Education app vendors beware: Google wants to be teachers' pet

The company is prepping classroom aide software for its Apps for Education suite

Google is developing a tool to help teachers manage classroom tasks, a move that should have education app vendors trembling as if they'd been sent to the principal's office.

The software, called Classroom , will become part of Apps for Education, Google's cloud email and collaboration suite for schools and universities, Google said Tuesday.

Customers interested in trying out the tool can apply for inclusion in a private test period. Google expects Classroom to be generally available in September.

The move is a surprising one, given that Google had limited itself to providing the core Apps for Education suite and relied on vendors of learning management systems (LMS) and other education software for specialized functionality via integration through the Apps Marketplace.

There are about 90 education software vendors in the Apps Marketplace. It's not clear with how many Classroom will end up competing directly.

Google described Classroom as a simple, easy-to-use tool designed to help teachers "create and organize assignments quickly, provide feedback efficiently, and communicate with their classes with ease." Classroom will tap Apps for Education components such as Docs, Drive and Gmail.

Forrester analyst TJ Keitt said the move could be seen as a competitive play, but from Classroom's description, it doesn't seem a head-to-head rival for full-featured education apps, in particular LMS tools.

"At least, not yet. What Google is offering is a way of organizing and distributing content, but it doesn't do anything with regards to grading, lesson planning, certification management, reporting and a host of other features necessary to really be considered an LMS," he said via email.

IDC analyst Melissa Webster calls Classroom "a nice feature" for Apps that represents a departure from Google's usual strategy of giving its applications a broad, horizontal scope.

"I think this shows how important education is these days for capturing users young, and I'm sure this was something Google was able to do fairly quickly without a huge effort," she said via email.

Google is already testing Classroom with more than 12 schools and universities. The company will also provide developer tools. Apps for Education is free and Classroom will be too.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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