Page last updated at 12:52 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Intel's Classmate comes to the UK

Rob Jones from CMS Computers shows off the Fizzbook Spin

A new version of a laptop originally designed by Intel for the developing world is making its debut in the UK.

The newly designed Classmate machine can be converted from a traditional laptop to a tablet PC to allow children to write and draw more naturally.

It will be available in the UK in February, and will be sold directly to schools as well as via online retailer Amazon and high street store Argos.

But with a retail price of 349 the machine will not be cheap.

There are 1.3 billion school-age children around the world but only 5% have access to a PC or the internet.

In 2007 Intel began to market its Classmate PC as a low-cost way of getting technology into the most needy regions of the world with a price tag of between $200 (137) and $400 (275).

So far Intel has sold "close to one million units" in the developing world, and last year began to push the machine in more mature markets.

'No conflict'

Screen swivels 180 degrees
Touch screen
Water-resistant keyboard
Built-in rotating camera
Rugged outer case
60GB hard-drive
512MB memory
Pre-loaded software

Initially it announced a deal in Portugal which will see the device distributed to 500,000 children aged between six and 11 during the course of 2009.

Gordon Graylish, deputy general manger of Intel Europe, believes there is no conflict between the two markets.

"It doesn't matter whether the children are in Mali, Vietnam, France or the US," he said.

"The research we did across both the developing and the developed world showed that human beings are actually quite similar, with similar needs, particularly if they are five years old."

Each of the 120 vendors signed up to sell the Classmate provides localised software.

The main reason for Intel's push into western countries is down to the renewed efforts governments are making to close digital divides.

Social deprivation

"Two years ago there was not a lot of interest from mature markets, but that has changed and governments are saying they need to do something to combat social deprivation," said Mr Graylish.

The UK government announced last year that it was to revive its Home Access scheme by distributing one million PCs to the most needy households.

Boy using a Classmate PC
It comes loaded with child-friendly software

"It is encouraging that the UK government has publicly committed itself to driving higher standards and better outcomes for children by breaking down barriers to achievement and tackling the link between deprivation and low educational attainment," said Mr Graylish.

Intel is in talks with the UK government about distributing Classmate PCs under this scheme.

It will make the machine available to schools at a reduced price of around 260.

The laptop comes preloaded with educational software, including Algodoo, a 2D simulation environment designed to explain physics, and the Easybits Magic Desktop, a simplified Windows-based interface.

Mr Graylish is convinced that laptops can play a vital role in transforming education.

"Education through technology can have a profound effect on children," he said.

"It's important that we are not cynical. Bear in mind that some of us got excited when we got ballpoint pens."

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