Intel is preparing to roll out the latest version of its Classmate PC design, which now includes tablet and touch-screen features along with an Atom processor, at the 2009 CES expo in Las Vegas.
The latest incarnation of the Intel Classmate PC now gives Intel and its OEM partners a choice of two different laptop designs for school children. In addition to the new convertible tablet reference design, the Intel Classmate PC still offers the original clamshell laptop design.
Intel began showing off the new design at its Developer Forum in August but actual Classmate PCs based on the new specifications will not be available until the 2009 CES, which starts the week of Jan. 5. All of the Intel Classmate PC designs will now use a single-core Atom N270 chip running at 1.66GHz.
The convertible Classmate PC will also support a version of Microsoft Windows XP that had been specifically designed for this type of laptop. The Intel design also supports more than a dozen Linux operating systems, including a version of Ubuntu.
Unlike the type of laptop created by the non-profit One Laptop Per Child project, Intel created a reference design for a low-cost laptop for school children that a local OEM could manufacture and sell. While this is one way to supply a number of low-cost notebooks to children, it also allows the local OEM, as well as Intel, a way to make a profit.
Earlier this year, Intel severed its ties to the OLPC project after a public dispute.
Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, said the Intel Classmate serves two purposes for Intel. 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.
"It fits pretty well with [Intel's] Atom strategy, where you get reasonable performance for reasonable low cost and low power," said Kay. "The primary goal of Classmate is to offer the current, non-PC users who are sometimes referred to as the -Second Billion.' A lot of people in China, Russia, Brazil, India and elsewhere are just coming on right now and some of them are price conscious and they want something simple. There is also the school angle."
Since the start of 2008, a number of governments, notably Portugal and Venezuela, have contracted with Intel and local OEMs for laptops based on the Classmate PC design. Portugal announced a 500,000-laptop deployment and about a third of those PCs have been delivered to schools.
While the convertible Classmate PC design retains most of the features of the clamshell design, such as the 8.9-inch display, a handle that students can use to carry the notebook and a waterproof keyboard, Intel added some additional technology.
Intel incorporated an accelerometer into the Classmate PC design that will allow for the rotation of the screen image when using the tablet feature. Intel also adopted a single-touch capability with this version of the design that allows a student to use either a finger or a stylus pen. At the same time, the Classmate PC has a feature called "palm rejection," which allows a student to lean on the notebook and write without interference.
The goal of these and other features is to allow students to have more flexibility when it comes to taking their laptops outside of the classroom and away from their desks.
"When we were in classrooms watching kids and seeing how kids and teachers interact and how students and students interact, we noticed that kids would pick up their laptops and go to a corner or go outside to work on a science experiment," said Jeffrey Galinovsky, a regional manager for Intel's Classmate PC Ecosystem. "With the clamshell design, that sometimes became difficult. It wasn't set up for that type of micromobility we had been talking about. That was one reason to move to the convertible tablet."
When Intel and its OEM partners release the convertible Classmate PC design in 2009, Intel will also open up its APIs to allow ISVs to develop applications for the education market and allow third-party developers to take advantage of the tablet features.
Intel and OEM are also offering a four-cell lithium-ion battery that offers about four hours of battery life and a six-cell battery that offers up to six hours of battery life. The traditional clamshell design offers anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes of extra battery life compared to the convertible tablet version.
Although Intel is offering drivers that will allow the Classmate PC design to support Windows Vista, Galinovsky said that many of the chip maker's OEM partners will likely wait for the release of Windows 7 before offering an upgrade from XP.
While a laptop based on the Classmate PC design retails from $200 to $500 in the United States, Intel does not offer a specific price for these notebooks. The convertible design is expected to cost a little more than the traditional design.
Besides the new tablet Classmate PC design, Intel is planning to talk about a new initiative that will begin to take shape in 2009 called the Intel Learning Series, which will bring hardware, software and services together as an overall offering for schools and governments interested in adopting the technology.