When Sahara introduced the first iFPD at BETT in 2009, some considered it a risk. And yet, successors to that original board went on to set records as the market-leading product in the sector. Today, attention has switched to the enterprise market, indeed, some brands have moved out of education entirely, arguing that the sector is saturated and stripped of any worthwhile margin. But a handful of brands have stuck with it.
At the time of the last ISE, Futuresource published a report on Interactive Flat Panels (iFPDs) that stated that concluded that the technology continued to be a considerable success in both the education and corporate markets. By Q4 2017, 73% of all interactive display sales were IFPDs. The growth has been prodigious, with a CAGR of 48% from 2013 to 2017, with growth forecast to continue.
The Interactive Whiteboard (IWB), the original technology, was in decline but still contributed a significant volume. The US had over 50% annual iFPD volume and value growth, with rapid transition to larger size iFPDs, with well over half of sales now over 70”. Over 66% of US classrooms having an interactive display, and with the level of growth forecast to continue.
The market was fuelled by education, and specifically the K-12 market. The corporate meeting room market was regarded as almost untapped. Despite the scale of the opportunity is vast, with 32 million corporate meeting rooms globally and well under one million displays installed as of the last ISE.
“The entrance of Microsoft, Google and Cisco is starting to change the industry dynamic,” said Colin Messenger, Senior Market Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. “These providers are leveraging their existing channel and user relationships and promoting ‘all-in-one’ meeting room solutions. The volume of interactive displays sold into the corporate market expanded over 30% in 2017.”
New interactive touch technologies, at the time, such as FlatFrog in-glass technology was being used by, at least, five major brands and provided a very impressive and highly accurate touch experience. Dell, NEC, HiteVision and ViewSonic are added the technology to their high-end ranges. Projective Capacitive (PCAP) technology, commonly found in the mobile device industry, is also starting to appear; Microsoft’s Surface Hub and Cisco’s Spark Board both have PCAP. With no frame, as the glass goes to edge, it provided better aesthetics, as well as high accuracy and faster speed of writing.
The rise favour of the iFPD was accompanied by a trend towards more display personalisation. This is very useful for a teacher or corporate user moving between classroom/meeting rooms who can set up the display to a pre-set height, content and configurations via biometric fingerprint reader or NFC card.
4K and multi-touch became standard with most offerings, with at least ten touch points. Panel providers are rapidly transitioning large screen sizes (60” +) to 4K from 1080p.
“Display sizes are increasing, 70” + screens are taking over from 60” and 84” screens are being replaced with 86” versions. This shift is being driven by panel manufacturers moving to new lines with more efficient processes, leading to less wastage and an increased number of panels during production. Also, bezels are becoming narrower, so the actual visible screen real estate is bigger,” added Messenger.
Growth in iFPD sales has continued throughout 2018 as corporate demand continues, new vendors come on stream and new regional markets develop, particularly China, where two thirds of all interactive touchscreens 1.1 million units, report Futuresource). Growth will be compounded by significant increases in interactive panel production as new capacity comes on stream in both South Korea and China. Increases in average panel size and reductions in price are anticipated.
Value-adds for classroom touchscreen solutions
It comes as no surprise that the two most successful brands in education iFPDs offer substantial added value to their hardware products in terms of software and content. The lack of available funds, in the hands of teachers, has been a notorious bone of contention for years, with neither of the two market-leaders, Clevertouch and Promethean, feeling able to change for individual teachers’ digital resources.
Rob Xenos, Software Development Manager at the Cleverstore App store explains that: “Cleverstore (available on the Clevertouch Plus Series) is 100% free to teachers. This is because teachers just don’t have access to credit cards to buy apps”. Rob was tasked to build the Cleverstore in 2014, when Clevertouch noticed a gap in the market to bring educational apps, that you see on tablets, to interactive touchscreens as a teaching aid. “We conducted research and saw that teachers were actually using apps on a tablet and casting them to the screen to show pupils – not a very great way to do things.”
At the time, explains Rob, this was a radical step, as Clevertouch was the first iFPD brand to develop its own Appstore: “After much research on how to go about making your own app store, and looking at various ‘white label’ app stores, we started a collaboration with a 3rd party company, who could build us a completely bespoke solution so we could control the content.”
“Cleverstore is now into its 4th year of development and we have close to half a million app downloads across the world.” But how does Rob decide which Apps to include in Cleverstore? “We select apps based on the following factors – Demand – are we being asked for this by teachers? Compatibility – some apps are great on a tablet, but don’t really translate into a good large format user experience. Suitability – some apps, although may be fun and engaging aren’t actually very suitable to be broadcast to a room full of children and may contain unsuitable advertising content.”
There are of course some technical issues that have to be addressed before an App can be added to Cleverstore. as effectively Clevertouch is endorsing the product of a third party: “When we talk to a developer, and agree to conduct testing, we conduct a thorough test of the App to make sure it works on every Cleverstore compatible screen. We make sure that Apps collect no data, are cleansed of any advertising, are full blown apps that contain no additional content to be purchased.”
What about the developer’s commitment to longer support and updating of the App content? Rob says: “There are various bodies that offer seals of approval for safety for kids. We are very strict with our content and are constantly reviewing apps and suitability for the classroom. We maintain a developer portal where developers can upload the latest versions of their Apps directly, to make sure that an App is up to date.” And how about curriculum changes? “We only work with App developers who make educational Apps, who are always creating new Apps or updating existing ones. Some Apps fall outside the curriculum to cater for early years learning and development.”
For applications in secondary schools and above? Is there a case for using anything other than industry standard apps in higher education (GSuite, 365 etc)? Rob explains that use of industry standard applications can present issues: “Just because a large format touchscreen runs the Android operating system dos not mean that it has access to GMS (Google Mobile Services) – a collection of Google applications and APIs that help support functionality across devices. Google doesn’t grant these licenses for large format displays. We have seen some interactive displays that are side loading Google Services, and this is a clear breach of Google’s policies. That is why Clevertouch curates its own app store. There is no legal access to the google play store.”