Why the World Needs the XO-2

   
   
   
   
   

I guess by now most of you have read about the XO-2 which was announced by Nicholas Negroponte last week. Most people seem to like the design while at the same time nearly every comment I've read is very skeptical of the XO-2 arriving in 2010 at the $75 price-point Negroponte has mentioned. And you know what, it doesn't actually matter whether it's 2010, 2011, or 2012, $75, $100 or $188.

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XOXO CGI rendering.

Thank you OLPC

Regardless of what you think of OLPC, the price of the XO-1, its delays or other problems, everyone acknowledges that it's one hell of a breakthrough device and if it hadn't been for Negroponte and his /insane/ '$100 laptop' vision low-cost computing wouldn't be where it is today. Classmate, eee PC, whatever they're called wouldn't exist, I'd even go as far as saying that the whole device category that Wayan has dubbed '4P computing' wouldn't exist to be talked about.

The main reason why the XO-1 has had so much impact is because it was the first laptop computer that was tailored in every respect to be used by children, for education, in developing countries. Look at the Classmate PC, it's the result of a dirty hackjob that Intel had to pull out of its head on short notice. The eee PC is a Classmate in a sexier enclosure, accompanied by extensive marketing and the fact that it's available on Amazon. This made it very popular with people in North America and Europe. However it's neither been designed for the same difficult environments as the XO-1 nor specifically for kids.

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Asus eee PC 900

One step forward, 2 steps back

Now let's get back to the price of the XOs. We all know that $100 became $188 so let's assume that OLPC again overshoots its target by 200%. And you know what, at $150 the XOXO still looks like an excellent deal. Whether OLPC is on target doesn't actually matter, their goals are so /insanely/ ambitious that only getting their half-way would count as a success judged by almost any standard. Compare that to the Asus eee PC701 which should have cost $199 according to the initial announcements. Most people I know forked over $299 or $399 for their eee PC701 and I'm not sure the $199 ever became available in any decent numbers. If you look at the latest eee PC900 series with its price starting somewhere around $549 I'm not sure we can talk about a low-cost device anymore (and its battery life is worse than on its predecessor too!). That's definitely a step into the wrong direction.

OLPC on the other hand makes a bold statement about another clock-stopping hot (TM Wayan Vota) device that's supposed to cost significantly less and be significantly better than anything we know today. That's the kind of daring forward thinking that got us the XO-1, advanced low-cost computing and started 4PC. If the only price we pay for such significant and lasting advances are 3 years full of delays, cost increases and epic marketing-bull then I say: Go for it OLPC! Because no one else is.

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13 Comments

The big problem is that the XO CANNOT be bought at all by the average man while the eee can. Not even for USD188. You have to be a government in the developing world to be able to buy them.

This way it will have small effect (seeing how many governments are actually buying).

OLPC should be selling XOs by WallMart and alike. That way it would have effect.

Here, here, sola. Economy-of-scale has a big effect on the price; that's why NN originally insisted on selling batches of a million, right? IMO, OLPC should be selling an Ubuntu version of the XO/XO 1.5/XO 2 in first-world computer stores and Wal-marts (with a Sugar installed also, so they can be used by adults as ordinary laptops or by children for education). If they can sell a million laptops, they'll be able to sell them at lower prices to the third world, right? Price is really important when selling to the poor.

I have heard a lot of complaints of technical glitches and slow software. It sounds like they need to hire a ton of engineers to get these troubles worked out in a reasonable time frame. If they can sell laptops in Wal-marts, it should provide the necessary revenue for this important work. It seems to me OLPC should rely on the first world for all the funds it needs for software development, so that the third world need not pay a cent for software. And by growing the user base of adult XO owners, they will also have an easier time getting people to do volunteer work for the project--I don't think many open-source developers enjoy writing software for a machine they don't have.

Regarding price, it's all about Moore's law. Classmate, eee and others are following the traditional oem stratgegy. Moore's law allows them to regulary up the hardware specs while keeping the price constant. The XO instead is keeping the hardware specs constant and using Moore's law to drop the price. The result is that the XO is eventually going to be cheap enough for literally billions of people who could never afford something like the Classmate or eee.

And let's not forget that Mary Lou Jepson's new Pixel Qi is going to follow the XO strategy.

Forget Hardware. It's all brainware.

Deliver some CAD data for tested devices. The rest can be done much better by normal companies.

The software part - which is more important is already gone.

about the price we have to remember that one of the reasons OLPC can reach this price point is because it's not a company. OLPC had a partial free ride on MIT to design the computer, they don't have a marketing budget, a planning department and have to care about profit for their shareholders. It's all good for pricecuts, but it also means OLPC isn't available in wal marts and isn't capable to ship for consumers.

The price of the laptop is in a vacuum considering only the manufacturing process, Asus doesn't work in a vacuum, and that's how they were able to be so more available.

That's the difference between a non-profit and a real company

Here's an idea: Hey Apple, what about I sell you 1M of these you put a little sticker on them and sell them as $150 macs with a modified MacOS? That would allow a large customer base to free themselves from the Vista reign of terror, if you grow up with a Mac, you will probably buy a real Mac in the future. Another company that I would try is Google, just put their adds on the top of the screen and I'm sure they'll give them away.

