The Netbook Summit 2010

I just got back from the Netbook Summit in Burlingame, CA.  I was skeptical about attending at first. I mean seriously, a summit just to talk about netbooks?  But after two days of meeting new people and listening to where vendors think these devices are going, I’m glad I did.  I think the organizers of the event did a great job of opening it up to Educators and thanks to Jim Klein, Andrea Bennet and CETPA for arranging the Educator Discount.  Netbooks are getting a lot of traction in Education, primarily because of the features that make them netbooks; cheap, portable, durable and long battery life.

I came away confident that netbooks are here to stay and that the platform is only going to get better.  The video capabilities of chips like the NVIDIA Tegra and AMD Fusion are going to bring HD Video to netbooks in a big way.  Tablets are coming and were talked about in several sessions.  It seems that a lot of people think that computing is moving into the mobile space and that the days of the Desktop are numbered.  I would tend to agree.  I don’t want to buy Desktops for my school anymore, in fact I want to go 1:1 (discussed more in depth in my podcast – Small School, Big Tech).  But even at netbook prices, finding the money to make that happen is a real challenge. I’m really waiting for sub $300 pricing. Hopefully we’ll see it soon.  We’ve managed to hit the $280 mark on our recent netbook purchases by buying the previous generation models of Acer netbooks.  Since Acer upgrades their models every few weeks, this hasn’t been too hard to do.  But I can only play that game for so long before I miss an upgrade cycle. To be sustainable, prices need to come down (or we need real tech funding in education). And not to leave out tablets, the iPad was mentioned but at $499 I don’t see it as a viable 1:1 solution for education.

Really what I think is missing from netbooks, iPads and Android tablets is a real focus on Education.  Not just a device but an entire ecosystem of connected devices build around the classroom.  The market potential is huge.  Intel has the classmate (Intel was absent from the summit), but I’m not sold on the features or the price.  I think too often tech for Enterprise and Consumers in shoehorned into the Education space without truly addressing the unique needs of the classroom environment.  I don’t count microbial resistant keyboards and rubberized shells as innovations for Education.  The little light on the Dell 2100 that shows when a student is using a browser (is that only for IE I wonder?) is a gimmick.  I mean wouldn’t you expect your students to have that light on all the time?  There was one purpose built device on display being marketed to education that combined an E-Reader with a touch based android tablet.  I’m sorry but it looked too fragile to survive a day in a classroom.

The tablet is an interesting form factor, but kids are still going to need to type.  A portable tablet with a KVM (keyboard/monitor/mouse) charging doc seems like the perfect paring to me.  Some $200 touchscreen device that kids can take with them wherever they go, like a portable library, interactive response system and camera and a lab full of docs where kids go to type papers.  Even better, make a second doc with a GPU built into the monito for hard core multi-media that the kid’s touchscreen can plug into and pair with.  Of course, this isn’t something we’ll see anytime soon, not for lack of imagination but mainly because the currently Operating System paradigms don’t really support this model of computer.  Maybe Android and Apple iPhone OS will change that.

Of course my thoughts on all this may change tomorrow after iPad training and I take one home and really see what it can do.