I spent a lot of time talking with people at last week's Intel Classmate PC Ecosystem Summit about "value propositions". I know that's marketing jargon, but as I sink deeper into the Twitterverse, I'm beginning to embrace a bit of marketing voodoo. What does that phrase really mean, though, in terms of the Classmate PC?
Obviously, the Classmate (whether the convertible tablet or traditional, rugged "clamshell") is more expensive than the average netbook. Intel would like us to believe (and I agree enough that I'm purchasing at least 60 convertible Classmates this summer) that the ruggedness, form factor, usability, and hardware/software ecosystem add enough value that a premium price is justified.
The prices, in fact, are hardly "premium" ($500 for a small form-factor, rugged Windows tablet would be competitive if any other such devices existed on the market). However, they can be a tough sell when administrators and school committee members can snag $200 netbooks at Best Buy. While anyone who has ever used a current-generation Classmate knows that bargain basement netbooks won't survive the same 60cm drops, don't include classroom management software, aren't validated with a variety of scientific hardware and software, and can't provide an out-of-the-box turnkey solution for a lab or a 1:1 program.
Yeah, there's a lot of value added there. Where it starts getting a little stickier is when one thinks about the features required to keep Classmates competitive with other netbooks on the market. Is it enough to simply be more rugged and include a host of classroom software that can't be found in a single package elsewhere? Or does Intel need to keep driving up screen sizes like every other netbook manufacturer?
Is it worth an extra $20 (or whatever, I'm just making up numbers) for a more rugged case? Bigger batteries? A high-definition screen? The ability to play back high def video? A more natural handwriting experience?
What would make you spend more to outfit a classroom?
These were certainly good questions for over-dinner discussions between OEMs, Intel, and software developers. Of course, I can't talk too much about the results of the discussions, but I can ask you what gives a 1:1 computer in a classroom value?
I see a lot of value in the Classmate, particularly the convertible tablet. However, there are plenty of people who say spend less money on hardware and more money on transforming the way we teach using a cheap 1:1 solution. Talk back and give me your thoughts on value, whether in 1:1, Classmates, or some other classroom tech.