"Go for it OLPC! Because no one else is."

That isn't entirely true. I keep a list of similar projects and here are the most interesting ones (I have URLs for them, but don't think it would be proper to include so many links in this post):

In Brazil - Caderno Digital, Lap Tupiniquim, Cowboy, Merlin (my own project) and several "one PC, multiple screens" alternatives. Note that besides the XO there have been pilot programs in Brazil with the Intel Classmate and the Encore (the Simputer guys) Mobilis.

From other countries - One2OneMate, TeacherMate, InkMedia, Elonex One and I would add the GP32X to this list though it is just a video game.

For people who have not already read Alan Kay's 1972 Dynabook paper, it is interesting to note that he had suggested that it would be a nice option to replace the physical keyboard with a touch screen.

http://www.mprove.de/diplom/gui/Kay72a.pdf

Back in 2003 he was telling me that 8 inch LCDs were getting particularly cheap so I suggested that using two of them in a folding configuration might be better than a single 10 inch screen and he agreed.

@sola:
You don't have to be a government to buy the XO currently, you can purchase via the Give Many program. Of course, this method requires a purchase of at least 100 laptops, and typically at a higher price. However, it's an option. G1G1 is coming back too.

I'm also not convinced that retail is the best option, especially with the current Sugar configuration. There's enough complaints from the G1G1 buyers who didn't fully investigate what they were getting beforehand to know that retail buyers are going to be expecting much more different than what the XO is. I'm not sure that diluting OLPC's focus further by developing a "retail" version is a good idea either. It's probably best left to actual companies, like upstart Pixel Qi, to create a consumer retail version based on the same technology.

@Alejandro
Apple is never going to release such a low cost laptop: part of their marketing appeal is of being a seller of premium products, and the XO is a little to Fisher Price for them nowadays. Apple'll probably expand the iPhone's capabilities until it's a de facto 4P machine instead of coming straight out with a cheap laptop.

I do like the idea of a Google laptop, possible loaded with something like gOS, and a bunch of Google Apps. I'm not sure if even Google could make giving away the laptops economically feasible though.

These laptops are already commercially available on eBay but the apparent demand is very low - only a few sold per day with an average price in the US of around $300. Now it's possible that there is a huge untapped market out there composed of people who don't want to buy from eBay but, I'm not convinced.

What seems more likely is that the demand from the general public is, very disappointingly, almost non-existent.

@alexandre van de sande,

Yes, olpc being a non-profit means the XO is not available commercially. That's why Mary Jane founded Pixel QI to put the XO technology out there to the rest of the world. And note that she is aiming for a very low price, too.

Make it possible to snap on or overlay a thin one or two millimeter thick keyboard and/or game controller directly ON TOP of the bottom touchscreen and have it still be closeable (no gap). Also the depression can be used to place a touchscreen protector also.

The reason for the ability to overlay a thin physical keyboard is so that custom input or data entry layouts will be possible while still offering tactile feedback. I'm sure keyboards of this type can be localized or customized and stamped out for less than one dollar.

Parts of the touchscreen can be visible through spaces in the keyboard.

We want third parties to get involved maybe a cheap version of the optimus type keyboards will be possible?

When snapped in, a keyboard can have a USB connection to the laptop so it doesnt have to rely solely on the LCD detecting presses. A person can carry multiple thin keyboards or keypads with them.

I reckon this concept is good for clamshell or "book" style mobile phones too. Allowing tactile game controlling as well as keyboard/touchscreening.

No, I'm more in agreement with Jonathan Blocksom (http://www.gollygee.com/weblogs/jblocksom/2008/05/new_xo_today.html).

I can't get excited about this new hardware until I see more evidence that they've fixed some of their development and deployment issues, and are not as prone to spurious fingerpointing (such as, but not only, blaming open source) as indicated by Negroponte's remarks.

As long as Sugar is the de facto interface, the XO is not a viable product in the first world. My XO was literally unusable - slow, awkward, seemingly random in how it reacted to mouse movement, and confusing - until I got an Ubuntu card for it. Now it's only slow and a bit quirky, but usable for very basic web browsing.

Like it or not, if you want sales in the US (and if you want to achieve mass volumes, you do), you need an interface that can compete with Mac or Windows for ease of use. That means folders, drag and drop and overall uniformity, where clicks have predictable results. Sugar, in short, must die.

I honestly think the way to go is to develop a windows box for $150 (huge challenge, given what Windows itself costs) that could serve for print serving, basic browsing, email and the like. You'll get plenty of sales volume, though not much profit, but that's ok for a non-profit powered largely by volunteers (and you'll get plenty of those, at these prices). Then take everything you've learned about cheap hardware, slap in a cheaper OS for education, drop the hard disk for SSD, and there's your third world product. First world sales provides the revenue stream to support the 3rd world giveaways. And other computer companies will be threatened into making the product that many people actually want - very low power, very low cost boxes that do the basics well. Good for the environment, good for the marketplace, good for the 3rd world - only bad, really, for the shareholders of Asus and Dell.

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