Google IO and the "Education Story"

My response to Joshua Kim's story yesterday about the lack of education-related news at Google IO.

June 28, 2012

The announcements from the Day 1 Keynote at Google IO yesterday prompted my Inside Higher Ed colleague Joshua Kim to write a lament that there wasn’t an education angle to the products that Google unveiled on stage. (In case you missed the news, that included the latest Android operating system, a new Google tablet, and the Nexus Q, as well as the chance for those in attendance to get their hands on a pair of the new Google glasses.)

I’m pretty sure I’m the only education technology reporter here at Google IO. And I’ve promised a friend not to write a story touting how Google Glass will “revolutionize” education. Perhaps someday in the future, the type of heads-up display that Google co-founder Sergey Brin showed off with such flair will be used in education. I don’t know.

But as the only edu-journo here, I didn’t walk out of yesterday’s keynote disappointed at all that Google hadn’t uttered “education” or “learning” once. Clearly the Nexus tablet, the focus of Kim’s story, isn’t an education device. It’s not really an iPad competitor, I’d argue. It’s an Amazon Kindle Fire competitor. And that, as I’ve argued elsewhere, is definitely not an educational tablet either.

I realize that many in education are terribly excited about the potential for tablets. And K–12 schools in particular have purchased a lot of iPads. Many people have been expecting, even hoping for, a tablet competitor for the education market. Will it be Amazon? No. Will it be Microsoft? With the recently announced Surface, maybe. Will it be Google? No.

Google’s interest in education isn’t about a piece of hardware, even though it’s clear that that the Android operating system is important to Google and it’s clear too that Apple has pressured Google to go into the hardware business now.

Google’s interests in education involve the Web. They’re centered on Google Apps for Education and on the Web apps that are in the Chrome Web Store. (True, Google has the Chromebooks, and that’s a hardware play. But the Chrome operating system is all about the Web.)

All the things that Kim says he wants to see in an educational Android appstore – courses, transcripts, badges, coursepacks, textbooks – are already on the Web. Why do we need them in an app? Why would Google want them in an app? (Apps and their content aren’t indexable by search engines, after all.)

Today’s Google IO Keynote, incidentally, was all about the Web. (Day 2 always is.) Google touted the adoption of the Chrome browser and of its Google Apps business and school accounts. It also unveiled new features in the Chrome browser, in the Chrome OS, and in Google Drive. (Google Docs are finally available offline. Hooray!) It also introduced iOS versions of the Chrome browser.

And that’s a key piece – it isn’t just the fact that what Google claims is the world’s most popular browser can now work on all those iPads and iPhones. It’s a recognition that when Google talks about the future of mobile, it doesn’t just mean Android. It means the mobile Web.

Kim ends his piece by asking why Google is ignoring education in its mission to organize the world’s information. I fear that by only thinking about apps – whether they’re Android or iOS – we might be headed away from that.


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