CRN Exclusive: Google Terminating Play For Education In A Small-Scale Retreat From Android's Educational Market

Google is retreating from a small segment of its booming education business by ending the life of a product that was developed to encourage adoption of Android tablets in schools, Google partners told CRN on Friday.

Google Play for Education, an extension of the Play software distribution platform, was rolled out around two years ago with the intent of putting more tablets into the hands of students. The app store, curated in close collaboration with educators, enabled solution providers to manage both devices and their specialized content.

But the Internet giant from Mountain View, Calif., confirmed to CRN on Friday it will cease selling Play for Education licenses to partner tablet vendors March 14. Google said it will continue supporting all existing accounts, allowing current customers to access the education-focused app store for as long as their devices are in service.

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Play for Education was available to educators, and partners that serve that market, through a select number of Android tablets. The product is in the Google for Education family that also sells Chromebook laptops, the best-selling brand in the educational market.

While Play for Education will be withdrawn from the market, Android tablets will still be able to run all the educational apps that were available through Play. And some of Google's Enterprise Mobility Management partners will continue offering their own Android marketplaces for discovering and pushing content to students.

One Google partner executive who asked not to be named told CRN he learned of the product's termination after attempting to procure tablets for a customer.

"We noticed something funny a couple weeks ago" when a client requested a quote for a number of Play for Work tablets, the Google partner told CRN. "Basically all manufacturers told us all those devices were end-of-lifed."

Asus, then Samsung, said they didn't have replacement devices that were Play-integrated, the reseller said. They told him to look at Chromebook laptops as an alternative.

Google later informed the partner that Play for Education was on its way out, and the company should focus on its Chromebooks practice for serving the educational market.

That partner exec said he believes some capability issues, like a limited number of student profiles that could be loaded onto a single device, coupled with competition from Apple's iPads, kept the Android tablets from deeply penetrating the education market, and convinced Google to step back from the program.

Google made a big marketing push last year for the educational tablets, the partner exec said, but "I'm not sure it ever clicked."

Chromebooks, however, compete really well with iPads as well as traditional desktops and laptops, the partner exec told CRN.

And a new generation of touch-screen Chromebooks entering the market can be flipped into form factors that essentially create functional tablets, sometimes at lower prices than actual tablets, he noted.

The subset of Android tablets that supported the Play for Education app, and were geared for school environments, were models from Google's own Nexus brand, as well as from Dell, HP and Samsung Galaxy.

Google, in a written statement, told CRN: "We're committed to providing schools with the best-in-class tools for the classroom, including Chromebooks, which are the #1 selling device in US K-12 education, and a strong and growing ecosystem of educational apps. We'll continue to support our Google Play for Education customers and the devices that they have purchased."