I just got a letter (dated June 14) from the folks at SMART, makers of SMARTboards, etc. I’ve included the full text of the letter below, in case the link doesn’t work. It wasn’t sent to me personally, but rather sent out to licensed users of their products.
As I have mentioned before, I really like SMART hardware, but SMARTboards are expensive and not very portable. I’ve also documented a $50 DIY alternative, based on the Nintendo Wii controller, which has fewer features but can fit in a large pocket. The SMART software is also very good, but there are several alternatives and workarounds that can accomplish many of the same things.
This puts SMART in a difficult position. They have been selling their hardware and giving away their software for “free”. (It’s free the way a drink is free at Taco Bell if you buy a taco.) Unfortunately for SMART, edupunks who have access to an LCD projector can build the equivalent hardware for $50. I’ve been told from other people who have built their own interactive whiteboards that the best possible combination is the “free” SMART software on the more portable DIY hardware, which works with any LCD projector. So, now SMART is trying to clarify that their software is only “free” if you buy or use their hardware.
This seems like a losing battle for SMART. The RIAA’s approach to penalize consumers who copied music did not make sense but offering reasonably priced songs on sites like iTunes did. Hollywood was heading the same direction by threatening uploaders of copyrighted material until a compromise was reached that gives the copyright holder a share of revenue generated by ads next to their videos. Now that is smart.
What is the solution for SMART? Well, they could start by being clearer about the price of software — it isn’t free. They could also be clearer about how to purchase SMART software to use on other hardware (so called “Restricted Products,” below). They seem to be doing this in this letter, but is that it? I understand SMART’s desire to protect the products they have developed, but treating customers and users of SMART products as scofflaws does not engender much good will.
Our college just got a SMARTboard and two other interactive whiteboards made by SMART’s competitors and put them in the same room so that they can be evaluated head-to-head-to-head. I’ve suggested setting up a $50 Wii-based version as well. May the best interactive whiteboard win.