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Silicon Valley startup Kno will begin shipping preorders of its special-purpose tablets for students tomorrow.The company is trying to convince students or parents to pay up to $900 for a tablet computer for reading textbooks and taking notes, but won’t disclose how many tablets have actually been ordered and won’t let reviewers write about them yet.
According to Kno cofounder Babur Habib, the Kno tablet has a couple of important distinctions from e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle or general-purpose tablets like the iPad. The 14.1″ screen on the single-screen version is large enough to display most textbook pages without forcing users to scroll to read, and existing electronic textbook formats can already work on the Kno. Unlike electronic textbooks on laptop computers, the Kno also lets users annotate, highlight, and write in the margins, just like students do with their regular textbooks.
There’s also a dual-screen version, which is so far unique among tablets (although Microsoft’s abandoned Courier project was exploring a dual-screen form factor as well). This lets students spread text across two electronic “pages” like a regular textbook, or take notes on one screen while reading on the other–a popular feature among testers at U.C. Berkeley, according to Kno.
The company says they’ve gotten twice as many orders for this dual-screen version, but without actual shipping numbers, that’s a meaningless statistic–they may have sold 20 versus 10 of the single-screen one.
Kno has deals with several major textbook publishers, including McGraw Hill, Pearson, and Wiley, and “tens of thousands” of textbooks are available for it. It also offers a built-in Web browser, but no third-party apps so far, although there is a program for developers.
As far as the cost goes, Kno points out that textbooks typically cost $100 or more, but electronic versions are usually discounted between 30% and 50%. That means the Kno can pay for itself in a few semesters.
Still, it’s hard to imagine students begging for one of these monsters over a cheaper, lighter, and cooler iPad, and only the wealthiest early-adopter parents are going to spring for a Kno instead of a $139 Kindle. Without professional reviews from the likes of Walt Mossberg, it’s going to be an even harder sell.
Kno raised $46 million earlier this year from an investor group led by Andreessen Horowitz.
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