Microsoft is continuing to broaden its reach into school systems with the launch of its latest educational project: Bing for Schools. The project offers a version of the search engine customized for the student (i.e. sans ads and adult content). The media buzz around Microsoft’s program calls it a direct challenge to Google in that Google also offers student-tailored search functionality in school systems. While this claim may be true, it appears to also be a tactic aimed at helping Microsoft’s Surface RT survive.
The Bing for Schools program launched August 21 in the U.S. and allows schools to rack up Bing Rewards in proportion to how much users use the student-geared search engine. The more subscribers and usage the Bing for Schools search engine gets, the more points awarded to that school which it can then redeem for free Surface RT tablets. It calls to mind an earlier 2013 media hit for Microsoft: its efforts to bring internet and device technology to some school districts in Africa. But that it has a U.S.-facing purpose looks certain: the Surface has bombed with U.S. consumers. It’s done so poorly — especially considering Microsoft put almost $1 billion into marketing for the device — that analysts started worrying about the long-term future of Redmond’s tablet business. Operating Windows RT — a variant of Windows 8, Microsoft’s latest operating system — the tablet’s OS was blamed as one of the biggest contributors of the late 2012/early 2013 sharp PC shipment slump in the U.S. (The Surface was advertised as a “tablet PC”.) In a bid to get more buyers, Microsoft dropped the price by $150.
Regardless of the tablet’s failure to impress consumers, schools will gladly take it. The Bing for Schools program has been in beta before the official launch and racked up nearly 1 million students. But in terms of competition, it has the iPad to contend with on the hardware side, and Google on the software side. Apple announced it had sold 8 million iPads to schools as of the spring of 2013, and Google still maintains 67% of the search engine market, according to comScore. It’s possible that with its free tablet incentive, Bing can muster subscribers to push it past its 17.9% share of search. But that is not going to quell any doubts about Microsoft’s tablet viability.