Whether it’s future baseball stars or computer jocks, the conventional wisdom is to catch them while they’re young. And while that’s an effective strategy for recruiting talent, it’s also a great way to secure customers. Apple (s appl), Dell (s dell) and countless other companies offer special products to college students in the hope that they will become lifelong customers. Google (s goog) is taking a similar approach, but skewing even younger, with features in its Apps suite of products that target K-12 students and their teachers.
The business logic is simple: If kids grow up using Google’s web-based services, there’s a good chance they won’t consider using Microsoft (s msft) Office. They won’t even need to think about what type of computer to use, since all Apps services can be accessed anywhere there’s an Internet connection. And as more people use the Internet — Google’s Internet, that is — the more money the Mountain View, Calif.-based company rakes in.
“Education is seeing the power (of the cloud) very early and very clearly,” said Jeff Keltner, Google’s business development manager for apps in the education sector. The enterprise community, on the other hand, has been hesitant to use Google Apps due to, at least in part, security concerns.
With an eye to amassing a large population of future users, Google’s new features are aimed at making it easier and more attractive for elementary, middle and high schools to adopt Apps. (The company offers Apps to K-12 schools for free, just as it does for universities.) Among the new offerings Google rolled out this month are free access to Google Message Security, which lets IT administrators create filters to block spam and viruses in email messages, and sites where teachers can share lesson plans with one another. All Google Apps products are presented to academic subscribers devoid of advertisements so as to comply with school IT requirements.
Google introduced its Apps Education Edition for the academic sector in 2006 and it’s since gained ground at universities. The population of college students using the service today has grown to over 4 million worldwide and Google is signing up 70-75 new college campuses a quarter.
Though Google isn’t making money off its Apps subscriptions at K-12 schools, it’s still an indirect investment towards the company’s long-term business. Such a strategy puts added pressure on Microsoft, which has been embroiled in a battle for college students with Google via its Live@edu service.