Frontpath set to learn its ABCs

Frontpath and River Logic set up pilot program to find out what schools want from an Internet appliance.

Sonicblue, formerly S3, subsidiary Frontpath announced on Monday that it will be teaming with startup River Logic in a pilot program to bring its ProGear Internet appliance to schools, grades kindergarten through 12, in the fall of 2001.

According to Stephen Webber, an International Data Corp. analyst who covers the education market, education is one of the last areas of growth for technology.

"A lot of companies have been trying to push into the education market because technology just hasn't gotten there yet," said Webber.

Frontpath will be providing its ProGear tablet, a wirelessly enabled Internet appliance; the interface and customizable applications will come from River Logic. The product, to be tested in Boston and California, will give teachers and students a customizable tool that they can use anywhere in the classroom.

Frontpath announced at its late September launch that it will be focusing its Internet appliances on vertical markets, with further plans on the consumer market later in 2001.

"Sensitivity to price points may be one of the reasons Frontpath is going after vertical markets," said IDC's Internet appliance analyst, Bryan Ma. "They are aware that there isn't much demand from consumers because of price, but in verticals where they can more easily justify applications they can also justify cost."

"The key to this offering is the ability to integrate the right content into the learning environment," said Pat Montgomery, a Frontpath spokesperson.

Teachers will be able to share curriculums, use up-to-date information, and integrate resources from the Internet into their curriculums.

According to Frontpath and River Logic officials, distribution and pricing of the tablets have not yet been determined. Part of the goal for the pilot is to work out these details.

"The potential for all schools to have this in the next year or two is there," said Montgomery.

But IDC analyst Webber is more skeptical.

"I don't see districts buying these things when you can get a desktop for the same price or even less and have more processing power," said Webber. "They'll have to be under $400 to $500 to gain real acceptance."

The wireless aspects of the device will only make a difference if the price is low enough for every student to have one; otherwise, students will still have to huddle around a unit just like they would with a desktop PC, Webber said.

"The real growth potential we see for schools is for Palm and Pocket PC devices," said Webber, "where schools provide the wireless access and kids can sync with their PCs at home."

According to IDC, PCs have about 90 percent penetration in households with students.

Webber also mentioned that schools could also be an incubator for e-books.

"Schools are always looking for digital text, but Palms don't really lend themselves to that," said Webber.

One company that has recognized the value of the education market and has had a hold on it for some time has been Apple Computer Inc. (aapl). But its hold has been slipping, opening the door for other companies.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs reportedly said to employees last week, "We screwed up in education."

Webber echoed Jobs' comments, saying, "Apple's hold is still strong, but it is slipping. The higher cost of ownership for Apple products and the aggressive push from PC manufacturers isn't helping."


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