In a development that it claims will be a game-changer in education, technology company Marvell has announced the prototype of a $99 tablet computer that students can use to surf the web, interact with electronic textbooks and other digital media, and collaborate with each other around the globe.
Educators familiar with Marvell’s announcement said they were intrigued by the possibilities of such a device for teaching and learning but would wait to pass judgment until the product comes to market.
If the device works as advertised, they said, its price point could make it a very attractive option for putting technology into the hands of every student. But one potential hurdle could be the kind of applications it runs and whether these match with users’ expectations.
Marvell last week announced the prototype of its Moby Tablet, which the company describes as a “bold new education initiative” that delivers “always-on, high performance multimedia” and features “live, real-time content, 1080 full HD and 3-D media, and full Flash internet.”
The Moby Tablet could “eliminate the need for students to buy and carry bound textbooks and an array of other tools,” said the company in a statement.
The Moby is powered by the Marvell ARMADA 600 series of processors. It features gigahertz-class processor speed, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/FM/GPS connectivity, high performance 3-D graphics capability, and support for multiple software standards, according to the company—including Adobe and Windows Mobile.
Marvell hasn’t said when the Moby would ship, and it has not yet released a full spec sheet. The company did not return an eSchool News reporter’s messages requesting more information.
In announcing the Moby during a keynote speech to publishers at the Future of Publishing conference in New York City, Marvell Co-Founder Weili Dai said that “Marvell can help propel education into the 21st century with an all-in-one device that gives students access to the best live content, information, and resources the world has to offer—from books and online resources, [to] text, video, news, music, data expression, or any medium.”
She continued: “With Moby Tablet, students can conduct primary research, reach out directly to the world’s leading subject experts, and even collaborate with one another around the globe. Best of all, the device is highly affordable.”
Dai said the device would address three important issues in education:
1. Printed textbooks are not current. Electronic versions of textbooks on the tablet can be updated and refreshed continuously, she said.
2. Textbook costs are soaring. According to Marvell, downloadable electronic versions of textbooks for the tablet could sell for a fraction of the bound versions.
3. School bags are too heavy for students. The actual size and weight of the Moby will vary by configuration, Dai said, but the tablet in its ultra-thin and light versions is expected to hold a full year’s worth of books but weigh less than half of a typical textbook.
Marvell also announced a pilot program in partnership with the Washington, D.C., Public Schools, in which the company will donate a Moby tablet to every child in an at-risk school as part of a multi-year program in new media and learning.
Marvell said it would announce more details about this program at a future date.
What educators are saying
Even with its low price point, the device is not guaranteed to succeed, some education technology experts warned.
To sell for $99, the Moby tablet would have to run on a version of Linux, speculated ZDNet blogger Christopher Dawson, technology director for the Athol-Royalston School District in northern Massachusetts. That could be a problem for some educators who have not fully embraced the open-source operating system.
“Ubuntu will be the only way that these little tablets will be able to run on the Marvell chipset, and the only way to hit that $99 price point,” Dawson wrote. “The Flash implementation … rules out Windows 7 Mobile as well. So Linux it is.”
According to Dawson, the problem with running Linux is that teachers might be “put off” by using a system they’re not familiar with—and development efforts in interactive textbooks are favoring Apple’s iPad and the several Windows-based tablets that are available, not Linux-based devices.