Wednesday, January 21, 2009

UK kids get a new classmate

The Guardian's Jack Schofield has penned an article about Intel's introduction of the Classmate Tablet PC at the Bett education exhibition in London.

Intel unveiled its Classmate 2 reference design at last week's Bett education exhibition at Olympia in London, with the aim of bringing a convertible tablet PC to millions of schoolchildren across the globe. It works as a normal laptop PC, but you can swivel the screen round and fold it over the keyboard, which turns it into a touch-screen tablet PC. Children can then draw on the screen, or use it for handwriting recognition.

We've had convertible PCs for more than a decade, of course, but few people use them. Will that change? Possibly. The Classmate 2 is a cheap, durable, child-sized PC based on Intel's Atom netbook chipset and, like the original Classmate, it could tap a previously unexploited market.

At Bett, Intel's European vice-president, Gordon Graylish, told me: "We now have over 40 companies developing the original Classmate, nine companies have started building the convertible, and there are 30 companies in 40 countries developing software as part of the Intel Learning Series Alliance." The software bundle includes the Smart Classroom Suite, from the leading interactive whiteboard company.

"It's not about the device," says Graylish, "it's about supporting the local language, the local culture, and local manufacturers who understand how the [education] system works. It's about getting the right software environment, and making sure teachers are trained. The last thing we want is computers sitting in closets."

Intel reckons Classmate 2 convertibles are being produced by CTL and others in the US, by NEC in France, ASI in Australia, Hanvon in China, and the UK's CMS. CMS tells me it's making its Classmate PC, the Fizzbook Bang, in Liverpool, but will source the convertible Fizzbook Spin from Taiwan until sales volumes increase.

Zoostorm sells the Fizzbook Bang via Amazon, Argos, Littlewoods and other outlets, so Classmate PCs are not limited to educational buyers (

Graylish says that more than 1m Classmate PCs have now been shipped, counting all the brands. These will continue to be sold alongside the new convertible, and alongside the growing number of netbooks based on the same technology.

Also, Portugal has ordered half a million Magellan, or "Magalhães", Classmates, with Venezuela opting for 1m of the same design. This version - designed by Ceiia and built by JP Sá Couto - will have a larger screen and 3G and/or WiMax connectivity.

One of the annoying things about Classmate PCs is that, while they are available with Windows or Linux, Microsoft's ultra-cheap deal is only for XP Home. This lacks the tablet PC features found in XP Pro. Intel says you can use its ILS suite instead, while CMS points out that schools and local education authorities with Windows site licences can upgrade to Pro for a trivial sum. But people who don't have site licences will have to pay a silly price for XP Pro to get features that should be part of the operating system.

One of the unknowns is whether Microsoft will offer a cheap deal on Windows 7, which works well on an Atom-powered netbook with 1GB of memory (I've tried it on a Dell Vostro netbook, like the Mini 9).

Microsoft slashed the price of XP Home so as not to lose too much of the netbook market to Linux, and this has had an impact on its profits.

Either way, Microsoft can't charge as much for Windows on a £250 netbook as it did on a £2,000 desktop. Is it time for the answer that we suggested on minicomputers - software prices that are based on the power of the processor?

You can find the original article here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Software focus: SMART Classroom Suite

It is no secret that computer hardware isn't very useful without a suite of software applications. Intel has recognized this with the Classmate Tablet PC and has partnered with a variety of educational software providers to make these applications available to teachers and school districts. SMART Classroom Suite, from SMART Technologies, is a group of apps for teachers to create and deliver lessons to their students and for the kids to utilize the Classmate Tablet PC as a notebook.

Here is their press release explaining the partnership:

LONDON, United Kingdom --- January 14, 2009 --- SMART Technologies announces that Intel® Corporation will begin shipping its Intel-powered convertible classmate PCs with SMART Classroom Suite software installed in 2009. SMART Classroom Suite is an integrated software solution that includes the award-winning SMART Notebook software for creating and delivering teachers’ lessons, SMART Notebook SE for student assignments, scheduling and file management, SMART Sync 2009 (formerly SynchronEyes classroom management software) for computer-enabled classrooms, and SMART Response for student assessment. This collaboration marks the first time SMART education software solutions will be available, preinstalled on another company’s hardware reference design. The agreement is the latest development in a relationship between SMART and Intel that has spanned 17 years. SMART is also part of the Intel® Learning Series, a collection of hardware, software and services designed specifically for education, and which supports the technology industry in customizing products and services based on Intel’s research and platform design.

