IDF 2008: Intel adds touch screen to Classmate

Intel has unveiled a significant update to its Classmate platform for low-cost portable PCs. The new machines, announced at the company's Developer Forum in San Francisco, now have touch screens and tablet functionality.

The new design is the third generation of Classmate PC, but Intel will supply the new design alongside, rather than in place of, its existing second-generation models. These will continue to be offered to OEMs that want to produce Classmates with conventional, laptop keyboards.

According to Lila Ibrahim, general manager of Intel's Emerging Markets Platform Group, the new design was the result of ethnographic research, which suggested that children found it easier to learn on devices that support touch screen input. This is especially the case in maths and sciences, Intel found.

As well as the 8.9in touch screen, a pen interface and an on-screen keyboard, the tablet Classmate has motion sensor technology and improved software that should make it easier to connect the machine to a network. The tablet is expected to be based around the Intel Atom chip and a solid-state drive.

Intel will make the new version of the Classmate available to manufacturers later this year. Industry analysts Forrester Research expects the number of PC users to grow by 1.4 billion over the next decade, with most of the growth in emerging markets. Low-cost machines and laptops designed for education will account for many of the new users.

According to Rob Jones of Zoostorm Computers, a UK OEM, the tablet version of the Classmate will meet the demands of schools for a device that replaces pen and paper but still allows children to develop their writing skills. "It is a better proposition to go to the tablet PC, as you can still write if you want to," he said. "It is not a new concept, but it provides another option."

However, the cost of a touch screen is likely to push up the cost of Classmate devices. Jones expects third-generation Classmates to sell for 300 to 400, against an entry-level price of 199 for the company's current Fizzbook portable. "Pricing will be down to the touch screen, which is about twice the price of a standard LCD," he said. Zoostorm expects to offer the tablet Classmate to education customers next year.