Intel Classmate Notebook Gets Touch, Tablet Upgrades

The Intel Classmate Notebook design is about to get an upgrade that will give the laptop touch-screen capabilities and tablet features. In addition, the new Classmate design will include the Intel Atom processor and an updated software stack meant for students in the classroom and their teachers. At the Intel Developer Form, Intel showed a working Classmate notebook model running a modified version of Microsoft Windows XP, but Intel is also supporting Linux.

SAN FRANCISCO-The Intel Classmate PC notebook is undergoing a makeover that will add touch-screen and tablet capabilities to the low-cost laptop for students, and these versions of the Classmate will also include the Intel Atom processor.

At the Intel Developer Forum here, Intel representatives were showing off the new Classmate design that is expected to hit retail shelves and the education IT market by the end of 2008. While some of the original Classmate designs used the older Intel Celeron processor, these updated laptops will come standard with single-core Atom processors.

Intel also announced a dual-core Atom processor at IDF, but that chip is not expected to make its way into the Classmate design anytime soon, said Jeffery Galinovsky, a regional manager for Intel's Classmate PC Ecosystem.

The Classmate PC is Intel's own version of the low-cost laptop and it competes, at some level, with the One Laptop Per Child XO. Unlike the OLPC nonprofit project, the Intel Classmate notebook is more of a design than an actual product, and it provides a way to supply low-cost PCs and to give local manufacturers, as well as Intel, a way to make a profit.

In July, Intel and Portugal announced an agreement that would bring 500,000 locally made Classmate PCs into the country for use in the classroom.

Since the start of 2008, OEMs from Hewlett-Packard to Acer have been trying to duplicate the marketing success that Asustek Computer has enjoyed with the launch of its low-cost Eee PC, which is designed for children and adults in emerging markets. In addition to the Classmate, Intel has also designed a different version of its Atom processor specifically to work with this new category of low-cost laptops that the chip maker has called "netbooks." The dual-core Atom processor announced at IDF is designed for use in these types of low-cost notebooks, for now.

While the updated version of the Classmate retains the clamshell design of the original, Intel has also incorporated tablet features into the notebook that work with a 9-inch display.

"The students like to move around and like to interact with their environment and other students," Galinovsky said. "It's hard with a clamshell design to do that. It's a little bulky and wants to tip if you have it at a weird angle. To make that easier, we allow the Classmate to retain that clamshell design for classroom work but when students want to move around, they can fold it into a tablet."

The Classmate retains a handle that students can also use to move the notebook around. Students can write on the touch-screen with a stylus. The Classmate also retains an accelerometer that will allow for the rotation of the screen image when using the tablet features of the notebook.

Intel adopted a single-touch capability into the notebook with a feature called "palm rejection" that will allow a student to lean on the laptop with his or her hand and still write without interference. The palm does not register with the touch-screen. Intel has open APIs to allow developers to write applications for the education market and is also working with software developers to create applications that will work with the touch-screen.

At IDF, Intel was demonstrating Classmate PCs running a Microsoft Windows XP operating system designed for the education market. Intel also supports a number of Linux operating systems and the chip maker said it expects Ubuntu's education edition operating system to work on these notebooks at the launch later in 2008.

The Intel Classmate PC sells from $200 on the low end of the market to $500 in some retail stores. Intel does not have a specific price set for the tablet version of the Classmate yet.