Amazon takes up whispering in class

Press a button and your students suddenly have new textbooks in their hands. Amazon thinks it can do this using its Kindle electronic reader.

Teacher's fantasy: Press a button your students suddenly have new textbooks in their hands. Amazon thinks it can do this using its Kindle electronic reader. The company has just unveiled something called Whispercast, a free wireless system that lets a teacher's Kindle communicate with student tablets and new books materialize from the ether. Amazon hopes to use this to gain a foothold in the education market where Apple has a head start. Unlike the free-for-all that is the internet, Whispercast is about control.

You can block Facebook andTwitter, important for schools," says Brian Barrett, managing editor of the tech news site Gizmodo. "You can make sure that no purchases can be made from the device. You can regulate the Internet so that only approved websites are visited."

Amazon isn't the only tablet maker trying to sell to schools. This year Apple's pushing to get iPads -- and the textbooks they can hold -- into book bags and classrooms, but Barrett thinks Whispercast may have advantages.

"Apple has something similar. Apple has an Apple Configurator where you can set certain preferences and make certain controls. But it's not nearly as robust as what Amazon is offering with Whispercast."

Part of that is delivering batches of digital textbooks from Amazon's vast in a click. And the teacher can control what the students' Kindle is doing. It could be just the beginning.

"You can imagine teachers notes and other things that would appear right in line in the book, as an example," said Amazon's Jay Marine who oversaw Whispercast's development. "I think what we can safely say is that digital learning is going to increase and won’t even recognize what the classroom of today looks like in ten years."

Whispercast builds on the nearly hidden wireless network that's been included on most Kindles since the beginning.


Time to bring some juice to what is probably the most humdrum thing hanging on your wall at home. I'm talking about that unblinking eye known as your thermostat. Maybe you have a programmable one, but data show that most people don't program them which is a colossal waste of energy and, therefore, money.

"It depends on how cold it is and how warm it is, I'll adjust it at that point," said Ray Cordero, manager of a Lowe's in New Jersey who owns a regular thermostat, the kind you buy for about $25. However, his store has just put up an interactive display for a new thermostat that costs ten times that. The Nest Learning Thermostat, second generation, hit the market this week. The Nest tracks every time you put the temp up or down or adjust it remotely via a smart phone. After a while it programs itself and senses when you're not home to save more energy. Conceived by the same guy who was behind the original iPod, there's a hockey puck-shaped color screen surrounded by a steel control ring. But here's the trick, coming from me, a guy who likes to monkey with these sorts of things. You will want to check if your house is wired for it.

A NEST display at a local home improvement store.

The other morning I cracked into my old thermostat to see. After yanking off the faceplate, there were six screws, with wires leading to three of them. Printed in copper on the circuit board were labels, "RC", "W", and "RH." Then, on the Nest website, I found a configurator, where I could check off the labels on the wires and it would calculate if the it would work for me -- success. The website concluded both the First Generation and the new Second Generation Nest thermostats were compatible with my house.

I am not sure the $249 price is compatible with my budget, but Nest says while its version one worked in three-quarters of homes the new one works in 95 percent. It comes with a lovingly-designed screwdriver or you could pay for the "concierge" service, where a pro brings his own tools.

 

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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