Google JamBoard: Lessons Learned
Google has recently announced that it is winding down the JamBoard product, and it will no longer be available after December 2024. Along with no longer selling the hardware, the software is also being discontinued. In a little over one year, the product will be completely useless. Google has said that it will work with customers to “compensate them” for their devices, but it is not clear what that entails. While I don’t believe this is a huge issue for higher education, as I do not know of any colleague who uses the JamBoard, it brings up a number of interesting issues to consider.
For most people, this should not be a big surprise. The only real benefit of the device was that it tied into the Google ecosystem and worked well with Google’s products. Many K-12 schools are also Google schools, so that made it more attractive. But the Jamboard was also extremely expensive. The 55” model was a whopping $5,000, and end users had to pay $600 per device for an annual maintenance license, in addition to a Google Workspace license (schools likely had the workspace free). My educated guess on who purchased the Jamboard would have been public schools that had money for a construction or renovation project, or that had been awarded a large grant. Very, very few public schools have the capital to make these purchases, or the operating budget to sustain the $600 per year, per device fee. I imagine the product was not profitable for Google and that is why it decided to kill JamBoard off. Google also may have sold so few of the JamBoards that it decided compensating customers was less expensive than keeping the product line running.
This leads to my first issue with schools’ decision to purchase JamBoard: what factors are taken into account when standardizing a product? Google is notorious for creating products and then either killing them or ignoring them. It is part of Google’s strategy to continually test out new products and see what takes off. For schools to make a decision with such a large monetary impact, one has to assume the question of how long Google will support this product was asked. Regardless of the developer/manufacturer, how much do the previous actions of the company play into decision-making? Google is by no means a bad company, but it is very cutting-edge and constantly changing. There are many other companies that provide products and solutions and support them for a much longer time period. The risk profile of an organization should be a factor when considering which products to use.
My second issue with this news is how such a decision impacts the end user. I sympathize with the school districts who have JamBoard in their classrooms. Looking beyond the costs of choosing and installing new products, an even bigger problem will be the training required. Hours of training and support have already gone into getting teachers to use the products. Any device with the type of software integration that the JamBoard has needs a lot of training over time. To plan to replace all that equipment and train all the teachers on a new product with one year of notice is simply overwhelming. The cost of training may very well equal the cost of replacing the equipment. This also factors into the first issue I raised. When buying a product, do organizations think about the training time it will take to bring end users up to speed? Do organizations consider the upgrade schedule of the product’s software, and whether previous upgrades have been disruptive?
Finally, I wonder about what organizations do when a standard is changed or eliminated, particularly one that is so end-user-focused. Customers don’t really care what projectors or control systems are in place, because they don’t need to directly interact with them. They do care about the things they need to interact with (the OS of a computer, the end user interfaces, document cameras, SMART Boards). Whether organizations are making a decision by choice or necessity, how do they plan for such a significant change in the technology that customers use every day?