Intel has upgraded its low-cost Classmate PC with new hardware that's designed to make the laptop more user-friendly than its predecessors.
The new Classmate 3 design has touchscreen interface and a display that can be swivelled, Intel officials said at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco.
A stylus or finger can be used for data input on the screen, and users can even rest their palms on the touchscreen while using it. An accelerometer changes the orientation of the display to horizontal or vertical depending on the laptop's position.
The demonstration unit at IDF felt lighter than its predecessors and included an 8.9in screen and Intel's Atom N270 processor, running at 1.6GHz. It also included an integrated camera that can rotate 180 degrees.
The design of Classmate 3 has yet to be finalised, but Intel hopes to provide a longer battery life and more ruggedness with Classmate 3.
The laptop will be in production by the end of the year, said Lila Ibrahim, general manager of the emerging markets platform group at Intel. The price will be higher than for its current generation of Classmates because of the touch-screen capabilities, but it may come down over time, Ibrahim said.
The Classmate PC was originally designed as an educational laptop for kids in developing countries. The current version, Classmate 2, was announced earlier this year, and Intel expanded its availability to the general market. The Classmate PC is designed as a no-frills laptop that can be used for basic applications such as surfing the web and checking email.
In India, the laptop is available under the MiLeap brand from HCL starting at Rs. 17,000 (£200). Actronix is selling Classmate PCs in the UK under the JumPC brand, with prices starting at £239.
Basic tablet PC features are also included in Classmate's prime competitor, the XO laptop from nonprofit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). The screen on the XO can be swivelled, but it does not have a touchscreen interface. The next version of the XO laptop, the XO-2, will feature a software-based, touch-sensitive keyboard and two touch-screen displays, according to OLPC. The laptop is due in 2010. XO is an educational laptop for kids in developing countries.
Classmate laptops are designed to use either Windows or Linux. A future user interface for Classmate 3 PCs could be a version of Sugar, originally developed for the XO laptop. The Sugar Labs Foundation, which is involved in the development of Sugar, has assigned a community volunteer to work with Intel on the interface.
The extension of Sugar to Classmate PCs could heat up the well-publicised battle between Intel and OLPC for control of the market for kids' laptops in developing countries. In January, Intel quit OLPC's board of directors after the nonprofit organisation asked Intel to give up development of the Classmate PC to focus on the XO laptop.
Intel has seen success with its Classmate PC, recently announcing it would ship about 500,000 Classmates to basic-level education students through the Portuguese government for the upcoming school year.
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