Joel Klein, head of News Corporation's new Amplify education brand, announced today at the South By Southwest Education conference in Austin, Texas, that the company has designed its own branded Android tablet-sized computer. It comes bundled with software designed for teachers and students.
"The last thing we need is another pile of used laptops at the back of the classroom," Klein, former Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools, said on the call announcing the new integrated product line, dismissing the education "bells and whistles, gadgets and gizmos," that many teachers don't believe in or don't know how to use. This time, he says—wait for it!—is different. "This is a fully integrated teaching and learning solution."
The Amplify tablet comes preloaded with a whole mess of content—Google Apps for Education, Common Sense Media-rated audio, video, games, online textbooks, Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, and a graphing calculator. It has specialized search tools to find millions of hours worth of digital lessons and homework, all aligned to Common Core educational standards that are currently being adopted by most school systems. You could probably take it along with your 5-year-old kid to a desert island and get her halfway to a college degree.
But that's not all. Amplify was built from News Corp.'s acquisition of Wireless Generation, a major vendor of software-based data systems and assessment tools to schools. So in addition to the content, the new tablets will have lesson-plan builders and dashboard-style tools for teachers, principals, and parents to track and monitor students' performance.
The tablet will be open, allowing students to access non-News Corp. material like Khan Academy's videos and CK-12 textbooks, and there will be an API to attempt to grow an ecosystem to rival Apple's 20,000-odd educational apps.
The 10-inch tablet will be marketed to states, districts, and individual schools for use this coming school year. The cost is $299 a pop for a Wi-Fi-enabled tablet when you buy a two-year subscription to Amplify-branded content, which costs $99 a year. Or you can get one with a 4G data plan for $349 per device and a $179 a year contract. This compares to $399 a pop for a non-4G iPad, the most popular tablet in U.S. classrooms. The subscription fees include live chat, phone, and email support and professional development for teachers.
The enthusiasm for touchscreen tablets and phablets in education is surprising even the most ardent technology fans. Apple CEO Tim Cook has said "the adoption of the iPad in education is something I’ve never seen in any technology." Education spending on IT is estimated to be at least $20 billion annually, of which a little more than half is currently going to hardware. The Samsung Galaxy, Google Nexus, Kindle, Microsoft Surface, and even the Nook are all vying for market share.
Asked by Fast Company why Amplify wanted to enter this crowded field on the hardware side, Klein cited the power of an integrated hardware and software platform. "My view has been that if we don't design a product that really facilitates and changes teaching and learning, and all the supports that go together to make this a robust package, then we'll be where we've been [in the past]."