We check out the educational hardware market

Sector guide: Back to school hardware

August is a busy month for retail; students start kitting themselves out for university and college, while parents rush around making last minute purchases for their children ahead of the start of term. And, of course, schools themselves start preparing their classrooms for the year ahead.

In terms of technology, schools have moved on from the days when a simple whiteboard and overhead projector sufficed; pupils are now benefiting from more sophisticated facilities than ever before. And while some schools might be cutting their spending, many more are set to take control of their finances by becoming academies opening out the potential market for technology products.

Micro-P’s head of education Richard Bovingdon tells PCR that the education sector is a growing market for the industry. “Learning is becoming much more personalised; students will have access to a wide variety of technology within a learning environment, which may not be a conventional classroom as we know it,” he says.

“We are all aware that public sector belts are tightening, but as schools continue to see the benefits of these technologies and how they can support teachers in improving learning outcomes there will always be the need for technology,” adds Maverick business development manager Ian Neale.

One increasingly popular product in school hardware is the projector, with top name vendors such as Samsung, Epson and Casio all turning their attention to the sector. Ultra short throw solutions (shorter range) have become popular in recent years, as they mount directly above the whiteboard, making them particularly practical for smaller classrooms.

“We will see significant growth in ultra short throw projectors, new greener LED/laser projectors, e-boards, large format interactive displays and other interactive devices,” says Darren Lewitt, divisional director at Midwich.

“Epson’s new interactive projectors are flying out the door in their hundreds as a cheaper alternative to an interactive whiteboard and ultra short throw option.”

As well as the projectors themselves, there is also money to be made from add-on accessories such as tablets and other gadgets that allow pupils to interact with the lesson. “The sale of complementary products for the interactive whiteboard have grown in recent years as teachers have become more comfortable with the technology in front of them and learnt that these products can not only increase student engagement but integrate seamlessly with their existing technology,” Neale comments.

Of course, any device handled by children needs to be resistant to the spills, drops and the general rough treatment that will inevitably occur. Rugged laptops in particular have been a growing category over the past few years, with every major vendor now offering a notebook or netbook with enhanced damage protection. Special features on these devices include shock absorbers, a solid-state drive, sensors which back up data if the laptop is dropped, and rubber casing for a better grip.

“Durability will become increasingly important as school budgets are squeezed and equipment lifespan must prove a key USP. It is key that resellers selling into schools understand how the technology is going to be used,” observes Bovingdon, adding that connectivity, mobility, battery life and weight are also important factors.

But for products aimed at the students and pupils themselves, rather than educational establishments, practicality is not the only consideration. “It’s a mixture of function, design, price and also how ‘cool’ the products are for students,” suggests Steve Walsh, Meroncourt’s sales director.

It would appear that, for many children, the start of a new school year after the long summer break is no longer marked by a new pair of shoes and a pencil case, but a new set of laptop accessories and peripherals.

“For us, the best sellers are notebook accessories: mice, headsets, speakers, cameras and external hard drives have always been especially popular,” Walsh says.

Hannah Horne, product manager at Realtime, adds: “The educational environment is much more PC-orientated, which makes carrying a USB flash drive in your pencil case a part of everyday life.”

Whether it’s peripherals or projectors, the ‘back to school’ period can provide a welcome boost to sales after what for many is a particularly quiet time of year. According to Horne, while Christmas is the peak period for most, summer is also the season to be jolly.

“Notoriously the PC component and peripheral business drops off in this period, so the idea of back to school bundles and specials can result in extra sales for distributors and retailers alike,” she concludes.

