CUPERTINO, California--Apple Computer today introduced a new mobile computer for use in schools, hoping to maintain its strong position in educational hardware.
The new eMate 300 is based on current hardware used in the MessagePad 130 and 150 and on the Newton operating system. The overall weight of the notebook computer is four pounds, including a rugged casing that can survive the rough handling of student use.
Apple is touting the eMate 300 as a product that will enable students from kindergarten through 12th grade to supplement IBM-compatible and Macintosh desktop computers for use not only in the classroom but also in labs, at home, and in the field.
The price for the notebook will be about $800, with discounts offered for packages of eight.
As reported previously by CNET, the device is part of a broader Apple strategy to attack the PC market with a combination of price cuts and new product lines. Success of the new notebook also would be an important symbolic victory for Apple, whose popularity is based in no small part to its close ties with education.
"The federal government says we need to get to a three-to-one student-to-computer ratio by the year 2000," James Groff, general manager of Apple's information appliances group, said here. "I would say the eMate is the only credible vehicle for accomplishing that."
The new notebook has a unique "clamshell" design first showcased at Boston's MacWorld Expo earlier this year. High-impact plastic has been molded into a curved shape designed to reduce damage if the product is dropped from a locker or on the street while its owner runs to catch a bus.
The eMate has a flip-up 480-by-320-pixel screen and automatically turns on when opened. A built-in keyboard is used for data entry, while navigation is pen-based, like current Newton products.
Software includes word processing, drawing, and calendar applications, and data can be shared via infrared or serial connection with PC or Mac computers via TCP/IP protocols. Ethernet connectivity is expected to soon be an option through use of the built-in PC Card slot.
Apple plans to sell the machine directly to schools beginning early next year. The company will eventually introduce the eMate to the retail market, possibly in the second half of 1997.
"The potential for something like this in a classroom setting is tremendous," said Mike McGuire, a mobile computing analyst at the research firm Dataquest. "This will be an indication to educators that Apple is one of the few companies spending time extending computing to more and more kids."
For the 1996-1997 school year, of all the computers that schools plan to buy, 56 percent will be Apple Macintoshes and 40 percent IBM-compatible machines, according to a recent report by Quality Education Data, an education market researcher. In the previous school year, the purchasing plans were 61 percent Macintosh and 38 percent PC.
"The numbers are overwhelming in favor of PCs," said Carole Cotton, president of CCA Consulting, a firm that tracks technology purchases by schools. "No school district can afford to make a mistake" when picking computers they will use for years, she noted.
Apple's Groff, however, said the eMate is not the company's answer to competitors' inroads. Instead, he said, the device was built for schools asking for a cheap, powerful computer that can offer educational software and Internet connections.
Reuters news service contributed to this article.