Although CES is mostly about consumers (hence the name), Dell announced a couple of new products with serious implications for schools. Andrew Nusca has already covered Project Ophelia, a zero-client on a stick product from their recently acquisition of Wyse. Yesterday, the company also announced a new budget configuration for their Latitude 10 tablet, called Latitude Essentials. While neither of these products is meant to be exclusive to the education market, both have the potential to either significantly advance or redefine 1:1.
My first impression of the Latitude 10 was that, while it wasn't cheap, its form factor, features, flexibility, and, most importantly, use of full x86-based Windows 8 Pro (unlike the Surface which used the fairly hobbled Windows RT), would make the tablet an ideal fit for schools where it could easily be dropped into the ubiquitous Windows infrastructure. Robust, well-understood management tools, whether leveraging Windows Server tools for group policy and directory services or third party tools for imaging and deployment, could finally make tablets an easy fit for stretched IT departments, many of which haven't the time, budget, or wherewithal to introduce new mobile device management.
Price, however, was a real sticking point. It isn't hard to configure a Latitude 10 for close to $700 with Wacom Active Stylus support. A few other cool options can shove the price further north and out of reach of schools that start eying up $399 second-generation iPads. Those iPads have, for better or worse, become the de facto tablets of choice for most schools looking at either 1:1 tablet deployments or mobile tablet labs. While they aren't difficult to manage, especially if you have OS X Server running in a building, there currently isn't anything that can match the ease with which Windows devices can be deployed, integrated, and managed by most schools.
Sure, there are schools with Mac and Linux back ends, but Windows Server has a huge install base in this market. No matter how you feel about Windows and Microsoft, Active Directory and the countless Windows-based third-party management and imaging tools just make managing a network and a lot of users very easy. Ease of use and speed are the two most important factors for school IT staff who rarely have enough time to maintain hundreds of devices, deal with print and file services, manage users and privileges, and provide training and support to end users.
Which means that if the price premium between an iPad and a Windows tablet can be shaved to $150 instead of $300-$400, those Windows tablets start looking awfully attractive for Windows shops. The Essentials configuration for the Latitude 10 does just that. The newly available 64GB model starts at $579 and Dell expects to be releasing a $499 32GB model in the next few months. The Dell representatives I interviewed noted that these prices don't include Windows 8 Pro; they are running standard Windows 8, but most schools have campus licensing agreements with Microsoft that would make upgrades to Win 8 Pro very inexpensive.
The Essentials configurations are also lacking a few features of their more expensive brethren, but for most student users, these are non-issues. The replaceable battery goes away, as does a screen that supports the Wacom Active Stylus. Processors, memory, and other performance-related parts, though, are all the same. The Essentials versions are also compatible with the very cool dock made for the Latitude 10; the folks at Dell noted that many schools have expressed interest in outfitting computer labs with the docks, keyboards, and mice instead of full-blown desktop PCs and monitors so that students in 1:1 settings with the Latitudes can just walk into a lab, drop their tablets in the docks, and begin typing.
Project Ophelia, on the other hand, could really redefine what we mean by 1:1 and take the idea of thin, flexible labs to a new level. The thumb drive-sized devices plug into virtually any screen and immediately bring the user into a customized Android environment. For schools that have moved to cloud-based services like Google Apps or have the infrastructure to deliver remote or virtual desktops, this solution becomes downright cheap. Access to a school's instance of Google Apps, an LMS, and any of several other web-based educational systems could happen on a television, many monitors, or virtually anything with a USB port.
Project Ophelia certainly requires a different mindset than most student computing to date, but any schools looking at thin clients, VDI, or any other solution for maximizing student computing access and minimizing costs owes it to themselves and their students to look at the project.