Intel is revamping its Classmate convertible tablet PC with a number of new rugged features, including a water-resistant display and touchpad, which are geared toward school children both in the United States and overseas. In addition, Intel has built technology into the Classmate to turn the PC into an e-reader.
In addition to the rugged and e-reader features, Intel is offering a new Atom processor with the Classmate - the Intel Atom N450 (1.66GHz) - as well as a larger hard disk drive and options for both 3G and GPS technologies. This version of the Intel Classmate can also support a number of different Microsoft operating systems, including Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, as well as several flavors of Linux.
Intel is showing off the new Classmate design at the CeBit show in Germany, which stared March 2.
While Intel is the driving force behind the Classmate program, these PCs are actually reference designs that local ODMs and OEMs use to create specialized laptops for school children. In addition, Intel works with a number of ISVs (independent software vendors) to create applications that are designed for children in different countries.
The Intel Classmate is also different in scope and sized compared to other programs that look to supply children with laptops, such as the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization. With the Classmate, Intel works with local OEMs, ODMs, and ISVs to create the laptops and the PC are then sold to government agencies and schools for a profit. (After a public dispute, Intel severed ties with the OLPC project about two years ago.)
While these types of laptops have the potential to help school children connect to the Internet and expand their educational opportunities, it also allows Intel to introduce itself and its products to potentially millions of new customers in emerging markets.
Right now, Intel estimates that there are about 2 million Classmates in circulation throughout the world. While the PCs are available in the United States, Jeffrey Galinovsky, a regional manager for Intel's Classmate PC division, said its countries in Europe and Latin America that have started using Classmate designs in earnest.
Some of the most successful deployments have happened in Portugal, but other countries, such as Venezuela, have also adopted the Classmate to their local needs.
The Intel classmate is still offered in two distinct designs. While the original Classmate is a clamshell laptop design, the newer version are a tablet design with touchscreen displays, a stylus pen and handle that students can use to carry the PCs. Intel first introduced the convertible tablet Classmate at the 2009 CES expo and these machines still cost between $350 and $400, although the clamshell laptops cost a little less, said Galinovsky.
In addition to the other features, Intel is looking to make the Classmate double as an e-reader. Intel has incorporated "page up" and "page down" functions into the tablet design and Intel is also in talks with publishers, such as McGraw-Hill Companies, into creating textbooks that take advantage of this new design.
"We are working with publishers like McGraw-Hill and Pearson on how we enable this to replace textbooks," said Galinovsky. "It's like the chicken and the egg. The publishers know they need to go there but they don't have the devices in kindergarten through eighth grade to do that. So, it's like I need the device for the content but I need the content to get the device going. This version of the Classmate with the 1366 by 768 [display resolution] support, which is what the publishers said they need to make this work."
However, Intel and textbook publishers have not announced any formal agreement as of yet.
In addition to the new Atom N450 chip, the classmate includes a 2.5-inch hard disk drive that offers up to 250GB of data storage, 1GB of RAM, a six-cell battery options that offers up to 8.5 hours of battery life, the 10.1-inch convertible screen and a keyboard that's about 95 percent of the size of a full-fledge laptop keyboard. There's also a 32GB solid state drive option.
The latest version of the Classmate is expected to begin shipping by the second quarter of 2010, perhaps as early as April.