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(Reuters) – If
Adrian Hartog has his way, college kids will be sporting tablet
computers instead of backpacks loaded down with heavy textbooks.

The CEO of educational tablet maker mySpark Technologies is among a growing number of entrepreneurs attempting to change the way students study, share and do homework.

"Everybody is learning how to use the digital form," said Hartog, a former executive with graphic chipmakers AMD (NYSE:AMD) and ATI. "We’re really trying to provide a comprehensive solution for students."

MySpark
plans to market two versions of its tablet, based on the Android
operating platform, priced between $200 to $350 and due to be released
this spring, Hartog said. Aimed at the college market, the 10-inch
devices will let students buy digital textbooks, sync school calendars,
collaborate via instant messaging and run Android apps.

Using
a special stylus, they can take notes or annotate text; there’s even
cloud-based backup in case the device is lost. Hartog is betting the
device – still in beta testing – will push students to stretch beyond
traditional textbooks toward interactive material such as online
demonstration videos and Web-based coursework.

"People
will get access to content they never would have before," said Hartog,
whose company is initially targeting North America and India.

Classroom Competition

Hartog’s
Toronto-based startup is going up against a handful of other niche
educational tablet developers, including Santa Clara, California-based
Kno
, which makes a tablet
under the same name. They face tough competition from industry leader
Apple, whose iPad created the market for tablet computing, as well as
Samsung’s (PK:SSNGY) Galaxy Tab and new devices from tech giants Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ).

"Big
players, little players, that’s what’s really exciting about all of
this," said Warren Buckleitner, a child psychologist and editor of
Children’s Technology Review, which evaluates kids’ tech products.
"Everyone wants to build a better mousetrap for learning."

U.S.
schools have been slow to pick up the new technology, but next year
will likely see significant implementation of tablets in classrooms,
said Buckleitner, who argues the iPad will prove a fierce competitor.

According
to research firm Gartner, the worldwide tablet market is expected to
reach 54.8 million units this year, nearly doubling those sold in 2010.
By 2014, it could surpass 208 million units.

It’s
not just school-age kids capturing tablet makers’ attention. Santa
Monica, California-based Rullingnet, for one, is set on creating a
device for toddlers. With soft, child-friendly edges, its Vinci Tab provides storybooks, music videos and games to spark curiosity in young learners.

"We
want to help kids build critical thinking skills," said founder and CEO
Dan D. Yang, who reconfigured a Galaxy Tab to meet the needs of her
young daughter.

"By 15 months, she
was already able to play with apps on the iPhone," said Yang, a former
fiber optics industry entrepreneur, who thought the iPad was not the
right fit for toddlers. "It’s too heavy, not safe. It doesn’t let a
child do some focused work."

Rullingnet,
which has seed capital of about $10 million from Yang, is working on
two models of Vinci aimed at reaching market by mid-year, with the
primary device set to retail at $479, she said.