XO-3 Feature Threat: OLPC Vaporware to Create Real Products


Now this is ambitious. Nicholas Negroponte is putting forth the idea that after developing the XO-1, all he has to do is describe a possible XO-3 product - pure vaporware - and the market will race to create it before he can. That's his claim in an extended Xconomy interview about the XO-3 tablet:

xo-3 laptop
XO-3 tablet vaporware

"We may not ever build it," he says. That's largely because competition in the tablet and education spaces is so intense that commercial computer makers might fill the void themselves. "The interesting thing about now versus five years ago - five years ago, we had to build a laptop, because there wasn't a laptop" geared for the developing world, he says.

Now, Negroponte says, it's possible that "we don't have to build a tablet. All we [might] have to do is threaten to build a tablet. And what's interesting is that the key features of our tablet are ideas we want people to copy. So our IP will be as open as humanly possible."

If One Laptop Per Child still had its engineering experts like Mary Lou Jepsen that might be true. And if Negroponte didn't tip his hand so blatantly, like he did in this interview, maybe he could change an industry just by describing vaporware like this list from the interview:

  • 100 percent plastic: "So it will be unbreakable," he explains. "That's very key. It's not soft, but it's bendable. The way to make something unbreakable is to have it be bendable."
  • Super thin and lightweight: Comparing the XO 3 to the iPad, Negroponte says, "It's exactly the same size and screen size, smaller bezel." (The bezel is the rim around the computer screen.)
  • Haptic feedback: The idea is that when you use the onscreen keypad, it gives you force feedback that feels like typing on a regular keyboard.
  • Dual mode display: Like the current XO laptop, the XO 3 would have a display that works both indoors and in bright sunlight. This might be the toughest part to produce, and Negroponte says it is one big reason the tablet won't be ready before 2012.
  • Extremely low power: "What I'd like to do," says Negroponte, "is have it so you can just shake it so it will charge...you know wrist watches have worked that way for years."

But for all my respect for his marketing skill - and I do think he's a mad-genius at spin - he may just be over-reaching with this one. Its one thing to use subterfuge to get others to react how you want them to, but it usually means you can't tell them, or they'll see the bluff for what it is.

Oh and no credit in claiming impact if a random device comes to market with some of these features. To be a change agent vs. a futurist, you have to directly make things happen, as you want them to.


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Okay, so the forthcoming, often promised, surely soon to be here, XO-3 tablet from One Laptop pe... [more]


In all honesty, Wayan, what did you expect? Negroponte has a well-documented history of talking a big game but not delivering anything. You know that. I know that.

I'd normally have no problem with people pushing their ideas and even exaggerating their claims. In the case of OLPC, I make an exception because the future of millions of children is at stake. These are poor people, poor countries where the effect of wasting millions of dollars in a misguided, pseudo-educational project has the potential of negatively affecting them for many years. This is not a game where the children are guinea pigs and we can just away from the experiment after a while - "sorry, didn't work out. Next!"

There has to be some very serious responsibility and compassion, specially in a project pretending to have altruistic, humanitarian goals in mind.

Thanks for the post and the link, Wayan. I edited Bob Buderi's interview with Negroponte and my initial reaction to that section was the same as yours. If you reveal in advance that you're using vaporware as a persuasion strategy, does that strategy still have any power? Then again, OLPC does have a real history of getting other hardware makers to think of the developing world as a legitimate market. I think Negroponte's main role these days, like that of many foundation heads, is to be a hybrid cheerleader / gadfly / instigator.

If it is so low power, than some solar panels would be enough (like on calculators) to charge it.

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