Are Tablets Made for the Education Market Doomed?

A couple of weeks ago, tablet maker enTourage announced that it was ceasing production of its pocket e-reader eDGe and was shutting its online e-bookstore. Although a consumer electronics device, the enTourage eDGe was aimed squarely at the educational market, inking a number of deals with major textbook providers and joining the Blackboard Alliance Program, hoping to get a leg up into the sector.

But to no avail apparently, as the closure of the e-bookstore and the termination of the eDGe's manufacturing and sales suggest.

Some consumers had complained that the books available in the Entourage Student store were priced too high -- higher than the prices of e-textbooks available on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And while enTourage also had its own Android App store, it too suffered from a lack of sales and downloads.

Pointing to the recent demise of another dual-screen e-reader, the Kno, which announced in April that it too was ceasing production, Michael Koz from Good E-Reader wonders if dual-screen tablets are doomed. Despite their innovative two-screen design, both machines were largely panned by the press for being clunky, too heavy, and too expensive -- particularly in comparison with other e-readers and tablets on the market. And consumers seem to have agreed.

But was it just a matter of the dual-screen design that was the problem here? Or was it that these two devices were aimed at the education market?

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Last week's Department of Education notice to campuses to ensure that new devices are available to all students serves as a reminder that there are still significant obstacles to the accessibility of many e-readers and tablets for disabled students, making it challenging for schools themselves to adopt these devices broadly.

Furthermore, ownership of tablets and e-readers remains low among high school seniors and college students -- the primary target of the enTourage eDGe and Kno devices. According to a recent survey by the Pearson Foundation, just 4% of college-bound high school seniors and only 7% of college students own tablets, although nearly 20% say they plan to buy one within the next 6 months. Cost is a likely the determining factor here.

But do these prospective tablet buyers want an education-oriented tablet? Or will they opt to buy a consumer-oriented tablet -- an iPad or an Android tablet -- and then load it with educational apps and electronic textbooks? Why make a distinction between a consumer product and one that's aimed solely at the education market, especially if the goal is to integrate the best of user-friendly, popular devices that students already want and like to use into the learning process?

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The latter seems much more likely, and while analysts are predicting 2011 to be the year of the tablet, the demise of both the Kno and the enTourage eDGe doesn't make that post-PC future look terribly good for education-only devices, particularly heavy dual-screen ones.

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