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Netbooks, Notebooks, and Smartbooks

Please allow me a few words of “distraction” around technology. While the vast majority of our 1-to-1 conversations around AALF focus on a broad range of topics, most focused on pedagogy and transformation, I think it is timely to share a few thoughts with you around the emergence of new “form factors” of laptops, most notably what are currently known as netbooks.

I must firstly say I am somewhat bemused by the breadth of reactions to the emergence of this new category of laptop; on the one hand we have an Australian State Government, New South Wales buying 250,000+ of them for their Year 9 to 12 students, and on the other hand I read the comments of some, who see these netbooks as a “companion” device, and of being “underpowered”.

Let’s try and review the situation rationally. First and foremost I would reflect that we seem to still after all these years, be besotted by power. Remember it was a small group of 10 and 11 year old girls who kicked this whole thing off in the early ‘90’s by using a hard-diskless, 8.4” mono screened Toshiba 1000 laptop, that hardly connected to anything…but who managed to build ideas, construct LogoWriter games, develop some robotic applications…and oh and yes, write...more, more often and better. They didn’t realize they didn’t have a very powerful computer in their hands, but they sure had some powerful ideas about what the laptop they had allowed them to do.

I would also reflect on the five and half year old tablet I just parted with, which, I’m told had about the equivalent power and capacity of many of these new netbooks. …and somehow it managed to serve me rather well. The only point to note is that the current generation of netbooks have limited multi-tasking capacities, meaning you would not normally want to have more than 2 or at the most 3 applications open at once. My final reflection is that I do note that many, though certainly not all, of the Tier One manufacturers who have released netbooks are finally starting to focus on the need for robustness in their design. Certainly OLPC and Intel’s Classmate set the benchmark with their “one meter drop” test, and hopefully that will become a minimum standard before long also.

So above all, the emergence of just one new form factor of “fully functional personal portable computer”,(and btw you will soon see a whole array of various others)…at a very reasonable price, is to be celebrated…certainly a whole lot more useful for students that those overpriced PDA’s that so much money was wasted on!

I’m not for one moment saying they’re perfect; I for one would think that they certainly need a 10+” screen as a preference, and I have misgivings about the size of the keyboard for older students and adults on the smaller screened machines… BUT…just hold your breath for another 12 months, and they’ll be running dual-core chips to give the graphics a lift, they’ll have solid state hard-drives which will significantly reduce mechanical failure, they’ll run comfortably for 5-6 hours…and then we’ll have a really affordable Smartbook, or more accurately in Papert’s words, Children’s Machine.

And as we move to a position where the Children’s Machine is being bought in the millions, not the hundreds, a thousand more opportunities and ideas are going to emerge for learners, both inside and outside school.

The other side-stories will be to see how Apple responds, given their success with the iphone screen technologies and whether the other manufacturers follow Intel’s lead with their great little Convertible tablet which seems to have now brought tablets within most students’ reach. I’ve always been a fan of the tablet form, as it gives students and teachers great versatility, but it’s only recently we are starting to see some really exciting learning applications that genuinely leverage its usability.

There. I’ve got it off my chest, now I can go back to the stuff that really matters!

As always, I’m very interested in your thoughts…


August 11th, 2009 @ 9:52AM | 3 Comments | Post a Comment