IDF, San Francisco – The latest model of the Classmate PC was "sneak previewed" by the press yesterday and it seems that the commercialisation of the product in March this year has had its impact.
The Classmate was originally launched at the beginning of last year as an educational tool restricted to emerging markets. But, if we remember correctly from IDF in Shanghai ealier this year, it was an OEM in India who prompted a rethink on this strategy when he pointed out the thousands of Indians who wanted to buy the product as a first-time, genuine PC.
While the main thrust of the Classmate remains education though, the latest new features added to the third generation are sure to attract commercial users.
There are three main new attractions.
The Classmate (III) has now been designed to function as a tablet PC, it has touch-screen capabilities using either a stylus or fingers, and motion-sensing interactions that hold some promising future prospects such as children tilting the machines and "pouring" information from one to another.
Lila Ibrahim, GM of the Emerging Markets Platform Group at Intel, stresses that the primary objective of the Classmate is in education.
"We've been focused on education for 40 years and have increased this focus significantly over the past decade training teachers and initiating programmes in more than 60 countries," Ibrahim says. "This is not an overnight thing. We've been involved for decades in fostering education around the world."
On the new design features of the latest Classmate, Ibrahim says: "Understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to education, we are passionate about transforming the way students learn. We want to offer more choices to meet the diversity of student learning needs across the world.
"Our ehtnographic research has shown us that students responded well to tablet and touch-screen technology," she says. "The creativity, interactivity and user-friendliness of the new design will enhance the learning experiences for these children.
"This is important for both emerging and mature markets where technology is increasingly being seen as a key tool in encouraging learning and facilitating teaching."
The new Classmate design will be available for shipping to OEMs by the end of the year, but Ibrahim wouldn't be drawn on pricing.
"I can't reveal the price," she says. "Intel doesn't sell these [machines], we work with ODM with local OEMs.
"The pricing depends on volumes and configurations and while we have seen some Classmates coming in under $200, we have also seen some of them run up to the $500 mark. But that would be a full configuration … fully-loaded … large screen … everything."
Growing acceptance of the Classmate as an educational tool, Ibrahim says, is borne out by recent rollout of a programme in Portugal where 500 000 of the PCs will be provided to elementary school students nationwide; and the donation by Mexican telco Telmex of 50 000 Classmates to students.