NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Three years and nearly $1 billion into a bet on a digital education, News Corp's (NWSA) Amplify still wants to make its own mobile device, called the Tablet. This is even as costs mount and school districts reluctantly incorporate the technology into their classrooms.
Amplify's Tablet, a mobile device designed by Intel (INTC), is a key part of News Corp's digital education program for K-12th graders. By selling its own hardware, Amplify has sought to differentiate itself from rivals at McGraw-Hill Education, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMHC), Discovery Education, a unit of Discovery Communications (DISCA) and Pearson (PSO) Those companies don't manufacture their own education-technology devices, but instead work with computer makers such as Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), HP (HPQ) and others to produce software that runs on Apple and Microsoft devices.
Amplify's salespeople are shopping a remodeled Tablet this year; the earlier 2013 model introduced to about 20,000 students in Guilford, N.C. suffered from cracked screens and instances in which computer batteries partially melted. That device was recalled and replaced by a "ruggedized" Tablet, a 10.1 inch unit uses Google's (GOOG) Android operating system.
"The goal here is adoption, so if you can get your device into a school district, you have a strong grip on content -- that becomes a very interesting strategy," Shapiro said in a phone interview. "It doesn't seem to have had the kind of momentum they imagined yet, but then again, nothing has."
That could be because most schools have insufficient Internet broadband connections to make Amplify's digital learning tools useful. Some 63% of schools don't have enough bandwidth to meet the current needs for digital learning, according to Education SuperHighway, an ed-tech advocacy group.
And the wireless units aren't cheap. Late last year, the FCC increased its funding for wireless infrastructure for schools and libraries to $3.9 billion though a federal tax of telephone customers. Yet many school districts aren't clear on how they can access that money, Hamilton said. Many districts, Shapiro said, are making their way into education technology piecemeal, using a variety of software publishers and often partnering with foundations for the hardware.
In 2013, Apple partnered with Pearson Education in a $1.3 billion project to supply 650,000 students in the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District with iPads loaded with the company's digital teaching tools. But the program has been grounded in lawsuits and finger-pointing with the school district demanding a refund.
Houghton Mifflin CEO Linda Zecher said her company is making digital learning tools that can be used on a variety of devices. She said Houghton Mifflin chose not to make its own device because it could divert executive attention away from curriculum development, and it would place a publisher in head-to-head competition with very large technology companies.