In one of my first blog posts, following the release of the MacBook Air, I lamented the fact that no company had created what I thought was an appropriate portable learning device for students. The device I envisioned was small, cheap, portable and had the necessary tools built-in (word processing, digital imaging and video, editing, network connectivity, etc.).
Apparently I need to eat my hat, because a flood of inexpensive Ultra-Mobile PC’s have cropped up lately. Now this could be a case of the everyone-drives-the-same-car-as-me syndrome, in which, when you get a new car you begin noticing how many of those same cars are one the road. More than you ever noticed before. So once I started keeping a lookout for the perfect student computer, I started noticing them. It could be that.
But I do think there are other things at play which allowed Apple to create the MacBook Air. One is that hardware is coming of age in this area. Flash memory is dropping in price so it is now cost-effective to put a 20 GB solid-state drive in a laptop. Small screens are cheap, and clearly processors are too. I also think companies are jumping on a bit of a bandwagon. With the OLPC rpoject getting so much press and at least one manufacturer (ASUS) having success with its own UMPC (the EEE PC), this is the market to get into right now. Consumers, I think, are also realising that they don’t need a $2000 computer just to check their email and surf the web (sales of the Air are not stellar as far as I know).
I came across two good sites recently, one highlights the new HP ultra-portable (a bit of a high-end device) and the other covers the range of UMPC’s available.
HP launches The Linux Powered Mini Note Micro Notebook
Liliputing: A comprehensive List of Low-Cost Ultra Portables
This is a very exciting development. I will say, I don’t think any of the big players here have made the perfect one for very young children. I would add touch-screen, tablet-like behavior to make it truly friendly to younger children. Some of those listed at Liliputing have tablet abilities, but I would still like to see HP, Asus or Apple try their hand at this. Apple, interestingly, has a patent on a dual-screen laptop that might be very interesting. Instead of a keybaord on the lower half of the laptop, it has another screen, with the ability to do all teh things the iPhone does in terms of virtual keyboard, multi-touch interface and even, potentially, more screen real-estate. That would be cool!
As for me, I am pining after the new Asus EEE 900.
And thinking of moving my next school to linux-based portables for students. Any thoughts? Leave a comment.