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Apple's for the Teachers
What is going on with Apple's market share in education

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

There has been much ado about Apple's supposed recent decline in the Education Market.

Example of the one sided reporting is at:

That is just one of many such articles that I find each and every year. I suspect there will be a few in the near future (month or two) as schools usually do their purchasing in late-spring and early summer. Many of these "stories" seem timed to coincide with those purchases.

The basic point is always the same, that Apple is declining in the education market (implying imminent doom), using Dataquest and or others numbers (without any valid interpretation of those numbers), and rehashing the same invalid conclusions or points. The problem is that most conclusions drawn from statistics are wrong -- even in the rare cases where the stats themselves are right. The truth of the situation is not that hard to understand, if you think.

Many claim that Apple is losing market share in education (or did last year). I don't doubt that. But lets look at the facts.

EA (Distribution)

Apple's biggest supplier to schools (Education Access) was going bankrupt last year. In a desperate gamble, they moved away from Apple to Power Computing to try to correct some internal problems. The ploy was not wise -- especially in hindsight after Apple pulled out of the Clone Market (and PCC dissolved). This basically compounded EA's terminal problems -- and they basically went out in a flaming crash. For all practical purposes they are no more. Is that Apple's fault? Was that some reaction to the Mac market? In both cases the answers seems to be no. Due to mismanagement, EA flamed out on their own. But they were one of Apple's big Educational suppliers. Their dramatic exit harmed Apple's bottom line (in educational market share) for that year. This is a reflection on EA, not on Apple. Even the short term downturn in marketshare is more a reflection on EA than Apple. Despite these facts, the press and analysts are using the downturns as a bludgeon against Apple. That is desenguousness at its worst.

Normally after such events, the markets will bounce back. So I don't normally take these things too seriously. But of course with the press scaring the managers and politicians in education, the recovery is less certain. (Still Apple already has numbers in teh 50%+ range).

Market subtleties

Schools use computers for many things. Are all "new" computer sales in schools going to curriculum? The obvious answer is "no!" Schools are using computers for things like enrollment, in the library for book searches, for test equipment in the auto shop, in administration, and in specialty classes to teach one thing (like accounting, typing, or even running Microsoft Office). Yet the Mac has been specializing in curriculum -- and Macs still rule in curriculum (because they are better). But the PC's are being brought in for these grunge tasks.

This trend is important in understanding markets. If you only look at total number of PC's being brought into the school, it can look like the PC's are displacing the Macs. The truth is that PC's are filling other (non-curriculum) niches in schools, which means something to someone -- just not Apple. Mentioning that Apple is losing TOTAL market share, without explain the why's, is pretty deceitful. The truth is just that the use of computers in schools for non-curriculum functions is growing faster than for curriculum. So even when it looks like Apple is losing market share, the truth may be that the Mac is actually gaining (in its sub-markets). So these numbers may only be reflecting a shift in what computer are used for in schools.

Does BMW tremble when it looses total market share compared to the entire transportation market? Probably not. They are concerned with their core markets. They may shift into other markets if it is an opportunity, or maybe not, but total market share is not as important to them as their core market share. Market share and core-markets are two completely separate things. People that don't differentiate, and are supposed "analysts" are either really stupid (and bad at their jobs), or are being deceitful.

Reliability hurts

To make matters worse, Macs have a far better life span than PC's (in schools I think it averages 2:1). That can mean some interesting things. Let's say it takes 2 PC's (trended over 5 years) to equal one working station -- and it takes only one Mac (a pretty realistic projection). This reflects that the Mac is a better value. Some people don't look at that, they look at SALES. It looks like the PC is better (selling 2:1), but the truth is the opposite, they are costing twice as much to keep running. I run into these sorts of numbers games all the time -- but supposed MBA's and Analysts can't do math and figure out what the numbers mean.

  1. How often do you see numbers reflecting total working curriculum stations in schools?
  2. How often do you see stats on what computers teachers are buying for themselves, or want more of?
  3. Have you seen any "teacher satisfaction" stats of PC's to Macs?
  4. Have you seen any repair cost comparisons in schools?

I suspect those would not reflect the "Apple is dying" theme, and so they are ignored. Yet I visited schools, and talked with teachers. They often seemed frustrated by IS forcing bad decisions on them, or on the high failure rates of PC's (or difficulties being self-supporting). Yet if you were an IS person, you would certainly know that job security lies in buying more PC's (with higher failutre and maintenance rates).

Which Markets

To compound the problems of confusing statistics, there are dramatically different markets. K-6 / K-8 is a dramatically different market than middle school (6th - 8th grade) or high school (9th - 12th grade). Not to mention higher education (College). Which market are you discussing when you talk numbers?

Apple pretty much owns K-6 -- primarily because of the curriculum, but also because it is far easier to use (for students and teachers). These schools have smaller staffs and have to be more self-sustaining -- again, the Mac is a big win for them.

