It was announced today, February 20, 2014 that a new 10 inch tablet from Intel will include an active digitizer pen from N-Trig, named DuoSense. Intel is preparing to release several tablets this year aimed specifically at the unique technology needs of students. This should be a welcomed advance for tablet use in education as many tablets are not well suited to productivity; they are much better consumption devices.
At the heart of student productivity is the ability to create content. Tablet input is rather cumbersome when using the LCD keyboard, or a capacitive stylus pen. Because most tablets have not included an active digitizer, writing free-hand on a tablet screen is slow, awkward, and overall, not very efficient. Samsung and Microsoft were the first to lead the way with improving the on-screen writing experience, with the introduction of the Galaxy Note and Surface Pro, respectively. However, the cost is most often out of reach for schools and students. Hopefully, as Intel brings their new tablet offering to the education market, the pricing will be more in line with limited school budgets.
The active digitizer will be a tremendous gain for educational technology in 2014. Active Reading is a key learning strategy for students, and involves the physical interaction with text while reading, using various elements of writing. Supporting note taking, drawing, highlighting, annotating, underlining, and coding schemas are essential elements for learning, and must be incorporated into tablets to help them move beyond the affordances of paper.
Intel has not released any specific pricing or release dates. While planning for new technology purchases, the requirement for an active digitizer should surely be part of any list of must-haves if considering tablets. A product roadmap is not always public, particularly in the case of Apple and the iPad. Whether a vendor is considering active digitizers or not as a near term offering is pure guesswork. It might be wiser to consider a vendor that has the features needed today. An active digitizer must be built into the device; it is not an afterthought or add-on. It is clear that there is a trend for tablet vendors to include active digitizers as part of the device design, such as from Samsung, Microsoft, Asus, Dell, and soon, Intel. Don't ignore this important feature as is will propel the value of tablets in education.