Growth in the sales of Interactive Flat Panel Displays (IFPDs) into UK education has been spectacular. Driven by the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) replacement cycle, and the continuing investment by Academies, Free Schools and others, Futuresource forecasts 42% year-on-year sales growth in interactive displays, of which half will be IFPDs. Increased competition and commoditisation are the natural consequences of this trend, to the point where customers are asking: “Does it really matter which IFPD we buy?”
IFPDs – demand and competition
In its latest survey, Futuresource reports that 300,000 interactive displays were shipped in the first quarter of this year, of which 50% were IFPDs. The research specialists further forecast that CAGR will be up 20% by 2019. Interactive flat panel displays are quickly becoming an educational standard currently, having already achieved a 20% penetration rate in the classroom:
“Worldwide, interactive flat panels are quickly becoming the standard display. This growth has been driven by a few factors including large scale investment projects, like FATIH in Turkey and the Chinese Education Department, integrating the technology into the educational system,” said Colin Messenger, senior market analyst at Futuresource Consulting. In the 80% of sales were IFPDs.
Messenger believes that there are a number of factors influencing the speed of transition to IFPDs in the UK: “Positive movements, for the end-user, in the price and size of IFPDs mean that they can now be considered. If you look at Total Cost of Ownership, IFPDs can start to look attractive in comparison to projectors with their on-going costs for schools in maintenance, cleaning, setting up, re-calibrating and also their limited lifetime. Flat panels have none of these costs.”
“Interestingly IFPDs can be set up in places that could never have an IWB, such as libraries and break-out areas, so here IFPD installations can be considered as new or incremental sales.” Daniela Dexheimer, product manager solutions at NEC Display Solutions Europe, added:
“IFPDs offer a better overall image quality. The image is brighter and sharper and can even be used in bright ambient light. And of course when using displays you don’t have to worry about shadow masking. Also the whole physical installation process of touch display than is far easier than the installation of an interactive whiteboard system. NEC multi-touch displays don’t need any calibration and no additional drivers have to be installed. A very important point for most of customers is maintenance – no lamp change is required and displays have an overall longer life time.”
For the foreseeable future, the case for IFPDs as the primary classroom display has been made. Buyers are willing to pay the premium over projected displays, and trends in pedagogy, with a greater reliance on collaboration, are in lines with flatscreen technology and its ready fit with mobile devices, largely through wireless networks. The latest Futuresource figures for K12 education technology put the global value of the classroom technology hardware market at $14.9 billion in 2014, a 16% increase on 2013.
Mike Fisher, Associate Director Education Technology at Futuresource concludes: “The education sector is an exciting space and has a vast potential for vendors and services, 26.6 million mobile computers, including 11 million tablets were purchased in 2014 with more than 5 million classroom displays sold.” Mike Fisher, Associate Director Education Technology, Futuresource Consulting. From a regional perspective the Americas accounted for 48% of global spend with EMEA dropping slightly to 23%. We are expecting the market value to reach US$16.3 billion by 2019, representing a CAGR of 8.5%.”
With demand as strong as this, it is no surprise that the IFPD category is attracting high levels of interest from established education specialist vendors, new entrants – including major CE brands yet to fully commit to the education market. Ironically, the channel and many experienced education buyers are fully aware that the panels around which IFPDs are built come from a limited range of sources.
With limited scope for differentiating the hardware, a lot of other factors are coming into play. These include software choice; compatibility with legacy standards; and desire for single-source solutions (and therefore the product portfolio of the brand. There are also broader strategy issues including the customers for either installed software packages versus access to a compendium of apps.
With limited scope for differentiating the hardware, a lot of other factors are coming into play. These include software choice; compatibility with legacy standards; and desire for single-source solutions. [Picture: iBoard Touch DigiClass]
IFPDs – the sellers’ guide
In this section we consider the factors that education buyers of IFPDs take into account when choosing and IFPD solution, and the issues that they raise with resellers and systems integrators.
IFPDs: does size matter?
With many IFPDs replacing IWBs, education users will have expectations of the usable display areas they believe they need in order to continue with their existing teaching practice, Screen sizes of 70” and above are typically recommended in a standard classroom environment to ensure that every student can see the content. Larger visuals are better for student engagement and retention. But, this assumption is questionable with schools starting to adopt a more collaborative approach to teaching and learning. A much wider diversity of panel formats can be installed either in the same room as the primary class display or in collaboration spaces elsewhere in the school.
It is largely a question of budget and teaching strategy. Royce Lye, MD of BenQ UK challenges the conventional wisdom on panel size: “Whilst an affordable replacement panel for an IWB would currently need to be a smaller size, it is offset by a higher resolution that’s brighter and clearer. A typical IWB would be 77”, UK sales have been typically in 4:3 format. Taking this improvement in resolution and widescreen format we have recommended replacing 64” IWB’s with a 55” panel and 77” IWB’s with a 65” panel. How this central display interacts with the class is improved by using software such as DisplayNote to collaborate with student held tablets, takes away the perceived loss of size.” With costs per square inch reducing with the strength of the competition in the mark the issue of price for any given IDPD format needs to be regularly reviewed.
