Technology product announcements, especially from brands like Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), rarely go unnoticed these days. You just have to watch the live blogging and Twitter stream to see the excitement -- and criticism -- about things like the Fire tablet, the latest Kindle e-reader upgrades, or the iPhone 4S.
For many years, pent-up enthusiasm among individual consumers and the perceived coolness of devices have been the main drivers of sales boosts, especially in the run-up to the holiday season. What's interesting to note now is that much larger groups are taking notice, too. These products, spurred by the falling prices of technology, are trickling toward widespread adoption in large-scale institutional environments, like schools in both the Western and developing worlds.
We're already witnessing the early transition away from PC-centric classroom technology. Some schools are pioneering the way. Check out the blogs I've written recently about e-reader pilot projects in Ghana and Florida. In some pockets in the US, like Zeeland, Mich., tablets are being used to lighten the backpack load of students and teachers.
Cities like Seattle are considering whether mobile devices, tablets, and e-readers belong in the classroom and how social networking could be used as an educational tool. Some teachers are sketching their lesson plans with handheld technology, and other developments are giving parents tech food for thought. I'm sure you could think of several other examples if you gave it about 30 seconds of thought. (Feel free to jot them down in the comment section.)
Though these initiatives have been spearheaded largely by progressive-minded individuals, organizations, or school districts, a new wave of classroom technology adoption soon could become a Main Street event. Policymakers in Florida, California, Texas, Virginia, Indiana, and other states are evaluating and passing mandates that will require public school districts to spend some percentage of their book budgets on digital content within a few years or, at the very least, redefine what kinds of print and digital materials can be used.
And we can't ignore a basic technology edict: Lower prices and better technology tip the buying scales. A $79 e-reader filled with advertisements may not win immediate appeal from educators, but the falling price point for an entry-level Kindle and the $149 price for a Kindle Touch 3G with free cellular service could win smiles from school district bean counters torn between technology adoption and budget caps.
Should mobile device OEMs start shifting marketing efforts and next-gen technology development away from one-off consumer sales (which are obviously still significant) and start looking at the problems they could solve for larger, institution-level buyers (which could open many new markets and niches)? Has the classroom consumer finally come of age for e-readers and tablets?