Software Replaces Hardware in Ed Tech


Nobody was more surprised than I was by the announcement that Toys R Us is coming out with its own proprietary tablet, the Tabeo.  With last year’s release of the Leap Frog Leap Pad 2 tablet, as well as the other “child-friendly” tablets already in this space (e.g., Kineo, Kurio, Meep!, Lexibook Jr.), it just seems like an odd move.  Is there enough room in this segment to support yet another competitor?

But I guess that question could be asked of a number of vendors and products in the Ed Tech space.  Hardware in Ed Tech is pretty much a commodity at this point, isn’t it?  Where once hardware companies had highly differentiated product lines, all seem to be regressing to the mean lately.  And as those products become indistinguishable from one another, those companies end up only competing on price.  This is commoditization.

So what leaves me scratching my head is when I see companies like Toys R Us introducing something new in a space where the need seems to have already been met.  Oftentimes, the problem that the piece of hardware is intended to solved has been solved more easily and more economically, by a software solution.  It got me to thinking about some of the other hardware products we’ve seen introduced this year and my doubts about their viability.  I thought I’d share a few of those and see what you all think.  So in the tradition of David Letterman, let’s play “Will it Float?”

1.  New hardware product:  media:scape by Polyvision This was introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.  media:scape allows for collaboration in one room and around the world by enabling participants to easily share the content on their digital devices to a single monitor that all meeting participants can see.  Every participant gets a box, called a “media well,” and in the box is a dongle-type attachment called a “puck” that plugs in to each participant’s laptop.  The product supports up to eight participants in a meeting.  Price: unpublished.

Software alternative: Google Hangout.  Google Hangout is part of the Google suite of products.  Like media:scape, Google Hangout allows collaborative meetings.  All users log in to the hangout and can see each other onscreen.  Every user can share his/her screen with the rest of the group to show documents, websites, etc.  If desired, a user can easily project the screen using a typical ceiling-mounted or tabletop projector.  Google Hangout supports up to 10 participants in a meeting.  Price: Free.

Verdict: media:scape will sink.  It just doesn’t make sense to buy media:scape when Google Hangout is available and free and does the same thing.

2. New Hardware Product: Casio PRIZM Graphing Calculator.  The PRIZM was released this past summer.  Its claim to fame is that it includes proprietary Picture Plot technology, which lets students complete equations on top of real-life images, such as roller coasters, the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, etc.  The calculator ships with some images and users can upload their own, which are formatted automatically.  Price: $129.

Software Alternative: Desmos Online Graphing Calculator.  The Desmos calculator performs all of the options that you see in any graphing calculator.  The really cool thing is that it graphs a function as the student types it, and if the student edits what he or she has typed, the graph changes in real-time.  Price: Free.

Verdict: Desmos will float; Casio PRIZM is at risk of sinking.  The concept of the PRIZM, graphing on top of real-world photos, is pretty cool.  But those guys at Desmos could add that capability to their tool in about 8 seconds.  What keeps Casio from sinking completely at this point is that most schools still do not have 1-1 implementations or BYOD programs, so students still need handheld calculators.  Once we get to higher saturation levels on mobile devices, however, look for PRIZM and others to sink.

3.  New Hardware Product: now!Board For Your Classroom.  This is probably the most surprising new product I’ve seen in 2012.  now!Board is a new, portable, Interactive White Board (IWB) solution from Learning Resources.  As with other portable IWBs, now!Board requires a projector and computer.  It is very small (one reviewer said it’s the size of “a PB&J with the crusts cut off”) compared with other portable solutions.  Price: $499.

Software Alternative: Doceri for iPadDoceri is an iPad interactive whiteboard and screencast recorder.  In addition to requiring a computer and projector, Doceri requires an iPad to control the main computer remotely.  All of the lesson documents can be stored on the iPad, so teachers can use their iPads in any room that has the basic software installed on a computer.  In addition, the iPad can be passed around the room for students to use it.  Price: $50 $30 for the desktop software and the iPad app is FREE!
(Thanks to Bev Barnett, from Doceri, for this correction!)

Verdict: now!Board will sink.  The portable IWB ship has sailed, with the likes of eBeam, mimio, and u-Board already in that space, not to mention the plethora of low-cost Chinese boards.  There was a time when portable IWBs were a great alternative to fixed-board IWB solutions.  But IWBs are now commoditized and interactive projectors have taken huge market share from them.  There may still be a market for portable IWBs in developing markets, but the flexibility and extensibility of tablets, with their ability to use virtual IWBs, should eat the IWB manufacturers’ lunch.  Even in global markets, look for schools to skip right over the IWB phase and move straight to tablet solutions as Android tablets’ prices continue to drop (as they, too, become commoditized).

Oh, and the Tabeo?  Well, I think the space is pretty crowded and I don’t see a highly differentiated strategy from Toys R Us.  What do you think?  Will it float?

About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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5 Responses to Software Replaces Hardware in Ed Tech

  1. Hi Karen – what a great comparison list! I work with Doceri, and just wanted to let you and your readers know that the Doceri Desktop software price has been lowered to $30 – and there is still an unlimited, fully functional free trial. The iPad app, of course, is free on the app store. Thanks again!

  2. Maggie says:

    I have seen a high rate of customer returns on the tabeo. The major complaint has been that the pre-loaded apps are not preloaded even after an update and lack of support ie no one answering the phone when the called for help.

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