For a long time, chalkboards were the standard method of displaying and relaying information in most classrooms. As technology advanced, the messy chalkboard was replaced by the white board, a flat, plastic surface that could be drawn or written on with special markers and then erased with little to no residue. As the chalkboard gave way to the whiteboard, the whiteboard is being replaced by a newer invention, the smartboard. Invented in 1991, the smartboard is a digital whiteboard that is touch sensitive and runs off of local computer system resources. It is an interactive whiteboard that can save and store any information that is written on it, as well as enable the user to refer to notes downloaded from the Internet or other sources.
The term smartboard usually refers to a specific brand of electronic whiteboard made by the company SMART Technologies, but the term is increasingly being used to refer to any brand of electronic whiteboard. Most smartboards have the same features, allowing users to input data through the use of plastic pens that contain no ink, the user's hands, a wireless mouse or pointing device. The software for the smartboard is loaded onto a local computer or network, where smartboard-compatible software can then be called upon for use on the screen.
While the smartboard does not utilize a traditional keyboard or mouse, the tray that holds the digital pens has two functional mouse buttons, allowing the user to perform common functions. The pens, which do not use ink or electronic components, are programmed to display as different colors, typically blue, black, red and green. The pen tray also contains an eraser that works on the same principle as the pens. Because the tools themselves do not have any electronic components, the pen tray is what causes the smartboard to be functional. The pen tray senses a tool's absence, and relays a message to its host computer's processor to start picking up input signals from whichever implement the user has chosen.
The smartboard software also allows users to bring up a digital QWERTY-style keyboard that can then be utilized by pointing to the letters on the screen. This feature is often used with other software bundles that are made available for use with the smartboard, such as Microsoft Windows or Linux packages. A smartboard comes with its own program, called Notebook, which is commonly used by educators in a classroom setting. The software allows handwriting input, but also has a spot for other information to be stored in a column along the side of the screen, so that information from a variety of media sources can be pulled up at a moment's notice.
In 2007, SMART Technologies produced and sold their millionth interactive whiteboard. SMART Technologies has manufactured three times as many digital whiteboards as their competitors, making them the leading producers of the technology. SMART Technologies is a Canadian company, headquartered in Alberta, but they have satellite offices in several countries, including the United States, Germany, Japan and China. Most of the smartboards released by this company are assembled in Canada.