For those customers seeking absolute reassurance on panel size, BenQ’s introduction of the exclusive 79-inch, RP790+ with a highly competitive street price gives them a similar interactive canvas to the IWB its probably replacing. A feature of this display attracting a lot of interest among education buyers is BenQ’s Eye-care technology. This screens out the blue light that is known to cause eyestrain among users after protracted viewing.
IFPDS: is price the determining factor?
Price is always a factor, but the gap is closing between IFPDs and other interactive technologies Shaun Marklew, sales and marketing director at Sahara – the UK market leader in education IFPDs “The price is a factor, but in the UK market the historically high cost of interactive whiteboards means that a touchscreen solution is not that different in terms of cost. The high resolution screen, high brightness and lack of shadowing means that a 65” or even smaller has been acceptable. The touchscreen technology also seems to be more user friendly because of the lack of calibration required and as touchscreens become part of our everyday life it is just a more acceptable technology.”
Zulfi Baig, Commercial and International Operations Director at iBoardTouch, believes that: “Price is of course a factor, but UK schools are relatively experienced buyers and users of technology, so more likely to know what they want and focus on value rather than price alone. Schools are investing in tablets for all pupils and look to the interactive touch screens to serve as a hub for collaborative learning and, increasingly, to facilitate active or flipped learning, where the students learn together in groups supported by online video and other content. Given that, schools should assess IFPD options by considering what tools are provided for interactive collaboration in the classroom and given the radical changes taking place in teaching methods, flexibility to share and collaborate in a variety of ways, now and in the future.”
IFPDs: is the software a deal breaker?
There was a time when SMART and Promethean were the only games in town, and if the hardware solution you were pitching couldn’t either run one of the leading solutions or offer compatibility with the, you were in for a tough time. Today, the former leaders in the IWB space are now head-to-head with software created in the IFPD era – although there are some doubts about user adoption of software bundled with the panels.
Zulfi Baig believes that: “Bundled software often goes unused because it doesn’t meet the needs of schools and universities. They want to continue to use PowerPoint, Office and any other software used now or in future but in a new collaborative way. They certainly don’t want to spend a large amount of time learning how to use often overly complex applications. Educators look for a set of easy-to-use interactive collaborative tools that enhance the software tools they already use, and that’s the approach we have taken. Our software provides the interactive whiteboarding and annotation tools schools are used to, enables them to open native Smart and Promethean files so they use all their legacy materials, and tools that make sharing and collaborating simple and easy within the classroom, other school and with other schools and organisations.”
The availability of education software hasn’t killed off the solutions available from the IWB leaders – far from it. Steljes, for example, provides a popular pairing of SMART Notebook with the BenQ range of IFPDs, as well as SMART’s own panel the distributor’s own brand of IFPD called VIVIDTouch. Steljes is now the exclusive distributor of software made popular on the Clevertouch range from Sahara. Sahara itself has moved to an app-based strategy.
Promethean’ ActivPanel Touch interactive touch panels are currently paired with ActivInspire software that allows users to use any programs running ion their PCs, and to plug into content from a wide variety of source devices. The displays are available in 55″, 65″, 70″ high-definition or 84″ ultra-high-definition touch formats. ActivPanel Touch is said to transform the traditional ‘front-of-the-classroom’ interactive display into a collaborative learning centre where multiple students can simultaneously share ideas, practice team-based problem solving, manipulate images and edit digital content.
ActivPanel Touch promotes active participation in whole-class or small-group lessons by providing vivid interactivity and engaging learning experiences. In August, Promethean’s ActivInspire Professional Edition will be joined by ClassFlow – a new, cloud-based instructional delivery system that that is said to increase the depth of student and teacher engagement by providing interactive and collaborative use of classroom devices, digital curriculum and assessment.
For those customers considering a mixed estate of IFPDs and interactive projectors, Hitachi offers its Starboard software on both display platforms. If a single source supplier if an important consideration for the customer, Genee World offers a comprehensive hardware portfolio, including G-Touch IFPDs ranging from 32” to 84”, tablets, kiosks, visualisers and voting systems, plus the company’s own software applications.
IFPDs: is it about more than the panels?
With the move to a collaborative teaching approach, the IFPD provides both a hub and capture device for the collaborative network. The 84” G-Touch from Genee World has two cameras built-in for both video conferencing and image capture. iBoardTouch provides: ten-point touch, draft pens for those that prefer a pen to write or draw with; DigiClass to connect and collaborate with iOS, Android and Windows device; tablets (teacher and student versions) preloaded with DigiClass for schools that want to standardise on one platform: motion and voice control. The iBoards have built-in Wi-Fi (and create a Wi-Fi hotspot), Bluetooth and on-board Android and Playstore. The manufacturer provides a webcam and video conferencing software on its Pro models.
