An IT channel guide to Back to School 2010

While many students aren’t fans, for the IT industry the back to school season is one of the most important selling seasons of the year, right up there with Christmas and the government year-end. And with a recovering economy, the industry is hoping the 2010 back to school season will earn them an A grade.

While laptops and netbooks remain popular back to school choices, it may be wireless and accessories where the channel sees the most interest this season. Personalization and fashion are important to students, so accessories for their laptops, Apple iPads and other portable computing devices are expected to be strong performers.

And students and parents may be ready to spend again, albeit cautiously. Research from NPD Group on the U.S. back to school market shows purse-strings are beginning to open. While 38 per cent of respondents plan to spend less this year, that’s down from 44 per cent last year. Some 40 per cent will spend the same, and 22 per cent will spend more. Electronics are expected to get 30 per cent of the back to school spend. And with the U.S. economy recovering more slowly than Canada’s, those spend numbers should be higher north of the border.

Distributor D&H Canada is gearing-up for a strong back to school season. Marketing manager Randy Churchill says they’re leveraging best practices from their U.S. subsidiary and are working closely with campus book stores to help them be trusted IT advisors to students and their parents.

“We felt this was the right year,” says Churchill. “Last year was down, but what we’re seeing right now is trending exceeding our expectations.”

Families are still looking to stretch their dollar though, he says. One trend is storage partners offering upgrade services, where they replace a laptop hard drive with a larger or even solid-state model and transfer the data, extending the life of the device. Security is also another driver for students, because of the risk of identity theft.

“I have two daughters in college and they’re all running encrypted flash drives,” says Churchill. “They’re a strong seller, even surpassing traditional flash drives.”

Other strong categories include the Apple iPad, iPhone and related accessories, e-book readers, and green luggage and messenger bags. D&H adds partners will see the best margin potential by driving attach with accessories to core IT purchases.

For Future Shop, the trend this fall is inter-connectivity says Dave Chichelnik, department sales manager at Future Shop‘s Yonge & Dundas store in Toronto, and it’s all about media.

“Media-based devices have really taken over based just on the evolution of laptops, with dual core and quad core functionality available at a fraction of what it used to be,” says Chichelnik. “Most people have a ton of media, whether it’s in iTunes or backup storage.”

Chichelnik says students are buying laptops in the 15” to 17” range, with speed of performance being a key consideration. Desktops are only now appealing to a very specific breed of customer, with laptops offering comparable power at similar price points, he says.

“Netbooks are still huge. Most of our customers are looking for as small as a device as possible that they can do all of their multitasking and media sharing with,” says Chichelnik. The netbooks have really evolved with longer battery life, beter processors and more RAM. Netbooks are still a fantastic solution for students that require something on the go.”

Six products that could be popular with students this fall

Sony Ericsson Xperia X10

No student heading back to school can be without a cell phone, and these days it may as well be a smartphone. From Sony Ericsson, the Xperia X10 is a touchscreen phone running Google’s Android OS that’s thin, but probably a taller than most competitors on the market. But that’s because it boasts a 4-inch full wide VGA display; perfect for watching video and playing games between classes. It also comes with software for managing your music collection. It features an 8.1MP camera with video capture and built-in WiFi, and is powered by a 1GHz Snapdragon core and 1GB of internal memory.

Insignia USB Sound Bar

What would a dorm room be without a sound system? Of course, space is at a premium, so the Insignia USB Sound Bar can find a place to reside easily and securely with a clip, such as atop your monitor or laptop display, offering stereo sound through a USB connection to most laptops and netbooks. The sound bar is also powered by the USB cable, meaning one less cord to clutter the dorm room. It also features magnetic shielding over the two speakers in a single enclosure that prevents interference for crisp audio. And with 0.9 watts of power, it shouldn’t annoy those neighbours trying to study too much.

Dell Inspiron M101z

If pink isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Other colours are available. And that’s a good thing, because the ultraportable Inspiron M101z is a good choice for students that want portability but find a netwook just doesn’t give them the power they need. The ultrathin, sub-four-pound laptop features an 11.6-inch TrueLife HD glossy WLED display. It’s built around a hinge-forward design that moves the display closer and keeps the body rigid to help enhance strength and durability. It features a full-width keyboard and is powered by AMD Athlon II Neo Mobile processors and integrated ATi graphics, boasting over 6 hours of operation with its standard 6-cell battery. Colors and finishes include Clear Black, Peacock Blue and Tomato Red with Jax pattern, and Promise Pink.

Gateway DX4831-07c

It doesn’t have the portability of a netbook or a laptop, but if you don’t mind staying in your dorm room the Gateway DX4831-07c desktop packs all the power you’ll ever need with an Intel Core i5 processor running at 3.2 GHz and 8GB of RAM. The 1TB storage capacity features plenty of space to storage all your research and essays, not to mention a sizeable video and music collection you can enjoy through the HDMI outputs. The desktop boasts vibrant, rich graphics with the ATI Radeon HD5570 but, of course, with work to do you’ll keep the gaming to a minimum. With a standard DVD writer in the sleep black case, it should fit in well in the dorm room.

IP 42 Dual Alarm Clock Radio

Missing class on purpose is one thing, but to avoid doing it accidentally it’s a good idea to have an alarm clock. Coming in a variety of colours and sporting a stylish retro look and feel, the ip 42 Dual Alarm Clock Radio for iPod/iPhone from iHome features a universal dock to charge your iPod or iPhone as well as play or wake up to a selection from your multimedia library. It features two separate alarms to allow you to wake up to device playlist, your favourite FM radio or a buzzer, and boasts Reson 8 ported cabinet stereo speakers and bass, treble, 3D and balance controls to better control your stereo sound. It’s available on four different colours; hopefully won’t of them wont’ annoy your roommate too much.


The average dorm room quickly becomes a cluttered mess already. Through in all the assorted cables and cords associated with the range of electronic devices that inhabit the modern dorm room and it gets even worse. BlueLounge looks to provide an answer for that tangles mess with the CableDrop. Available in an assortment of colours, the CableDrop can be temportarily stuck anywhere it’s needed and used to hold your cables securely in place. So when you unplug your laptop and head off to class, you don’t need to go fishing for your printer or speaker cables behind your desk when you get back to your dorm. They’re sold in packs of six, offering a variety of either muted or bright colours, depending on your tastes.

Follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter: @JeffJedrasCDN.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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