The convertible classmate PC is a fully functional laptop that can be converted from clamshell mode to a writing tablet with a variety of education-focused software applications designed to take advantage of this unique design. The writing tablet is able to recognize handwriting, so notes are easily converted to digital letters and numbers. With SMART Classroom Suite, the convertible classmate PC creates learning environments in which students can use their own portable computer to ask questions, share ideas, brainstorm and keep track of and complete assignments. Using a teacher computer, teachers can monitor student computer use and shift easily between individual, small-group and whole-class lessons that are digital and interactive. SMART Classroom Suite and the convertible classmate PC offer a particularly seamless experience for users of SMART Board™ interactive whiteboards, enabling many instructional modes for a variety of classroom configurations.

Intel’s classmate PCs are just one example of the company’s long-term commitment to education. The product designs are based on years of ethnographic research and global pilot tests into how technology can bring real benefits to diverse populations of students and teachers. The new design of the convertible classmate PC was developed from the existing clamshell classmate PC, which has been highly successful. Both designs will coexist to serve different education needs of students around the world, and the addition of SMART Classroom Suite will enable students, regardless of background or location, to benefit from the combined development efforts of Intel and SMART.

“We are thrilled to work with SMART in introducing a more creative and rewarding environment in which students can learn," said Lila Ibrahim, general manager of Intel's Emerging Markets Platform Group, responsible for the Intel-powered classmate PC design and industry-enabling efforts. "Working with a company like SMART enables our OEM customers, teachers and students to have an enhanced learning experience as part of the Intel® Learning Series."

“The development of the SMART Classroom Suite is our most significant software initiative to date and is the first to combine the needs of teachers and students in one software package,” says Nancy Knowlton, SMART’s CEO. “Intel’s decision to include SMART Classroom Suite as part of its software offering on the convertible classmate PC means educators and students around the world can easily access all the tools they need to achieve the best possible learning experience in today’s computer-enabled classrooms.”

About SMART and Intel
SMART sold its first interactive whiteboard in 1991. Soon after, Intel recognized SMART’s growth potential and formed a strategic alliance that resulted in Intel’s equity share in the company. A shared passion for technological innovation, a commitment to easy-to-use yet powerful solutions and leadership positions in their respective market segments made the alliance a natural fit. SMART and Intel have collaborated and supported each other’s activities in a variety of international education initiatives, including Intel skoool™ and Intel Teach. Both companies are committed to improving student engagement and educator efficiency by harnessing the power of technology in the classroom.


For more information, please contact:
Public Relations
SMART Technologies
Phone +1.403.407.5088
Fax +1.403.228.2500

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Intel announces the Classmate Convertible Tablet PC

January 9th at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Intel announced the Intel Classmate Tablet PC. Intel had previously announced and manufacturers are making the clamshell version of this device, but this was the introduction of the convertible tablet version. The model I saw was manufactured by Nobi and is a convertible tablet PC running either Ubuntu Linux or Windows XP Home Edition. It features an 8.9” touch screen display. You can activate the screen with your finger or with the included stylus. The display has palm rejection technology. I tested the screen using the stylus and there wasn’t any vectoring evident. It can be used with included handwriting recognition software and Evernote notetaking software was loaded on the device as well.

From a “tech specs” point of view, the device is semi-rugged for drop tests, per Intel. It utilizes the Intel Atom Processor N270 1.6GHz and they claim 4 hours of battery life with the 4-cell battery. There is also a 6-cell battery option. The base unit comes with a 60Gb hard drive and large drives as well as SSDs are optional. There is a built in 1.3MP camera which can be rotated so it can face the user as a webcam or face away for recording a classroom session of taking a photo. It has USB, VGA, 10/100 Ethernet connections as well as 802.11 b/g/n wireless. There is an SD slot as well. The weight is just 2.6 to 3.1 pounds depending on configuration.

I found the device to be very solidly built with a very comfortable feel. It just feels like the unit is exactly the right size for kids in kindergarten through 8th grade, its target market. The keyboard is small and tight but looked comfortable for children whose fingers are smaller than mine. As the father of twin 10 year old girls, I was very impressed by the overall build, feel and design of the tablet. It has a comfortable handle and will fit in a child’s backpack. They showed the daughter of one of the Intel guys using the tablet version and talked about the software applications available. ArtRage and Evernote can be included with the system and it has been touch optimized. According to Intel, each OEM will choose which software applications to bundle with the tablet.

The price for these units is $499 for the base unit.