No More Textbooks?

The race for the ultimate classroom computer has been on for a while. One Laptop Per Child was the celebrity frontrunner, of course, but its creators ran into some trouble and had to scrap their dual-screen OLPC XO-2 design. Meanwhile, Intel has had its eye on classrooms in emerging markets since 2007 with its low-cost Classmate PC series. And now a new kid has joined the class, at this month’s Wall Street Journal D8 conference in California. Everybody, say hi to Kno.

Kno (left) is a dual-screen e-reader textbook replacement that also allows students to take notes, access multimedia content, and generally interact with their study material in ways that are impossible with the outmoded paper textbook. The device has two 14-inch screens, each about half an inch thick, that are large enough to allow students to view full textbook pages without scrolling. At 5.5 pounds, it is much heavier than two iPads, but it will also be cheaper (less than $1,000). I’m particularly charmed by one little design detail: the borders around the screens are asymmetrical, so the Kno actually has inner margins and outer margins, just like a textbook. Plus, it carefully avoids the kiddie colors and oversize rounded edges that have become the hallmark of classroom computers.

SummitPeak_PortraitLfHandHold_0002Not to be outdone, Intel also unveiled a new design for its Convertible Classmate PC (right). This especially rugged model has been designed in partnership with TEAMS Design. The key concept is “micro-mobility,” which is a fancy way of saying that kids move around a lot, and they tug their laptops everywhere. The new Classmate PC is light and tough, with a single, swiveling, 10.1-inch touch screen that actually “floats” if the PC experiences shock and vibration. The surfaces are all scratch-resistant, the keyboard is anti-microbial, and there’s a convenient little handle.

All of this sounds fine and dandy, but I’m waiting for OLPC to get back on their game and race to the head of the class with the super-thin, super-cheap, super-futuristic X0-3. One thing’s for sure: the days of going to school with a 20-pound backpack full of books are, fortunately, numbered.

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