Schools nationwide have been replacing their blackboards with digital whiteboards. On these PC-powered systems, teachers and students can manipulate images, write out math problems, and even watch YouTube videos. The market leader is Smart Technologies, based in Calgary, Alberta, which sold more than 130,000 units in 2008 and controls about half of the market. Better yet for the company, the brand name "Smart Board" is as close to a Kleenex or Xerox as the young industry has.
Smart's biggest challenger is Promethean USA, which is based in Alpharetta, Georgia. The company, a subsidiary of a British firm, says its Activboards are more intuitive than Smart's system. The Activboard technology is supported by a website that shares innovative curriculum ideas among 200,000 registered users, and it is priced in the same range as Smart's product line. Between January and September 2008, Promethean USA sold 54,000 boards.
eInstruction, a company in Denton, Texas, links interactive whiteboards to hand-held voting systems (think Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?). Students can vote on the answer to a question, allowing their teacher to gauge comprehension. The voting system "is one of the next must-haves," says Colin Messenger, an analyst with Futuresource, a research firm. Between January and September 2008, eInstruction sold 10,000 boards.
Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania-based Numonics is nearly 40 years old, and it has been focusing on the interactive-whiteboard market since 1993, when CEO Al Basilicato led a buyout of the company. The business goes after smaller contracts and, by offering customers online training, it "sells the benefit of having a more personal relationship with the company," says Basilicato. Between January and September 2008, Numonics sold 9,000 boards.
Why buy an interactive whiteboard when you can transform a regular whiteboard into an interactive system for roughly half the price? That's the question being posed by Luidia, a San Carlos, California, company that produces a portable device called the eBeam, which renders whiteboard projections interactive. Also unlike most of its competitors in this space, Luidia works with partners: 3M, Hitachi, and NEC use Luidia's technology in their equipment. Between January and September 2008, Luidia sold 25,000 units.
The Line: Though Promethean USA has the most recognized brand in the market after Smart Technologies, interest in hand-held voting systems could push eInstruction to the front of the pack. But as the weak economy forces schools to cut budgets, Luidia -- the low-cost option -- should accelerate down the stretch. --Jason Del Rey