Intel Corp. has unveiled the third generation of its low-cost laptop for students, which branches out from the standard clamshell design with a tablet-style option and includes a touch screen.

Introduced at the Intel Developer Forum 2008 in San Francisco Aug. 20, the new Classmate PC–slated for deployment by the end of this year–is aimed primarily at students worldwide in grades 3-8.

"We spent a lot of time with ethnographers, building this Classmate with students in mind," said Jeff Galinovsky, regional manager for the Classmate PC. "We’ve been collecting over two years of research to help develop the best PC for students."

Since its initial release in 2007, Intel has developed two prior versions of the Classmate PC: the rugged, camera-equipped, first-generation Classmate, and the Atom-processor Classmate introduced in June. The Atom processor is Intel’s smallest chip, built for low power consumption and designed specifically for a new wave of mobile internet devices and simple, low-cost PCs, Intel said.

Like Intel’s previous laptops, the new Classmate’s design concept will allow for local original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to release versions of the computer with different colors or decorations. Examples of these OEM-branded Classmate PCs include the HCL MiLeap (India), Olidata’s JumPC (Italy), FTEC’s SmartBook (Malaysia), Neo’s eXplore (Philippines), and CTL’s 2Go PC (United States).

newclass2

Intel’s newly formed Ecosystem Vendor Alliance, which connects technology vendors from around the world by letting them share common opportunities, resources, and experience, will continue to provide services for the new Classmate. The alliance provides tools, training, sales, marketing collateral, and online matchmaking of ecosystem partners.

It also allows vendors to list their products or services on www.classmatepc.com, where educators can search for applications, tools, and content that will meet their specific needs by subject, age, language, and country. As of press time, the alliance had more than 50 members, and Intel expects membership to exceed 100 in the next six months.

The alliance includes operating-system vendors, independent-software vendors, content providers, hardware vendors, and educational service providers.

The new design

Keeping in mind schools’ need for a tough, portable, low-cost PC with collaborative software applications for students, Intel’s research showed that kids like to have "micromobility," or the ability to carry their PCs around the classroom and outside to use with their peers.

"We realized that the clamshell [design] worked for the desktop, but maybe not so much for outside," said Galinovsky, "so we turned this PC into a tablet."

The new Classmate comes in either a clamshell or tablet design and has a touch screen. The touch screen is unique in that it is designed with palm-rejection technology, Intel said. This means students can rest their palms on the tablet and write or design at the same time, without their palms registering on the tablet–making it easy for students to write equations, draw a picture, or write paragraphs.

Video sneak peak of the new Classmate

 Already, thanks to Intel’s Ecosystem Vendor Alliance, vendors have come forward to make their educational software touch-enabled. For example, Pasco Scientific’s software is now touch-optimized. Soon, thanks to the Ecosystem, the Classmate’s internet launcher will be touch-optimized and therefore quicker, Intel said, as well as its network manager and collaboration software.

Another new addition is the Classmate’s accelerometer technology, which switches image orientation: A student can turn or flip the screen, and the image will turn or flip with it. This technology coincides with the third-generation Classmate’s improved 180-degree flip camera.

"Understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to education, we are passionate about transforming the way students learn," said Lila Ibrahim, general manager of Intel’s Emerging Markets Platform Group. "We want to offer more choices to meet the diversity of student-learning needs across the world."

Initial specs for the new Classmate include a higher-resolution, 1,024 x 600, 8.9-inch LCD screen and a smaller hard drive (instead of simple flash). It will include the Intel Atom Processor N270, which runs at 1.6GHz, and have 30-percent longer battery life, Intel said.

Drawbacks include the price and the more fragile aspect of the PC when in tablet mode.

"Of course, students will have to be more careful when in tablet mode, but it’s still very rugged. We’re working on how to get it more rugged," said Galinovsky. "Also, the price will jump with these new features, but we still want to keep the cost within the school-affordable price range." As of press time, Intel had not decided on a fixed price. (Earlier versions of the Classmate PC typically sold for about $399; so a tablet version is expected to be higher.)
 
Though Intel’s new tablet-design Classmate caters to science and math instruction, it also opens up the technology to the arts and writing "more than any other generation," said Galinovsky. "The interaction with the environment, the micromobility, the palm-rejection technology, and the large handle will make this PC great to use in all subjects."

Earlier this year, the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child initiative–whose low-cost XO laptop is a leading competitor of Intel’s Classmate PC–unveiled a new design of its own, with a dual touch screen that gives it the appearance of an eBook reading device. (See "Laptop-for-kids project to resume donations.") The next-generation XO, called the XO2, is not expected to be available until at least next year.

Links:

Intel’s ethnographic research for the tablet Classmate

Intel Developer Forum

Second-generation Classmate PC