In November I found a new position working at Prowise. Prowise is a manufacturer of interactive touch screens and my job is to help spread the word about just how good Prowise Touch Screens are and the possibilities they create.
When I joined Prowise in many ways I felt like I was coming home; a strange emotion for someone starting at a company but I’d spent so long in the IWB industry that I realised that this is where I do my best work and am happiest. I’d first got up close and personal to an IWB when I won a research contract to evaluate the Whiteboard rollout at St Thomas Aquins School in Edinburgh. A few years later I was tempted into a commercial role and left the hallowed halls of academia. Joining Prowise and starting at a company that innovates ruthlessly and won’t take second-best in any circumstance is very exhilarating – and just a bit scary.
One of the tasks I set myself over the break, was some in-depth research on the touch screen market, and all the other companies who make touch screens and market them to education. I’m stupidly nosey which means I love to know what products and services the competition are offering.
This research took quite a chunk of the Christmas break, and I approached it by visiting the websites of all of the main players in the market and really spending time getting to know their solutions and what they thought was good about their kit. I also spent some time pretending to be a teacher, member of SLT or IT Manager who was trying to make sense of the touch screen market.
- Would the websites help me make decision?
- Would I be faced with endless technical jargon and other rubbish?
- Would I know what to buy and why to buy it?
I knew what I would find before I even started the task; and the results surprised me not one bit.
So here are my conclusions:
1: The market is complicated and opaque. Making sense of each company’s offering is difficult. It is easy to get bamboozled by technical jargon, and if that isn’t bad enough, you have to also wade through endless marketing guff distilled into trite phrases such as: ‘breaking down the barriers to communication‘; ‘setting the classroom free‘; ‘touching your better self‘ and so on. (These are all invented examples of course, but you get the idea!)
2: Most manufacturers have too many product lines which confuses people even more. Choice is having meaningful decisions to make, rather than being faced with a huge list of “blah, blah blah”. Often touch screens are divided into ‘corporate’ and ‘education’ models. Too many times this is the identical touch screen, just bundled with different software. Often you pay more for the corporate model which means you are shelling out hard-earned cash for some second rate software which in other circumstances the manufacturer couldn’t give away for free. I’m no business guru, but my feeling is that post-2008 companies are equally as careful with how they spend their money as schools, so why rip them off? Some manufacturer’s models differ by just a single number e.g. EF-455B and EF455B2 but are quite different (HD versus 4K for instance).
3: Software is a huge problem. Software is needed to get the most out of any touch screen solution, I knew that even as a young and foolish researcher in a windswept Edinburgh in 2003, but so many manufacturers do not let you trial their software, so you have to wait until you are a customer or get a demo. This is not good; if the software is as good as you think it is, then let people try it out for themselves. If you are going to charge extra for software then this is a perfectly logical business model, but you need to let people browsing your website know this sooner rather than later. They will be putting together a budget for the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for this stuff!!
4: People will easily get confused about whether the boards come with a mainboard or not. The trend is for manufacturers to add a basic Android computer or similar mini-PC-thingy to a screen so that you can switch it on and get access to features such as whiteboarding or even browsing without the need to connect a PC. Whether the screen had a mainboard or not and what it could do was clear on only a handful of manufacturer’s websites. This is not a minor thing, being able to use the screen without a PC could be crucial for what you need the screen for.
I ended up with a 35 page document of my findings. But the 4 points above are a fair distillation of what I found. Maybe I approached the exercise in too cynical a frame of mind? Perhaps I’m just an old ed-tech lag hankering after days of simplicity which are long gone?
And Prowise? Where does Prowise fit into this….
Let’s look back at the 4 points:
1: Complex and Opaque
Prowise put the most important information on a single web page so you can compare the boards easily. If you want more technical information to feed your inner geek we can give that to you until your eyes roll back in your head, but when you are looking for the salient points you get them. Simple
2: Complex Product Lines
Prowise have just 2 product lines, EntryLine and Proline+
The product line names explain what the products are. All screens are 4k. EntryLine screen sizes are: 65, 75, 86, Proline+ are: 65 and 75. Simple.
3: Inacccessible software
Prowise boards come with Prowise Presenter software. This is cloud-based whiteboarding software and we offer a free account to everyone, whether the school has a Prowise Screen or not. You can click the button at the top right of the Prowise.com site to create your free account. This is full access to all features of Presenter, nothing locked or disabled. So you can try our software out to see if it works for you on any screen. Simple.
4. Mainboard or not?
Prowise boards (EntryLine and Proline+) come with Prowise Central pre-loaded, this is a mainboard running Android. This means you can start the screen with no PC and get whiteboarding. Want to save your stuff? Save it to the mainboard memory or take a snapshot of a QR code with your phone and it transfer there immediately. Need to check something out online? A browser is included. Want to change source because you finally decided to plug your laptop in? Just select the source from the OnScreen menu and off you go. Launch Prowise Central by placing your 5 fingers on the screen. Do what you need to do, then dismiss it. Simple.
It. Is. That. Simple.
If want to see what Prowise can do for your school then we’ll come and do a demo for you.
Just don’t expect us to ‘touch your better self’ 😉