| March 6
March 6 News Corp's education division,
Amplify, on Wednesday introduced the first tablet computer built
specifically for the classroom, in a bid to capture a slice of
the billions of dollars spent in U.S. public schools.
The Amplify Tablet hits the market at a time of soaring
interest in digital learning. Global textbook companies and
scrappy startups alike are flooding the market with products
that let students dissect a virtual frog, manipulate fractions
on a touch screen or learn about the Constitution through an
Amplify is betting that school districts will be willing to
spend several hundred dollars per student, even at a time of
steep budget cuts, to run all that software on a custom tablet.
Among the features: A kill switch that lets teachers disable
applications on her students' tablets so she can be sure they
aren't playing Angry Birds when they should be working. Another
feature lets teachers send frequent multiple-choice quizzes to
student tablets to check their comprehension mid-class.
"It's going to transform the way teachers teach and students
learn because it is designed just for them, by them," said
Amplify Chief Executive Joel Klein, who headed the New York
public school system before joining News Corp in 2010.
But rivals said most of the new tablet's signature features
already exist on Web-based software platforms that can run on
any device - iPads, Android tablets, smartphones or laptops.
Textbook giant Pearson reaches nearly 20 million
students a year through two such platforms, according to
Jonathan Harber, chief executive of Pearson's K12 Technology
The platforms are flexible enough that some school districts
have opted to let students access digital content through their
personal devices. Other districts have chosen to buy devices for
each student, but no one device has emerged as the most popular
"There's still a lot of experimentation going on," said
Scott Kinney, senior vice president of Discovery Education, a
leading provider of digital content to classrooms. "Do I think
there will eventually be one winner? I doubt it."
Executives at Amplify, which projects an operating loss of
about $80 million for this fiscal year, said they are confident
school districts will want to spend on hardware. They pointed to
a recent speech by Houston schools superintendent Terry Grier,
who said he would like to see as the district buy a laptop for
each student. They noted, too, that the Los Angeles Unified
School District recently announced plans to spend $50 million on
tablets, though the district has not specified which brand it
Amplify's sister company, News America Inc, this week
donated $250,000 to support a slate of candidates running for
the Los Angeles school board. Klein, Amplify's CEO, has given
$25,000 from his own pocket to back the slate.
Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for Amplify, would not comment
on any discussions the company may have had with Los Angeles
school officials about the planned tablet purchase. Hamilton
said Klein focuses his donations on candidates he believes will
improve public education.
The Amplify tablet is open sourced, wi-fi enabled and
runs on Google Inc's Android operating system. It comes
pre-loaded with Amplify software as well as products from
outside providers, such as Encyclopaedia Britannica. Teachers
can also upload their own content.
Amplify executives said too often, teachers use technology
only briefly in class. "They may use it for 10 minutes, then
it's 'Let's put the tablets away.' We don't like hearing that!"
said Sean Farrell, product director. He said the company aims to
make the tablet essential throughout the school day, in part by
letting teachers customize which resources and assignments pop
up on each student's screen.
Amplify's basic tablet, slated to roll out next fall, is
priced at $299 when purchased with a two-year subscription at
$99 per year. An upgrade with a 4G data plan costs $349 when
purchased with a two-year subscription at $179 per year. Those
prices include teacher training and access to a help hotline.
By comparison, Apple Inc's iPad2, a popular choice
in many schools, costs $399.
Amplify, which has about 1,000 employees, will be a part of
News Corp's publishing company when it splits from the company's
entertainment properties this summer.
News Corp's foray into digital technology has been mixed at
best. It sold the once-mighty social media site MySpace after
Facebook zoomed past it in popularity. And its ambitious
digital-only newspaper for tablets, The Daily, published its
last edition last year after it failed to catch on with readers.
News Corp made its first big step into education when it
purchased Wireless Generation, an educational software company,
The following year, Wireless Generation lost a $27 million
contract to build a student data system for New York after the
state comptroller raised concerns about News Corp's involvement
in a phone hacking scandal in Britain.
Wireless Generation officials have said they have nothing to
do with that scandal. The company has since secured other
contracts that involve tracking and analyzing student data.