Apple, Dell fighting hard for ed market

As laptops for students movement grows, the big guys are seeing big bucks in districts across the country.

Competition is fierce when it comes to providing laptops for schools, and the big computer makers are duking it out to be numero uno, reports Business Week Online.

At Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia, the goal is to outfit high school students with their own laptop—a lucrative deal for any computer company. Henrico got attractive proposals from Apple Computer and Dell. In the end, school officials choose Dell.

"It was competitive," said district spokesperson Michael Dickerson. "We wanted to be responsible with the taxpayer's dollars, but we wanted to make sure that we were getting quality technology."

To soften the blow, however, Apple has just won a four-year contract for the district's middle schools.

The drawbacks to one-to-one laptop programs are mostly about funding. And some teachers and parents question the appropriateness of giving students seemingly limitless possibilities for distraction. The other problem is that teachers don't have proper training on how to integrate laptops into their curriculum.

But the market is growing and companies like Apple and Dell want a large piece of it. Both companies have designed proposals to entice schools to buy their products. Apple has made serious traction in other districts.

Apple has made an aggressive play for the market. The Maine Learning Technology Initiative was designed to furnish every seventh- and eighth-grade student in the state with an iBook. "The response Apple had to our bid indicated a clear understanding of our educational goals and our needs," says Jeff Mao, Maine's coordinator of educational technology.

But Dell is making big strides into an area long considered Apple's strong suit.

Dell is experimenting with a program it calls "Intelligent Classrooms," which puts together a package of technologies -- including wireless Internet access, personal response systems and electronic whiteboards -- all built around a particular subject, such as math, science or English.

The public school district in Round Rock, Texas, where Dell is based, has installed 16 intelligent classrooms in four schools. "In our long-range plan, we didn't think one configuration fit classrooms [of all] curriculum areas and age levels," says Ed Zaiontz, executive director for information services for the Round Rock Independent School District. "The advantage is we can target teachers that are ready to put these computers to use."