SRP: From £349
Distributor: Steljes

They say: An educational, fully functioning laptop PC designed especially for six to 14-year-olds

Specs: 10.1-inch screen, Intel Atom processor, 1GB memory, 160GB RAM, Windows 7 Starter or Professional, screen swivels 180°, curved edges, integrated webcam

SRP: £173.69
Distributor: Gem Distribution

They say: Records and links audio to what you write, so you never miss a word

Specs: Records and syncs audio with written notes, plays back audio when particular words or drawings are tapped, recordings and notes can be shared online, USB connection, holds up to 200 hours of audio

SRP: £848 for 32 handset kit
Distributor: Maverick

They say: It takes courage to speak up, and nearly psychic abilities to know who understands the lesson – ActiVote offers teachers and students a clearer answer

Specs: Allows teachers to conduct class polls, A-F voting capability, can download results into spreadsheets and lesson plans, compatible with third-party whiteboards

SRP: From £257
Distributor: Micro-P

They say: With a fashionably durable exterior and an HDD-protecting free fall sensor, the Samsung NB30 is always on guard to keep its contents safe

Specs: 10.1-inch screen, rubber coating with ‘S’ pattern to prevent finger marks and scratches, HDD free fall sensor protects data by parking the hard drive if the netbook is dropped, Intel Atom processor, eight hour battery life, also available with touchscreen

SRP: £155
Distributor: Micro-P, EntaTech

They say: In education establishments accidental knocks and constant prodding with fingers and stationery can cause irreparable damage. These new tough screen solutions reduce the cost of monitor ownership

Specs: 22-inch widescreen, tough acrylic screen surface, active matrix TFT, anti-glare coating, adjustable angle

SRP: £764
Distributor: Midwich

They say: The laser and LED hybrid light source creates high brightness without a mercury lamp

Specs: Long-life mercury-free hybrid light source, 1024 x 768 resolution, 2000 ANSI lumens brightness, 2x optical zoom, wireless capability, USB 2.0 port and HDMI port, slim and lightweight design

SRP: £259
Distributor: Computer 2000, VIP Computers, Micro-P

They say: Durable, with a reinforced mechanical design and a unique Disney user interface

Specs: 8.9-inch LCD display, child-friendly software featuring Disney characters, parental control options, wi-fi capability

SRP: £10.99
Distributor: Realtime Distribution, EntaTech

They say: The Corsair Flash Voyager family of USB drives is rugged, stylish, compact, and reliable Specs: Protective rubberised casing, durable shockproof design, 4GB storage, chip-on-board technology

SRP: £19.99
Distributor: Meroncourt

They say: A messenger bag with a fashion design and multiple compartments for pens, mobiles, MP4/MP5 players and accessories

Specs: Fits screen size up to 12.1 inches, made from hard-wearing material, adjustable shoulder strap, multiple compartments

SRP: £7,152.23
Distributor: Midwich

They say: Combining the simplicity of a whiteboard and the power of a computer, the Samsung 650TS eBoard will enhance almost any learning environment. Increased student participation, better visual presentation and more efficient lessons

Specs: 65-inch touchscreen with anti-reflective coating, can be used with fingers or a pen, low power consumption, shares content with students’ PCs, wide viewing angles, package contains basic software

SRP: £14.99
Distributor: Gem Distribution

They say: High protection against shocks and scratches

Specs: Neoprene fabric, interior lip to keep the laptop in place, fits ten to 12-inch screens, top-loading design, zip fastening

SRP: £15
Distributor: Interactive Ideas, EntaTech

They say: Designed by parents with advice from kids. Developed in conjunction with nurseries and schools

Specs: Symmetrical design, long two metre cable, eight stickers included for decoration, red light on the rear of the mouse, customisable mouse mat, USB connection, contamination-proof

SRP: £1,899 for 32 handset kit
Distributor: Maverick

They say: Allows teachers to assign full quizzes of varying difficulty and gives students the opportunity to register answers at their own pace

Specs: Full text capability, allows question customisation, wireless radio connectivity, works with third-party interactive whiteboards

SRP: £84.99
Distributor: Meroncourt, EntaTech

They say: Securely protects your data from prying eyes through encryption and has excellent shock protection against those accidental knocks

Specs: Shock resistant body, 500GB storage, available in three colours, wraparound cable management system, disk encryption, PC and Mac compatible

SRP: £229.99
Distributor: CMS Peripherals

Specs: Five to 65-inch projection size, 18 Lumens brightness, VGA output, manual focus, 4:3 aspect ratio, free travel speaker

SRP: £5.99
Distributor: Realtime Distribution

They say: Aimed at schools to secure the computers in their IT suites

Specs: Cut-resistant steel cable with key lock, vinyl-coated steel cable, 1.5 metre length

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