IFPDs: are support and warranty critical issues?
In a collaborative learning space, the IFPD is a mission critical piece of equipment. Reliability is vital and, in the event of a failure, the ability to effect a fast repair or swap-out something that education buyers are increasingly aware of. Royce Lye has elected to use V as best in class support and maintenance for the company’s products. iBoardTouch says it is the first in the industry to offer a six year warranty as standard.
Education is less brand-sensitive than other sectors and schools are willing to listen to trusted suppliers to for advice on what to buy. Competition means that there is a wide variety of prices and it is possible to they can get quality and reliability at a competitive price that gives them excellent value for money. Given that there is little variation in the base panel technology, the differences are subtle and require a good understanding of a school’s educational practices and ambitions,
Case Study 1: Church End Lower School
Church End Lower School in Bedfordshire is a split site primary in the village of Marston Mortaine. Head teacher Brian Storey and his team wanted to install the latest AV classroom technology solution to replace the schools existing smart boards. They were looking for front-of-class displays that would provide a clear and large teaching screen, low maintenance for the in-house AV technician, fully touch interactive, height adjustable and be robust and tough enough to withstand the classroom environment.
DWM Technical Solutions Ltd worked with the school to deliver a whole range of ICT services including consultation, design and installation of wireless and switching, VOIP and UPS solutions. The company was also asked to recommend a large format interactive touch display screen to meet all of the schools requirements. Clevertouch IFPDs come with a raft of award-winning interactive software as standard, designed specifically for teachers in the classroom.
DWM has a fully qualified and certified Clevertouch trainer who was able to help staff integrate the new screens into their lesson plans as well as ensuring a smooth transition as the school switched from IWBs to Clevertouch. The technical and user support helped staff learn how to fully optimise the screens latest interactive technology in order to excite and engage the children and improve learning.
Chris Kester, dedicated DWM Project Manager assigned to the Church End Lower Project. said “Using the CleverTouch screens made a big difference in how quickly and easily the install progressed. With built-in speakers meant there were no issues with sound sources and commissioning was a breeze due to the driver-less nature of the screens. Our engineers and I were all impressed with the screens. We know that the staff at the school were too – they told us they were amazed at how much more they could do compared to the previous screens”.
Case study 2: Wood End Academy
Wood End Academy replaced their IWBs with 65-inch iBoardTouch touch screens in every classroom. The Academy specified the replacement solution should include software to help improve productivity, engage students and reduce the need for extensive teacher training.
Wood End’s wish list included enabling teachers to interact with students remotely and control student documentation and educational work from teacher to student and vice versa. They wanted to help students to learn via videos, narrated by teachers in a live environment, as individuals and in groups and enable full interaction between students in different locations, all controlled by the teacher.
iBoardTouch provided a range of products within the Academy to allow teachers to teach and to collaborate using the interactive touch screens. These were used in conjunction with iBoardTouch all-in-one integrated desktop PCs, with students located locally and globally via iBoardTouch hardware and VCC Cloud Software.
Teachers now use the IFPDs to show bespoke presentations, videos, and to teach students on a one to one basis or whole class based interactive environment: “We moved from our old IWBs to iBoardTouch, as staff found the quality of the projectors was not of a very good standard and children were finding it difficult to read the boards. Since we have used iBoardTouch we have found them to be far clearer and easier to use. The children and staff love them.
“The IWB software bundled with the iBoards is extremely intuitive and we found our teachers started using it straightaway, which enhances the learning in the classroom. We have lots of files from other software which we are able open seamlessly on iBoards.”
Case study 3: University of Portsmouth
At Portsmouth University the emphasis is firmly on ‘learning by doing’ also known as Active Learning. The University required a solution which would enable the students to work on individual or group based tasks from their TEAL (Technology Enhanced Active Learning) Stations with the ability to display their work from tables or laptops onto the iBoardTouch Screens flawlessly and seamlessly.
Faculty Manager Andy Earwaker explains: “The TEAL studio is adaptable and flexible and facilitates collaborative teaching and learning.” Students learn by doing in groups rather than listening to lecturers. Each TEAL table was setup for three students to work in a group environment with their laptops or tablets connected to an i55 iBoardTouch wirelessly.
Multiple iBoardTouch Screens have been installed, both wall-mounted and mobile. These are all networked and equipped with collaboration software, giving tutors the option to give students individual or group tasked work and presentations. These can be displayed onto the larger iBoardTouch screens during the tasks being performed, all controlled by the lecturer. Dean of Portsmouth Business School Professor Gioia Pescetto says: “Our long term strategy is to invest in experiential and active learning like our mock court room, our Bloomberg suite and now the technology enhanced active learning (TEAL) studio.”