Kara Swisher

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Exclusive: Kno Student Tablet Start-Up in Talks to Sell Off Tablet Part of Its Business

Kno–the much-funded and high-profile Silicon Valley start-up aimed at making tablet computers focused at students–is considering selling off the entire hardware part of the business and is in talks with two major consumer electronics manufacturers to do so, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources said Kno execs have recently decided that the quicker-than-expected uptake in tablet production by a multitude of powerful device makers had made its efforts to package a seamless offering less critical.

Instead, the company will focus on its robust software and services to offer students on the Apple iPad, as well as upcoming tablets based on Google’s Android mobile operating system and others.

BoomTown could not determine which two companies Kno was in serious discussions with about unloading its hardware business, but the company has signed an NDA with one of them.

But, if a deal is struck, the move would be a dramatic shift for the company, which has yet to ship significant numbers of the student-focused touchscreen device as it has long touted.

In fact, Kno said in November that it would ship a $599 and $899 version of the tablet by the end of the year.

The lower price was for its single-screen device, while the clamshell double-screen version was more expensive.

And, although it has been reported no pre-orders were fulfilled, Kno did indeed ship several hundred of them, built by China’s Foxconn, before stopping doing so recently.

Many have been dubious about Kno’s ambitious hardware efforts.

That’s because marketing a new and complex product like the Kno takes a lot of effort and cash, especially since it is an increasingly competitive market for mobile and portable computing products that includes Apple, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Amazon, Dell and many others.

Kno recently raised another $46 million in funding to add to a $10 million round, and sources said that the Santa Clara, Calif., company was considering going back out to raise even more.

Its current backers include prominent venture players like Andreessen Horowitz and First Round Capital, along with investors Mike Maples and Ron Conway.

A Kno spokeswoman declined comment.

But sources said the shift to deliver textbook and other student-related delivery system would be a better path for all that investment money, since Kno has established a wide range of partnerships with colleges and universities.

In addition, Kno Co-founder Osman Rashid has a lot of experience in digital education market. He was also the co-founder of Chegg, the textbook rental business that is reportedly aiming for an IPO soon.

You can see Rashid here, along with the Kno tablet prototype in the full demo video that the company did last year at the eighth D: All Things Digital conference:

(Want to see it bigger? Click here.)


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