Five ed-tech stories to watch for 2010

Google is involved in another development with significant implications for mobile device users: The company is getting set to unveil untethered cellular phones that use its Android smart-phone platform. “Untethered” means the phones won’t be tied to a particular service provider, allowing schools and consumers to use whatever provider makes the best sense for them.

Another technology rumored to be in development is a new tablet-style computer from Apple Inc., which might be the first major launch in a new class of slate-like multimedia devices that could overtake the laptop computer. Despite a growing cacophony of rumors, Apple so far has declined to acknowledge that such a device exists. But that hasn’t stopped zealous Apple watchers from generating an early buzz about the device, which is rumored to be coming out in March. As imagined, the device would be a single-color panel a little larger than Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader. Because users would be able to manipulate on-screen objects–including a virtual keyboard–by touch, there would be no need for a mouse or a conventional set of keys.

Yet another developer working on a tablet-style mobile computing device is the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, which just announced a change in direction. Gone are the organization’s plans for a twin touch-screen XO 2 computer, which folded like a book and was scheduled for release this year but never advanced beyond the prototype stage. In its place will come the XO 3, which is described as a “single sheet of flexible plastic” that cannot break. Although details are sketchy, OLPC claims the device will have a target price “well below” $100–but it’s not expected to be available until 2012.

One sub-$100 mobile device that is available now is the $99 Cherrypal Africa, a “mini-netbook” that debuted last month and is intended to bring internet access to the world’s poor. The features of what is being called the world’s first actual $100 laptop might not impress anyone–it’s small, with just a 7-inch screen, and “admittedly not exactly fast, though good enough to browse the web,” wrote company founder Max Seybold.

But Seybold believes the $99 Africa, which has a 400-MHz processor, 256 megabytes of RAM, 2 gigabytes of flash memory, and runs either Linux or Windows CE, might find a niche in developed nations, too.

“There are still more than 15 million Americans who can’t afford [a] laptop, who have to go to a public library or live without access to the internet at all, which is becoming increasingly difficult,” Seybold noted.

Related links:

Are netbooks right for education?

Google offers peek at new OS, a potential challenge to Windows

With a new phone, Google might challenge Apple

World’s first $99 laptop debuts

One Laptop Per Child changes direction, aims for ultra-thin device

Buzz swirling for Apple tablet

Report: Apple tablet device coming in January

Google to take wraps off new mobile phone

3. Will the digital textbook revolution succeed? And, how will new developments in the digital book market affect teaching and learning?

In our review of the top ed-tech stories of 2009, we cited the emergence of digital textbooks as the No. 1 story of the year, as both California and Texas–two bellwether states for textbook purchasing–are now moving toward digital models. But it remains to be seen whether these efforts will succeed, and policy makers and educators will be watching to see how these ambitious projects fare.

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