Miguel came up with some interesting news:
Wireless Generation announced today (03/05/2009) that their new handheld of choice--although they would continue to support the Palm and encourage purchasing of the Palm from two resellers--for their products would include the Nokia N810.
Miguel then muses over various facets of the decision, particularly whether or not in 2009 people would prefer the option of a web app running on a netbook.
Everyone is getting so web centric it is worth pointing out why a client app on a pen-based handheld makes sense. Teachers implementing a literacy program based on frequent formative assessment need to do a lot of formative assessment, in class, in the least disruptive and most efficient way possible. This requires a specialized, highly responsive interface. When a kid stumbles over a word, you have to note that while he or she keeps going. You can't stop to tab to the right place, wait for a page reload, wait until the network is back up, etc. You want to tap the word with your little stylus and move on. And you want to be carrying something you can carry around all morning, sit with at tiny tables and chairs, stick in your pocket, etc.
So no, a netbook running a web app is not as good, and Wireless Generation is trying to provide a high quality, vertically integrated service, not the cheapest possible crap. And the fact that they stuck with Palm OS this long, which has been obviously doomed for what, the entire decade, demonstrates that they're sensitive to not pushing schools onto a new platform just for the heck of it.
If there isn't sufficient funding after this giant stimulus, a nice chunk of which is going into educational data systems, to give teachers the best tool for gathering data about student progress in elementary literacy... I don't even know what to say. It will truly demonstrate how much we're living in a Potemkin village wrapped in a fraud, surrounded by a cloud of lies. UPS doesn't ask its delivery men to juggle Eee PC's with USB barcode scanners dangling off them. Walmart doesn't try and save money by putting a shoebox under a laptop and calling it a cash register.
Also, Miguel overplays the connection to the Nokia 810 hardware. The software runs on the open source Maemo platform, which is made up of most of the same components as the GNOME desktop (making it a cousin to Sugar). Making a port that will run on a Linux netbook shouldn't be hard (although Ubuntu Netbook Remix has drifted in a somewhat different direction because Maemo is optimized for pen input). Also, if appropriate Android devices come on line, they'll probably come up with a port. Maemo is not a slam-dunk choice right now, but all the current options have serious drawbacks.