Classmates for the rest of us!

Intel announced Wednesday that it will be offering its 2nd- and 3rd-generation Classmate PCs in the United States and Europe. This is a welcome change from the company's previous offerings only to emerging markets, leaving those of us who didn't live in Asia, Africa, or South America wishing for a cheap, rugged laptop for our children and students (and for ourselves, for that matter).

Intel Classmate stock photoIntel announced Wednesday that it will be offering its 2nd- and 3rd-generation Classmate PCs in the United States and Europe. This is a welcome change from the company's previous offerings only to emerging markets, leaving those of us who didn't live in Asia, Africa, or South America wishing for a cheap, rugged laptop for our children and students (and for ourselves, for that matter).

As Intel has often noted, the Classmate PC remains a reference specification; long-term, Classmates will not be Intel-branded, but will rather be branded under the OEM that ultimately manufactures them. India's HCL and Indonesia's Zyrex PC manufacturers are already selling retail versions of the Classmate, but later this year we should expect announcements from OEMs that market in the US and EU regarding distribution of ultraportable laptops based on the Intel reference specifications.

I had a chance to speak briefly with Intel's Agnes Kwan Thursday night about this move, as well as plans for the next two generations of Classmate PC. Within a few weeks, we should have 2nd-generation Classmates available for review, but for now, I can pass on what she was able to discuss (as she noted, it will be up to the individual OEMs to make announcements on product offerings).

First, the 2nd generation marks the beginning of model differentiation based on necessary price points, emerging vs. mature markets, student requirements, etc. Thus, users in mature markets with considerable PC experience would have access to higher performance components, larger screens, etc. Users needing lower price points, early childhood markets, or emerging markets where students have much more limited experience could purchase Classmates more like the 1st-generation models.

While Intel will still be developing and providing specifications to the OEMs here in the States and in Europe, there will flexibility at the OEM level to actually build and distribute laptops based on the specs that best meet the needs of their target markets.

For the second generation, the differentiation will not happen to a large degree at the processor level. These laptops will still be using mobile Celeron processors. However, the 3rd generation will incorporate Atom processors, as well as the potential for higher-performance units, again depending upon user requirements, market segmentation, etc.

Ms. Kwan noted that Intel's commitment to education (particularly the use of the Classmate in educational markets) remains unchanged; Intel will be working with OEMs to promote and design these new machines as educational products, although the exact direction they take will be up to the OEMs.

She also confirmed that the future iterations on the Classmate will still be able to run both Windows and Linux, as can the current generation.

Finally, she noted that the decision to begin offering Classmates in mature markets was driven by some successful pilots, but mostly public and OEM demand. Not only have OEMs approached Intel directly, but consumers have submitted many inquiries to Intel about availability. Of course, I'm sure that the impressive sales of machines like the Asus Eee didn't hurt, either.

Check back for reviews of the new Classmates soon.

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