Secondary Schools and high schools are buying more computers lately for a variety of reasons -- and Apple doesn't do as well in those markets. They are also far more likely to have an IS/IT staff (with their own biases and self-interests at heart), and be more controlled from the district. The IS staff is often more concerned with control and job security than with real productivity or downtime, so the trend is towards more PC's. But even this is spotty, with smaller schools and districts trending towards Macs (wisely), and bigger Schools or centrally controlled Districts trend towards PC's. Remember, IS/IT and PC's are about power and central control -- not about productivity.

Higher-Ed is also blotchy. Macs get pockets of reason in the bureoucracy of higher-ed. Many depts. that are creative (Graphic Arts, Advertising, Publishing and so on) are often heavy Mac usage. The depts. that are research oriented and somewhat self-maintaining, like Post-Grad work, tend to be pro-Mac or pro-Unix. But the other depts. are more likely to be controlled by the bureoucracy (tyranny of conformity) and far more likely to be PC oriented. So you find lots of PC's in areas where conformity is valued: accounting, business, engineering, and so on.

So the point is not so much what the whole of education is doing -- that doesn't matter. What matters is, "Are the depts. that have Macs trending away from Macs or not?". For the most part, it seems that Macs are pretty stable in their core markets -- for good reasons. The added performance, productivity (ease of use) and lower installation and support costs are going to keep Macs entrenched for quite a while to come. So even if other markets are growing more, that doesn't hurt the Mac -- despite what the statisticians tell you. So I would look at MY area (interests) before I made a decision.

The Press

The press loves to pretend that they have no effect on things. That they are are just observers and reporters. Anyone alive during the Vietnam War, Rodney King Riots, or even the OJ trial, should be painfully aware that this is not the case. They create the news, they spin the news, the alter and effect reality.

The press has been harping on "beleaguered Apple", and there is no doubt that they are hampering Apple's ability to sell machines. Especially when the first thing people ask when you mention the Mac is, "Is Apple going to be around in a few years?". Schools have become concerned and are looking around -- not because of reality, but because of the media created perceptions. There is little Apple can do about this one. But blame should be properly placed. When the press does not hold its own accountable for their actions, which they don't seem to have been doing for the last 30 years, then the quality of information will continue to decay (the truth will be sacrificed for spin).

Every time the press allows some head-up-their-butt, hyper-biased, wannabe analyst like Cheryl Currid or some other PC apologists to spew their hate (revenge) as News or Information (without any counterbalance or questions), they are harming Apple, it's employees, and those in the computer industry. Since the press isn't holding them (or themselves) accountable to the truth, I think that the public should hold the information industry responsible. To the Press it isn't about the truth, what they care about is who signs their paychecks -- or who has the bigger ad budget or political power.

So the Press is fraudulently implying that Apple is losing the Educational Market, or they chose to quote others who are saying so (same thing). Yet Apple never owned the educational market -- they owned certain large niches in that market. In those they still seem to be doing very well.

The same goes for general reporting as well. The press scares away Apple's customers saying that they are losing TOTAL market share. But TOTAL market share includes markets that Apple was never in, and that don't effect Apple. Many of these machines are never going to run a SINGLE off-the-shelf software Application, so they don't effect Apple's software market either. Marketshare also doesn't reflect survability and so on, it only reflect NEW markets or growth. The reality is that much of that growth may not be effecting Apple at all. But people read these cooked up nonsense numbers, and punish themselves by making the wrong choices (out of fear).

Market Realities

The sad reality, is that despite all these non-factors, Apple is losing ground. The price of PC's have gone down, and people look at that (even when the costs of PC ownership has gone UP). Politics and "generalization" are winning over specialization and reason. The FUD and misinformation is causing doubt -- and that doubt is translating to lower sales (for Apple). The misinformation about those markets, looking at sales without understanding, and interpreting stats to fit a bias, are all harming the Mac, Apple and the public at large. More so, in education I believe they are harming our kids, our schools, and costing taxpayers money.

The question is, "How much should we care?" I personally think that if we value education of our children, and we value how OUR dollars are spent in education, then we should be pissed off every time a school transitions away from the better platform (in costs, ease of use, longevity, and so on). We should care more so when the bad choice is made for the sake of politics, or so some IS person can get more job security and a raise, or because the press wants to sell articles so bad that they will tell lies (partial truths) to achieve that ends. Lastly, some districts are deciding to increase their costs because misinformed parents want their kids to use the same machines as the real world -- when many of their kids won't be in the real world for 5 or 10 years. The irony is that the Mac has traditionally been 5 to 10 years ahead of the PC (it usually takes Microsoft that long to copy what is out on the Mac). We all know that Windows95 or 98 is far more like the Mac of 5 to 10 years ago than the PC's of that era. So the best machine to train kids on today (for what the computing world will be like in 5 to 10 years) is still THE MAC!

Created: 03/31/98
Updated: 11/09/02

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