Okay, so the forthcoming, often promised, surely soon to be here, XO-3 tablet from One Laptop per Child will probably, most likely not include a laser ray gun, but I bet Nicholas Negroponte was thinking about adding that to the list of fanciful items he mentioned in his most-recent interview. To Agam Shah, he said:
OLPC is designing rubber covers intended to protect the tablet but that could also integrate solar charging, satellite Internet or external keyboard capabilities, said Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of One Laptop Per Child.
Let us take a moment and dissect the real probability that the XO-3 will have any of those features in a rubber bumper, and if so, how amazing that would be:
Yes, we already have a few attempts at solar paneled computers, most recently with the Samsung NC215S solar netbook, yet I don't see the smarts in including a solar panel in the XO-3 (or any other laptop).
The requirement to leave the tablet out for hours in the sun mid-day to recharge is onerous, as that's when the children would want to be learning with it. Better is a separate solar recharging system that could offer power for tablets, cell phones, lights, and the whole assortment of solar powered devices now targeting the developing world.
I think Negroponte has been standing in a VSAT beam too long if he thinks there is any way a transceiver strong enough to reach satellites could be housed in a tablet - and then be used close to the body.
First, there is the power issue - antennas that can reach satellites would blow right through the power envelope of a tablet battery, or even a standard laptop battery. Even BGAN terminals only have an hour or two on a standard Lithium Ion battery. Then, if cell phones, which have a relative tiny radiation output, are already questionable to have near the head, there is no way children will be safe putting a satellite antenna in their laps. Radiation burns don't mix well with learning.
An external keyboard might actually be a good idea considering OLPC's success rate with the XO-1 line of laptops. Pretty much everyone agrees that the keyboard was a major fail point and the trackpad was useless. An external keyboard option might be a great insurance policy the second time around. (An aside - replacement XO-1 keyboard/touchpad assembly are now for sale)
Now there is some believability in Negroponte's comments about the screen. If (and that's a big "if") OLPC can pull it off, this display advance would be extraordinary:
Decisions are still being made about the display, which is holding up development of the device, Negroponte said. OLPC wants a transflective screen, much like the current XO, but with improved richness in e-ink and transmissive modes. OLPC plans to use spin-off Pixel Qi's hybrid screen, which can function in e-ink mode and like a normal LCD (liquid crystal display) to display full-motion video. The display can absorb ambient light to brighten screens and reduce power consumption.
Yet I am thinking that Amazon or Apple might be a bit more interested and interesting a partner to Pixel Qi if this technology comes into being at full production scale.
XO-3 Reality Check
Do recall that Nicholas Negroponte announced the XO-3 back in 2009, and last year said that OLPC didn't even need to make it to have impact.
Well, the XO-3 better leave the vaporware realm ASAP if its gonna have any impact. The Indians have already debuted their $35 tablet, just one year after announcing it, and Apple is selling over 25 iPads a minute. We may have One Tablet Per Child long before the XO-3 ever ships.