One in five devices sold to schools last year were Chromebooks; that’s a huge jump from the year before
Education sales of Chromebooks, the lightweight laptops that run software from the internet instead of a local hard drive, have skyrocketed in the last year—and Chromebooks now account for 19 percent of the devices sold to schools last year, according to Futuresource Consulting .
That’s up from 1 percent of education sales in 2012, Futuresource says.
Chromebooks run on Google’s Chrome operating system, and applications are delivered to the devices through a Software-as-a-Service model. All information is saved continuously as students work, and software updates occur automatically.
Chromebooks come with built-in access to the Google Apps suite of web-based software, including Search, Gmail, Docs, and Drive. Chromebooks are solid-state devices but offer Flash storage, so students and teachers can work offline as well. What’s more, the devices boot up very quickly, so little class time is wasted waiting for the machines to operate.
For many school IT personnel, the central management capability of Chromebooks is a key advantage. Using a single interface, IT staff can create user groups, push out applications to students’ devices, blacklist or whitelist applications, track assets, manage logins and passwords, and change network and device settings. The management console allows IT administrators to change or upgrade every Chromebook at once, or to target groups of them or even a single device.
This central management capability is “a very attractive option for IT departments in schools,” said Kelly Kovnesky, supervisor of network operations for the Mukwonago Area School District (MASD) near Milwaukee, Wis., in a case study . “The management console saves time and effort.”
With Common Core testing looming next year, MASD officials began looking for affordable technology to deliver the online exams to their 4,700 students. They chose Samsung Chromebooks, purchased through CDW-G, and are rolling out 900 of the devices via carts at each school.
Education sales of Chromebooks could see another boost as Samsung  unveils its second-generation Chromebooks today. The Samsung Chromebook 2 doubles the amount of RAM contained in the company’s first-generation device and increases the battery life by up to two hours, among other enhancements.
(Next page: More details about the Samsung Chromebook 2—and a special offer on Chromebooks from Acer as well)
While the Samsung Chromebook 2 costs more than its predecessor ($319 instead of $249), it features enhancements in both design and performance, the company says. The original Chromebook will still be available to schools as well.
The Chromebook 2 uses the same “stitched” design found in Samsung’s Galaxy Note line of tablets, and it includes a faster processor. It also comes with 4 GB of RAM (instead of 2GB) and offers eight hours of battery life, up from 6.5 hours. An optional software value pack includes an English learning app to support multilingual students.
For $399, schools can buy a Chromebook 2 with a larger screen (13.3 inches instead of 11.5 inches) and a slightly longer battery life—up to 8.5 hours, or two full hours longer than the battery life in the original Samsung Chromebooks.
“As schools are migrating to true one-to-one deployments, the devices are following students home—so battery life is very important,” said Jen Langan, director of mobility product marketing for Samsung Education.
Acer  is doing its part to boost Chromebook sales as well: The company is giving educators the chance to pilot Chromebooks to see if the devices are right for their schools.
K-12 educators can apply for this program online  through April 15. If accepted, they must take part in a short conference call with Acer about their use of Chromebooks in the classroom. Then, they will receive an Acer C720 Chromebook to evaluate for 30 days.
At the end of the trial period, and after another short call with Acer to discuss their experience with the device, participants in the pilot program can return their Chromebook and owe nothing—or explore opportunities for long-term use with an Acer representative. Only one application per school will be accepted.
In December, Dell announced  a new Chromebook for education. The Dell Chromebook 11 features an 11.6-inch screen and what Dell claims is up to 10 hours of battery life. A 4GB version went on sale last month, and a 2GB version will be available later this spring.
Follow Dennis Pierce on Twitter at @eSN_Dennis .