Lenovo is releasing a new line of ThinkPad tablets and laptops specifically designed to be used in schools. Customers have two design options with the new ThinkPad 11e series. One version utilizes the traditional laptop design. Alternately, customers can opt for Lenovo’s Yoga multimode design, which allows for four possible modes – laptop, tablet, tent and stand. Both versions are ruggedized for the classroom use (e.g. including rubber bumpers to minimize damage during falls, reinforced ports to protect against heavier than normal usage, and strengthened hinges). Both models utilize an 11.6-inch HD screen with antiglare treatment to minimize reflection. The ThinkPad Yoga 11e features a touch enabled IPS liquid crystal display (LCD). Customers can choose between Windows or Chrome versions of the units. All models use an Intel CPU.
The full line of products will be available for purchase in spring 2014. The starting price on the Windows based ThinkPad Yoga 11e and ThinkPad 11e models is $449. The Chromebook versions are priced at $100 less, starting at $349.
Lenovo, with the launch of the Chrome version of the Yoga 11e has thrown down a fresh gauntlet in the tablet wars. Marrying Chrome with its popular Yoga tablet design, designers hope to capitalize on two trends, the growing popularity of Chromebooks in education, and the rise of tablets. Opting for a design that includes an attached, hard keyboard, the tablet is geared to meet the data input and writing needs of older students, while also converting to a slate form for use with the growing suite of touch driven educational applications.
By storing content in the cloud, the Chrome solution ensures the content is preserved, even if the device is lost or stolen. A cloud-based solution also allows for easy updates to source material across the user base, and a lower cost to the end user for the hardware. The downside of the Chrome approach is the need for reliable, access to the internet to access said content. When it's not online the utility of the device is significantly impaired and rendered largely useless for certian tasks. This issue is likely to limit early adoption in those areas that opt to have students take the devices home with them, where they may not have access to the internet. Some districts reportedly have student access rates of 25% or less. The E-Rate legislation in the US has helped to close the digital divide across schools and libraries around the country but household access, particularly in some rural and poorer regions remains a problem. Similarly, many of the emerging countries have very inconsistent Wi-Fi access. One potential solution is to increase the pool of off-line applications for Chrome. For students who do have connectivity issues, it is important that content developers provide off-line content for these students that are still relevant to the Common Core standards and current curriculum.
Google, through its Google Play for education program, has expanded its digital content for education, for teachers and students. That content includes a growing pool of digital books, videos, and educational applications. The Google Play content is available through Android or Chrome OS devices. Google Play for Education, while building its repertoire of educational content is still lagging in comparison to Apple’s bevvy of options for educators. Having sold over seven million iPads to date for education Apple is the de facto US leader in portable education devices and digital content. Having recently expanded their textbook program to over 50 countries, Apple is aiming to build on its US success with a more global initiative.