings us on to the announcement. Rumours have been swirling for some time about the potential for Microsoft to launch a 'Cloud OS', with the education sector a key target. The recent introductions outlined above have helped to level the playing field with Google, differentiating Microsoft in some areas and to some extent mirroring the competitor's solutions in others.

Mike Fisher, Associate Director of Education at Futuresource Consulting commented, "Microsoft has made huge strides in developing its education ecosystem offering in the past year with major announcements on both the devices and platform side. To date however, these developments have not stopped Google's momentum within the US K-12 market. Microsoft continues to face challenges to win back end-user 'mindshare'. Chromebook users and administrators continually refer to the simplicity, ease-of-use and integrated nature of the platform. Rumours of a 'Cloud OS', a stripped back, simplified OS, designed specifically for Cloud with education in mind would 'square the circle' complimenting other recent moves Microsoft has made in education." 

Microsoft has launched entry level devices designed for cloud usage before, but uptake was low as the user experience of running fully fledged Operating Systems on entry level devices was generally perceived to be poor. Acceptance levels of a new 'Cloud OS' are likely to depend fully on execution. If as expected, users will only be able to utilise apps from the Windows Store, will users understand the restrictions this is likely to place and be willing to accept them? By offering a slimmed down offering, will Microsoft be able to package its education offering in a more streamlined manner, hence appealing more to the wider teacher community? 

As well as a likely announcement on 'Cloud OS', Microsoft is expected to make announcements about devices optimised to the new OS.

Other potential areas that could be discussed

  • Hololens – Microsoft has been trialling education & training applications for Hololens, especially in the medical/science arena.

  • Inking – Microsoft has for some time been pushing hard on its stylus capabilities, with a wide range of devices now available.

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Report Coverage and Definitions 

*Data included as part of report – K-12 market only, institutional sales not including 'Bring your Own'. Mobile devices only, (Notebook/Mac, Netbook, Tablet, Chromebook) not including Desktops.

Please note, the term 'device shipments' refers to sales of devices at a certain point in time. It is not and should not be used as an installed based data point. (For example this statement is incorrect - Chromebooks account for 58% of devices in US classroom.)


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