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Netbooks Hang Strong In Classrooms

Netbooks will continue to lead tablets and laptops in education sales this year, predicts ABI Research.

As for netbooks over media tablets, a netbook enables children to create content to a greater extent than primarily consuming data. Additionally, no significant scientific data points to a greater benefit with children using a tablet instead of a keyboard. The OLPC has already begun offering a netbook product with touch capabilities.

Netbooks also tend to be a lot easier to repair than media tablets. Concerns have also been expressed regarding battery charges. Media tablets are usually good for approximately 500 to 600 recharges; once the battery has gone, it is unheard of to purchase a replacement battery, which is not the case for netbooks.

IW: Is the continued use of netbooks primarily due to long-term contracts signed by school district IT specialists?

Flood: Yes, however, in some countries it's slightly higher than school district IT specialist. I believe in Latin America, and some countries in Africa it is virtually at the federal government level. Contracts usually range from 12-36 months.

IW: Is the netbook phenomenon of more impact in certain geographies and demographics?

Flood: Within the education sector, the biggest regions/markets for netbooks is Asia-Pacific and Latin America, respectively. We project Asia-Pacific will remain flat at about 1.6 million units shipped in 2013, and Latin America will see an increase from 1 million units in 2012 to 1.3 million units. North America will dip from 900,000 to 800,00 units. For age ranges in education, netbooks currently are used most by children ages 12 to 16.

IW: You note that netbooks hold inherent advantages for education markets in size, price and flexibility. Nonetheless, you see them fading away and replaced by tablets. Why?

Flood: We do not project netbooks to fade away completely. There will still be a netbook market in excess of one million devices per annum in five years' time. However, we believe there will be a bigger shift to tablets and other laptops. It may become the case that the tablet form factor mutates as we're currently observing with ultrabooks [into] convertibles and detachables.

Media tablets offer several advantages over laptop and netbook devices: -- Usually smaller (no larger than 10 inches) and lighter, making it easy for children to handle.

-- The compact designs enable easy storage in limited spaces like elementary and primary schools.

-- Better battery life than netbooks and laptops—usually a netbook/laptop with good battery life is substantially heavier than a tablet.

-- Tablet OEMs have begun developing extensive software, applications, and, in some cases, a unique content ecosystem for tablet devices, which can enhance children's learning.

IW: How long will it take for tablets to become a primary device in education?

Flood: I believe the turning point will be around 2014.

IW: How do you think the shift to tablets will affect the education market? Will it change content delivery?

Flood: As content creation is limited on a pure tablet device, the OS will need to be highly customized and this is probably going to be a closed system, as with iOS or LearnPad. However, it is also likely we will see mutations of tablets with keyboards in the education sector which could use a Linux operating system and thus content delivery will remain similar.

Can data analysis keep students on track and improve college retention rates? Also in the premiere all-digital Analytics' Big Test issue of InformationWeek Education: Higher education is just as prone to tech-based disruption as other industries. (Free with registration.)

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