This Week in Tablets: Will News Corp transform schools with its Amplify educational tablet?

March 9, 2013
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There’s an easy to predict and fairly obvious place that education will move to in terms of tablets, collaboration, and connectivity.

It starts at the beginning of the day, when all students present in a classroom check in to a teacher’s tablet.

It ends when a student gets home, and receives a series of prompts around homework assignments and required reading.

The possibility of what happens in between these moments is where someone or some entity is going to make a fortune, and change the state of education in the process.

This middle ground is why News Corp’s big reveal of a connected-tablet solution for education—dubbed Amplify—was, in my mind, the biggest story of the week. It’s not a story that was picked up in a major, screaming headline kind of way. But pretty much every media outlet covered it. And it clearly made some ripples.

I have a Google alert set up for a number of tablet-oriented topics: "tablet", "Windows 8", "Android Tablet", etc. 

This week, I saw Amplify in my tablet keyword alerts on three consecutive days. In and of itself, this is significant. Consecutive-day alerts rarely happen, except for the biggest types of stories. We’re talking Windows 8 launch, new iPad announcement, etc. 

A lot of coverage, analysis, and chatter appeared to be popping up around Amplify, in a number of different media types. In and of itself, this kind of trending is a sign that News Corp is onto something.

(It's worth mentioning that when we first talked about launching TabTimes back in 2010, a Google Alert for "tablet" would generate a few stories about pharmaceutical companies and medications on an almost daily basis.)

The details of Amplify, combined with the long legs of the story, have me thinking that this is a significant evolutionary step, partially because, as TechCrunch describes, it fits very well into the existing bureaucracy of school systems.

As always, the success of Amplify will boil down to execution, both on News Corp’s part and the schools and school districts that purchase and deploy it.

On the surface, however, this system has all the requisite features. Consider the following:

  • Amplify offers easy distribution of resources such as documents and assignments.
  • The system has built-in, enterprise-style controls, such as app lock/unlock, kill switches, time limits, and an “eyes on teacher” alert.
  • While the Amplify system sells a 10-inch Android tablet, the platform is universal; it will work on any device. BYOD at school? No problem.
  • Curriculum is built around emerging Common Core national standard.
  • AT&T is powering the connectivity of these tablets.

At $300 (more for 4G service), it’s not cheap. But it's important. And, if you start to measure its usage over multiple years, it begins to make more financial sense vs. school books. The real wildcard is how easily teachers will be able to get their heads around such a fundamental shift in process and format.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: Education is a massive opportunity, both in terms of technological improvement and revenue. Other companies are already dabbling here. News Corp. is one big school district purchase away from making the biggest splash.

This week’s loser: Microsoft

If you felt like OEMs were piling onto the Redmond giant this week, well, you were at least partially right. Both Asus and Samsung made headlines around the market performance of Windows 8 and Windows 8 devices.

Asus chief executive Jerry Shen openly admitted that the acceptance of Windows 8 was a gating factor for its device sales in 2012, which failed to sell in any significant number. (It did sell almost 3 million Android tablets in the form of the Nexus 7.)

Earlier in the week, Samsung appeared to confirm reports that it was going to stop selling its Ativ Windows RT tablet in Germany, citing a lack of demand there. And, adding insult to injury, the head of Samsung Electronics’ memory business told reporters that Windows 8 is “no better than the previous Windows Vista platform,” and that the OS was at least partially to blame for declining PC sales.

Ouch. It is becoming clearer that Windows RT devices are doomed, at least for now.

Given the sluggish WinTablet sales and the jilted feeling many of Microsoft’s OEMs must be feeling, we’ll probably see more of these kinds of reactions in coming months.

This week’s winner: Consumers

For people interested in buying a new tablet, the upside of some tablets and devices not selling well is heavy discounts on state-of-the-art hardware and software. Microsoft is heavily discounting Windows. Sony is heavily discounting the PS Vita. And so on.

On the horizon

I have my eye on three events occurring in the next few months:

1. Sony will be launching its waterproof, Android-powered 10-inch Xperia Tablet Z. In many regards, it’s a fairly standard 10-inch tablet. But it’s an important device for Sony in the Japanese market, and will be a harbinger of the company’s financial success.

2. Microsoft is rumored to be announcing and/or publicly unveiling Durango, the code name for its next-generation Xbox, in late April. Given the emphasis Microsoft has already placed on SmartGlass, it’s second screen gaming solution, we can expect to see some fairly significant activity around tablets if these rumors around the announcement are true

3. Finally, at the end of April, TabTimes is staging its second New York-based TABLET STRATEGY event. This year, the conference will again focus on tablet deployments and integration in the business/productivity sector. Expect an info-packed day of sessions and lectures. 

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