From the Editor
ISTE, Microsoft and Google
Anne Wujcik — Friday, June 29, 2012
If it's late June it must be ISTE. I didn't get to ISTE this year, but people I've talked with say the Conference was large, the Exhibit Hall was busy and the educators were energized. That's all good news. It's hard to be enthusiastic after yet another tough budget year and worries about the future. But these are tech savvy educators and there is a lot to be excited about in the technology realm. Online learning, mobile devices, digital content and apps, iPad pilots and BYOT initiatives are allowing students to begin to use technology at school the same way they use it in their non-school lives - to explore, connect, plan, organize, create and even entertain - ultimately to personalize learning. There are so many announcements to include this week that I dramatically shorted headlines (to the despair of the marketing people who labored over finding just the right words). This is a week when you will want to click through trough to the web site and check out the K-12 and Technology tabs to be sure you see all the ISTE announcements, since there was simply not enough space to include them all in this e-mail. Stories are still coming in and I'll continue to post them as I get them.
It may be the filter through which I'm viewing the market right now, but there seemed to be a lot of assessment-related announcements. It makes sense. Schools are anxious to prepare students for the new Common Core assessments which will be administered for the first time in the 2012-15 school year, Performance tasks, computer enhanced test items, more emphasis on analysis as opposed to multiple choice, all this will be new to most students, so schools are looking for help getting up to speed. The schools' concerns are understandable, but I'm afraid there's going to be a lot of testing going on. Helping school find the balance will become increasingly important.
Several interesting consumer announcements this week. On June 18, Microsoft announced the Surface tablet. The 10.6-inch tablet, which incorporates a keyboard in its cover and includes a kickstand, will come in two versions one running Windows RT and the other Windows 8. No word on price, battery life or availability.
The Surface got pretty good reviews (though there wasn't all that much to review) from the computer press, though questions about strategy abound. I'm no expert here, but for me there really wasn't enough detail to say if this is about being an iPad killer or more an attempt to promote Windows 8 in particular and the market for Windows tablets working on ARM Holdings microprocessors in general. The Surface will carry the Microsoft brand, putting Microsoft into competition with its current OEM partners. More questions than answers here.
This week Google announced its tablet. The 7-inch Nexus features a quad-core processor and runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Nexus has integrated Wi-Fi, a front-facing camera, a battery rated at 8 hours and weighs 0.75 pounds, slightly less than the Kindle Fire. Reviewers say it is fast, comfortable to hold and has a beautiful screen (1280 x 800 pixel LED-backlit). Shipping by mid-July, the 8GB model is priced at $199 and the 16GB models costs $249.
Google stressed media consumption at the tablet's debut - movies, television shows, music, books, magazines, games - all coming from the Google Play store. The Nexus could be a real alternative to the Kindle Fire as well as capturing buyer who want a low-cost alternative to the iPad. Google will have to forge some content partnerships to build up the supply of content available from Google Play.
On the school side, Microsoft announced the launch of Office 365 for Education. Office 365 is Microsoft's cloud-based productivity and collaboration platform. With Office 365, schools get Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online and Office Web Apps, including, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, at no cost. SharePoint lets users create sites for sharing and collaborating on documents and Exchange Online is the enterprise-class edition of Microsoft's hosted e-mail, calendar, and contacts management system. Microsoft is going head-to-head with Google Apps for Education here, which was made clear by the K-12 customers that were part of the initial announcement. Nashville Public Schools will migrate its 80,000 students off Google Apps for Education and its 9,500 faculty and staff members off on-premises tools. Microsoft estimated the move will save the district about $400,000 annually.