On Thursday, Microsoft announced a $900 million write-down of their Surface RT tablet inventory. At a very conservative value of $300 per tablet that equals 3 million unsold tablets sitting in boxes doing nothing. They've even dropped the education price down to just $199. Now Microsoft is well-known for playing the long game when it comes to market share. So why not use the now written off units and create a user base of schools to build on? At the ITSE conference in San Antonio last month each attendee received a free Surface RT. A brilliant move, but just a speck of sand compared to what could be done. The following are three examples of how Microsoft can leverage their way into the education tablet market.
Universal Giveaway: With 160,000 public and private K-12 schools in the USA, Microsoft could create an immediate installed base of 19 Surface RT's per school. Each school would have complete control over how they use their allotted Surfaces. The options could be a classroom cart averaging 1:2 classroom usage. A second possibility is a specialized tech class to explore tablet learning experiences. Third on the list is a rollout to special education. Tablets have shown a good assist to special needs students and placing them in this sort of environment makes a great deal of sense. Fourth, is providing the Surface RT's to tech-saavy educators in the building, thus allowing for a potential organic development of tablets in the classroom.
Universal High School Giveaway: It's no secret that the iPad has a huge base in the K-5 to K-8 classrooms across the country including my own. Instead of trying to fight a battle with way fewer education apps, focus instead where the market is still wide-open, especially with the growing prevalence of BYOD schools. With 37,000 public/private high schools that equates to 81 Surface RT's per building. Once again distribution is wholly school dependent, from underprivileged students to a couple of specialized 1:1 paperless classes as a test bed for a future technology-based school.
Teacher Proposal-Based Giveaway: Obviously the most subjective of the three. It places Microsoft in the unenviable position of choosing winners and losers, though with three million tablets as long as minimum standards for the application are met it would seem to be a rubber stamp process. On the positive side, the tablets go those with specific plans for immediate usage in predefined programs. To sweeten the deal those schools get a free school subscription to Office 365 (why it isn't free or at least ridiculously cheap to schools is beyond logic).
Microsoft has spent way too much time, effort and dollars to walk away from this market. With any of the three proposals the gang in Redmond has a chance to truly rescue their position in education. Between the move to mobile computing and the rise of Google Drive in education, Microsoft needs something to change the momentum. Why not give it a try Mr. Ballmer, what have you got to lose at this point?