It's been literally impossible to escape the news that Intel demonstrated its next generation Classmate design at IDF in San Francisco this week. And I have to admit the machine seems quite impressive and apparently Intel has also done some pretty neat things in terms of overlaying a simplified UI over the vanilla Windows XP installation. But let's take it step-by-step, shall we?
In terms of the technology the third generation Classmate is built around a 1.6GHz Atom processor, comes with 1GB of RAM, an unquantified amount of "Next Gen SSD" flash memory for mass storage, 802.11b/g/n for connectivity and a camera for taking photos and videos. So far so good, this is pretty much the standard configuration found on many netbooks by the likes of Acer, Asus, Lenovo and others these days. The really interesting feature is that the display can be flipped around into tablet mode and unlike on the XO it's actually a touch screen! Additionally the design includes an accelerometer so the screen changes automatically depending on how you hold the unit (like on the iPhone / iPod touch).
Since seeing is believing Intel released a short YouTube video to demo the Classmate 3 (funny cutting error at the beginning included)
With regard to the touch-screen and the UI this video (scroll to the bottom) done by Joanna Stern from laptopmag.com (who brought us the hands-on with Windows XP on the XO the other week) is almost more interesting.
To me the three coolest features shown in these videos are:
- the palm recognition thingy which allows you to rest your palm on the touch screen while using your finger or a stylus to interact with the device
- what little you see of the touch friendly interface overlay sitting on top of Windows XP
- how well writting "hello" in mspaint seemed to work
And I'm not the only one who's impressed. Joanna obviously spent some time toying around with the Classmate 3 and she concludes:
In the case of the Classmate 3, maybe the kids shouldnâ€™t have all the fun! It could be the best iteration of touch we have seen on a netbook thus far.
So at this point it would be quite easy to come to the same conclusion as BeckyJ from our forums:
Given the emerging development road map for the Classmate (touchscreen, atom processor, good keyboard, etc.) it's hard to imagine OLPC hardware will survive much longer.
However the way I look at it the Classmate 3 isn't really competiting with the XO and while (feature) comparisons might make sense on paper both machines are actually targeted at quite different markets. Why do I say that? Price.
Probably the most widespread criticism of OLPC is that so far the "$100 laptop" is still a $188 laptop and that's simply too expensive for most developing nations. With the Classmate 3 expected to come in somewhere north of $400 go figure how many developing nations will be able to afford these machines.
There's no doubt that Intel is spending quite a lot resources on developing laptops for educational purposes and by all means they seem to be doing pretty good. OLPC's mission on the other hand was always focused on affordable and appropiate laptops to be used in education in developing nations.
So in the end the Classmate 3 might just be the best thing since sliced bread when it comes to laptops for schools in places such as Portugal, the United States and Austria. But I honestly don't see countries like Peru, Uruguay, Nepal, Mongolia, Rwanda, etc. trying to implement 1-to-1 computing in education based on any of Intel's products, not even if the Classmate 3 ran Sugar...