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Mimio gets independence

Is this the answer to expensive classroom tech?

It looks kind of weird, but it works — virtual whiteboard firm Virtual Ink has upgraded its Mimio product to become a disconnected device with its own memory. Mimio Xi will be out in the UK at the end of March.

Mimio is a folding device that, put simply, when clipped to the corner of a whiteboard or window can detect and digitally record what is written on the surface. Virtual Ink saw that its previous incarnation, being tied to a PC, wasn't being picked up by non-PC people, so it's put some Flash memory inside a smaller version, allowing it to be a standalone device.

Other upgrades include a more modular construction, which will allow Virtual Ink to future-proof the device — it will be making a Bluetooth wirelessly connecting module for the Mimio in the near future, as well as one that uses 802.11-standard wireless networking.

Launched in the US on the 11 February but not actually out until the UK launch date anywhere, pricing in the UK is refreshingly close to a straight currency swap at £599 including VAT — in the US pricing is £799 plus tax.

Greg McHale, Virtual Ink's president and chief exec, said the firm has so far sold around 100,000 Mimios. This doesn't sound a lot, considering the firm started out in 1998, but at an average £500 a throw that's a cool £50m.

But whether the devices will succeed fully here could well be down to how teachers and schools take to them and whether the government, in the guise of the DfES (Department for Education and Skills), is prepared to shell out for them.

McHale has a point about Mimio's advantages in education, however. At £500 each, Mimios come in at less than a quarter of the cost of a digital whiteboard, are far less complex and are possibly more flexible.

Recent DfES announcements about the future of the classroom, including the rather optimistic views of education secretary Estelle Morris expounded at the recent BETT education conference.

Right now 12 LEAs (local education authorities) are sharing £10m to run 30 pilot schemes, researching what new technologies can be used in education.

Although McHale wouldn't confirm or deny it, it's a fair bet that Virtual Ink is extremely sweet on the UK government, as well as talking to whiteboard and other office equipment manufacturers about building its technology into kit.

Virtual Ink has come a long way with some clever technology — McHale is almost worryingly enthusiastic about the Xi — but it's comforting to know that, back in 1998, the firm was as vague and full of marketing nonsense as all the dotcoms, bandying phrases such as "emerging market for business collaboration technologies" and "technologies that help businesses extend the value of information with affordable, integrated solutions". Ahh, sweet nonsense, it takes one back.


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