Two meetings with Promethean

I’ve had a fairly surreal couple of weeks since I published my findings about Interactive Whiteboards. Promethean Ireland emailed me to arrange a meeting. Apparently, my survey has had an effect in the company and they wished to discuss it with me. As I was curious, more than anything, I agreed and met the sales and marketing heads from the company.
The two people I met were very nice. They brought me a coffee, a present of a Prim-Ed umbrella and a goodie bag and they said they were fans of this blog. Their intention, they said, was to tell me about their latest pricing scheme and to get further clarification about the survey.
I feel that my time was spent productively. I’m pleased to say that prices are coming down again and it is very clear that Promethean boards are now at a competitive price. They promised to send me exact figures earlier this week, but I haven’t received them. A ball park figure of about €3,500 will get you a comparable set up as you would get with any fixed whiteboard solution. I think that this now puts them in a very very good position against portable solutions. A portable solution, e.g. Mimio or EBeam, once you buy everything with it (software included) will set you back at least €2,500-€3,000. Because Promethean provide excellent training and offer good support, I believe it is worth the extra €500 investment.
Promethean’s top of the range IWB solution still costs €5,000 but it does offer a short-throw projector and height-adjustable whiteboard, which in itself would cost more than €2,000 if one were to source them yourself.
What this really does is throws up the challenge to Smart. Smart boards are now the most expensive solution out there, like for like.
However, apart from that good news, they were interested in why I wasn’t its biggest fan. I explained my case. I had to clarify that I am not “Anti-Promethean”. I explained that I am looking at all the options out there and reporting on what I think is the best value solution. Anyway, I laid out my reasons: Cost (more so value for money) was number one. Second was the restrictive nature of Promethean software, which I’ll get into later. Thirdly, I had to ask about the infamous sponsorship of the IPPN conference.
As I said before, they seem to have sorted out my first gripe. Also, to be very fair to them, they explained themselves regarding the IPPN thing and admitted that it hadn’t worked in their favour, (I would argue it probably did them more good then damage – but that’s not important), and that although they will again be sponsoring the IPPN conference next time, they will not be stopping other IWB companies to exhibit their wares.
On the second point, they asked would I be willing to meet their head of development. They said that they were probably not in the best position to talk about the bells and whistles of the Activ Primary software. As I felt the meeting was positive and I appreciated that they had come all the way down the country just to meet me based on a blog article, I agreed. I joked with them whether this next meeting would result with me being beaten to a bloody pulp. We parted in good spirits and I went home very pleased with Prim-Ed/Promethean for their excellent commitment to their product and the pride they showed in working for their company. I think it is a credit to them that they would spend so much time and resources to visit some guy who blogs a little. It certainly shows a super reflection on how they treat their own customers.
Yesterday was the day I met the head of development. This time there was no coffee, no umbrella and no goodie bag. There was no small talk either. I was offered a seat in front of a portable version of a Promethean board and the man began the tour.
I wasn’t there for a tour. I was there to suggest improvements that the software team might use in the implementation of their next version of Activ Primary. These suggestions had come from the course I’d given because teachers found it difficult to do certain things.
I wasn’t there to bash Promethean or say that other IWBs were better, etc. I’m fully aware that Activ Primary is an excellent software solution for IWBs. However, if another company just made their software look bigger and brighter, the average teacher would not see too much in the difference. At the moment, I think TextEase Studio and Smart’s Notebook are its closest competitors and have most of the basics that Activ Primary has. They are only missing the aesthetics.
So I was there to offer my experiences and suggestions on how Activ Primary could be made better. I am aware that all the issues I list can be done on Activ Primary. I also believe most of them cannot be done using other boards’ software. However, on the course we found them to be difficult or impossible to do. Below are a few of the issues:

  • Linking a sound to an object, i.e. when you click on an object, a sound plays.
  • Integration with PowerPoint
  • Creating Hyperlinks to the Web
  • The “Categories” button
  • The inability to export Flipcharts as Flash / SCORM compliant files
  • You can’t use your finger to interact with the board

I suggested that a new option on the “right-click” menu for any object should include an “Insert…” or “Link…” option. This option could then be used to link the object to another file or web page. I believe that this is more intuitive than the other ways Activ Primary uses. For example, in order to link a sound to an object, one must open up the properties box, go to the actions, select the correct action, (i.e. Play a sound), then click OK. The problem with this is you cannot move the object after this. So in order to do it properly, there is a long 8-step procedure which I won’t go into here – but it took us 4 days to figure out on the course!
I had a lengthy debate with the man about the pedagogical usage of PowerPoint. He claimed that PowerPoint is a business tool for presentation, no more, no less and it shouldn’t be used in a Primary classroom. I argued that if it is used well, it has a lot of the benefits. I also mentioned the fact that teachers do use it. We went through a PowerPoint presentation but I’m not sure we came to any conclusion. I guess the main agreements we came to was that Activ Primary’s Import PowerPoint Presentation isn’t very good and that, technically Promethean boards can integrate with PowerPoint if you bring up PowerPoint’s own drawing tools.
The issue of not being able to use your finger on the board was brought up. I feel Promethean are fairly sensitive about this one. It’s the one thing Smart, (their main competitors), have that they don’t. Their main defenses are that people naturally lean on the board, thus causing mayhem with the cursor; they also think it’s unhygienic for little (and big) fingers to be touching the board; finally they think the screen itself is not sturdy and has problems with higher resolutions.
None of the teachers on my course leaned on any of the boards. The argument of hygiene could be said about the pen that other boards use too – how many grubby hands use the pen? And, ok… the screen isn’t as sturdy as the Promethean one. (Promethean ran a car over one their own inadvertently and it survived!)
I won’t go through any of the other issues but I made my points and tried to be helpful.
I learned one thing today about Promethean’s €800 solution, which I’ll write about in another post. I also have come up with an idea where you can make Promethean into a touch sensitive device –
again for another post.
However, I can’t say that my two and a half hours spent yesterday were beneficial. I did not leave with the same warm, glowy feeling that the marketing and sales people had left me with. I’m still not entirely sure why this man came to meet me and why I didn’t leave the meeting halfway through. I am getting absolutely nothing from meeting these guys. I don’t think too many people would be bothered spending two days of their summer holidays with a company they have no involvement with. I was willing to share my experiences, my knowledge and my theories with the market leader for nothing. I certainly felt I succeeded in the first meeting. However, a cup of coffee and a bit of small talk would have been nice the second time around.

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