Google gPhone: A One Laptop Per Child Competitor?!

gphone + $100 laptop

Much is being made of Mark "Rizzn" Hopkins' comments that his "Deep Throat" connection on the Google gPhone says:

the thought process behind [gPhone's] functionality is less about beating the iPhone and more about beating the $100 Laptop, which provides a huge clue behind what will be the pricing structure on this.
There are those, like Om Malik, who are going on about how that comment must mean that Google is going to compete with One Laptop Per Child, a program it sponsors:
By tightly integrating the Google Apps, Google Phone could become a viable rival to the much ballyhooed $100 PC being promoted by everyone from Nicholas Negroponte and Microsoft (MSFT), and will also over come the connectivity problem facing most of the $100 PC schemes.
Its only too bad that Todd, one of Gigaom's commenters, has to point out what Om missed but dedicated OLPC News readers already know:
Anyone who claims they have the next OLPC killer because they have some sub $100 piece of HW that runs some productivity applications has clearly not personally worked with the XO.

I have had the privileged, and like others who have also, the first thing you notice is that it is a collaboration tool presently optimized for education. It does not do the greatest job with PIM/desktop tasks because it was not designed for techno-gadget craving, white-collar workers.

Have an educator do a review on the g-phone and then I might listen.

Or you can go back to the follow up on Mark's original post for clarification that his source wasn't talking about a gPhone vs. OLPC XO rivalry, but that a gPhone would be like the OLPC, a low cost, but not low functionality, computing device:
olpc ebook
Can gPhone better an OLPC ebook?
He clarified that it's more of a long term possibility (based on functionality) of this device rather than an original design strategy. Development on this began, as I understand it, before both the $100 Laptop and the iPhone hit the market.

Regardless, as Google's primary source of revenue continues to be advertising, I can still easily see them subsidizing purchase of the phone and attempting to recoup investment off ad revenue.

And if you think about the developing world, this makes total sense. Currently, cellular phones are high-cost purchases of limited technology devices.

In most countries, you can talk, text 120 characters, and maybe send a ring tone, but photos, email, or high-speed web surfing are all either non-existent or too expensive for widespread adoption.

But if Google could monetize those eyeballs, there would be a great opportunity for mobile phone operators to expand service offerings and reduce prices. Yet, I doubt any country, community, family, would want their children's eyes monetized in the classroom.

Nor would a cell phone come close to the functionality and educational empowerment of a Children's' Machine XO laptop. So for all the hoopla, everyone can chill out. The gPhone isn't going to be a "$100 laptop" replacement anytime soon.

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I agree, Wayan. The Google device, beyond dedicated software applications that are not probably geared to what OLPC is aiming for, is presented in a form factor that says "telephone", not a "laptop."

I've read reader comments here regarding the size of the XO and how the keyboard is too small. It may be true that adult-sized hands would find the XO less than ideal for speed typing (while being just about right for children.) But who finds the micro keyboards on these "super phones" properly proportioned for anybody? Even the smallest set of hands would probably have to resort to pecking away with a stylus pen.

What would the ideal third world cell phone end up looking like? If you apply the "less is more" aesthetic that OLPC has used to reinvent the laptop computer, a no-nonsence commercial cell phone such
as Samsung's Jitterbug might be a good point of departure . . .

Marketed primarily to senior citizens (although I think that the appeal trancends that demographic), this device does just one thing . . . allows you to make phone calls. There are no cameras, video games or even texting. Most importantly, it doen't pretend to be a computer. It's acually just a bit physically larger than a typical clamshell cell phone and this allows
for a generously sized keypad and LCD. The earpiece is padded and this helps to reduce background noise. If one were to design a way to seal out water and dust
when its closed (and make the case white and green?), this could be the next "One Cell Phone Per World Citizen."

Computer, mobile phone ... these distinctions are going to keep blurring. The 'rivalry' that you speak of is, on its face, a rather specious contruct. There are many ways to view this sort of thing in a 'competitive' way. On feature sets: yes indeed, as currently imagined in most press reports, a gPhone is hardly an OLPC killer. But then again, there are other types of competition. There's one of mindshare, of course. But there are others. If you ask Nike executives (for example) about their 'competition', they will admit that teen embrace of mobile phones in developed countries is decimating their mid- high-end sneaker sales. (There is only so much money to go around, after all.) If a $50 gPhone-like device rolls out and does a few things well in the eyes of the large institutional buyers Negroponte covets, well, you might well have some 'competition' then. Buyers of the OLPC are going to buy it for what they want the device to do, not necessarily for the reasons that the OLPC people, or people on this mesage board, advance.

There is something in the industry called "refresh rate" which means the rate at which they expect you to trade up to a new gadget. I think with mobile phones this is in the order of a year - PDAs about 18 months. That's why they don't last long. Have you got a mobile phone that's 5 years old? I have , but it's close to falling to bits.

Beyond the price point, there's almost nothing left to make this comparison make any sense. The big hurdle for "smartphones" in LDCs is the non-existent (or terribly expensive) data rates; Google is not going to become a mobile operator in every country of the world, so mobile data rates will still be in the hands of telecoms. Totally different markets.
Of course, if it works as intended, the gPhone may be a hit with the same people that may be willing to buy a OLPC computer in developed nations, but that may be a cash flow problem at the most.

I'm against the interpretation of educational reform behind the current OLPC plans, but I also recognize that the discussion is about educational value and usefulness, not just about price. Unless Google is intending to create a whole new educational platform around the gPhone, there's very little to argue about this.

And Wayan: congratulations on the anniversary.

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