$149 OLPC XO Tablet Pre-Order Starts, What to Make of it?

   
   
   
   
   

Resumen en español al final del artículo

After many delays Walmart.com started accepting pre-orders for OLPC's XO Tablet yesterday and the $149 device is said to start shipping on August 1. According to the full press release that same day the XO Tablet will also be in Walmart stores.

[Update: XO Tablets are sold out on Walmat - try


For more detailed information about the hardware and software specifications you can head over to OLPC's new XO Tablet product page.

What to make of it

In the past few weeks I've thought long and hard about the XO Tablet, what it says about OLPC and what it all means. Then I saw OLPC's XO Tablet FAQ and especially the following part:

"Q: How does purchasing a XO Tablet help OLPC's mission?
A: The XO Tablet is the first tablet featuring OLPC's XO Learning software environment. Proceeds from XO Tablet purchases will be used to further develop the XO Learning software and enhance it to address the needs of a larger population of children."

It's striking that there's no mention of constructionism, Sugar, free and open-source software or the ~2.5 million children and teachers who already have XO laptops. So especially after reading that piece my current thinking still very much aligns with what I wrote back in mid-May:

"Beyond that I'm generally still not sure what to make of the XO Tablet. Strategically it very clearly is a move to capitalize on the OLPC brand. It's also obvious that despite its planned use in Uruguay the XO Tablet is a run-of-the-mill Android device that has little to do with the broader vision and work that OLPC has done in the past 8 years. Yes, there's the dreamy software interface, some content partnerships, and cute green protective cover. But it's still a commercial and US-centric product that will compete with a hundred other tablets for virtual and physical shelf-space rather than even trying to make a meaningful impact on children's education." [emphasis added]

Then yesterday I saw this VentureBeat article which starts on a similar note:

"With its latest device, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is shifting its focus away from the developing world and to the aisles of your local Walmart.
The organization officially announced today the XO, its new Android-based education tablet that kids can use to watch videos, play games, listen to music, and, oh, learn as well."

But the most critical comment I saw came from Robert Fadel (OLPC Foundation's former Director of Finance and Administration and later Treasurer and VP International Operations from 2005 to 2012) who posted on Facebook:

"best thing about this, ‪#‎OLPC‬ finally admits its a discount computer company. next up, the world food program will begin selling french fries at 5 guys. http://bit.ly/11TDPjd"

Ouch!


Resumen en español: Después de muchos retrasos Walmart.com comenzó a aceptar pedidos para la XO Tablet de OLPC ayer. Segun el comunicado de prensa el dispositivo de 149 dólares será enviadoa partir del 1 de agosto. Ese mismo día la XO Tablet también estará en las tiendas de Walmart. En el sitio web muy simplista xotablet.com también hay un video promocional de ~3 minutos sobre el dispositivo (tambien existe una version muy parecida en español).

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I'm glad that OLPC has finally released what was originally put out as the [more]

According to Walmart's XO Tablet product page the device is currently Out of stock online:

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8 Comments

XO tablet is clearly a commercial venue trying to capitalize on whatever name recognition and appreciation OLPC has.
Is targeting different national development level, demographics and age group than the laptop program.
Does not appear to negatively affect XO laptop development, nor Fedora/GNOME/Sugar development and might even help, if some money comes in.
So is hard to see the fuzz.
Looking for "dangers" I can see 2:
a) The XO tablet is massively successful and exposes weaknesses in the Laptop/Fedora/GNOME/Sugar scheme.
b) The XO tablet is a total disaster and strips any public appeal/appreciation the OLPC, and consecutively olpc, may have.
I would seriously doubt any of the 2 will happen.
So let's get an XO tablet and see what is all about in real life.

I think the XO Tablet has already hurt OLPC:

(a) Its development and related re-positioning seems to have led to internal struggles which resulted in very talented peole leaving the organization.
(b) It consumed resources in an already resource-constraint organization.

Yes, there is a potential for gain but at best it's unclear how that would benefit the education of children, especially in developing nations.

At worst it continues to waste precious resources. In my opinion it would make more sense on focusing to improve the education of the 2.5 million children and teachers where governments and NGOs have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on XOs and related infrastructure and services.

I do not see any resource consumption, ie paid by OLPC to work on the tablet. The "helicopter project" and Nell, I believe were way before that and most of the personnel that left went to bobo a new Negreponte-backed activity unrelated to computers or education.
If you have any data regarding resources directed towards the XO tablet, would be nice to know.

mavrothal, I don't have any hard data regarding resource consumption but I'd be very surprised if Morphoss Ltd (who's doing the XO Learning UI) and Yves Behar's fuseproject did the work for free.

Plus don't forget about all the internal resources that OLPC must be spending on planning, executing, QA'ing, etc. this product.

The XO is a discount computer?
1. "... the XO learning system was developed by OLPC to provide educational opportunities to children around the world through connected devices ..."
2. if you know of any other electronic device you want to advise any parent to give their kids as their nr. 1 e-device to their kid and it's not the XO ... please let me know. Our Belgian gvt. spent some money on a not for profit that was working on ICT and education, to go find and alternative to the 120 € graphical calculator that's compulsory here at the age of 12. They came back with a little tablet of 99€. And a 249 iPad alike. I bought both, kind of a combination of: I can't get the OLPC XO, my kid will love some e-device - and don't give me these vtech walt-disney kind of crap - but a tablet of 99 €, what harm can it do, even if he breaks it. But nor the the 99 € nor the 249 € version can surf the web. They can connect to the android store, you can download lots of free educational or not games, but surfing with their 1,2 MHz processor forget it. I've worked with an XO for 2 months however, and that baby could surf the internet! So I don't understand where or why anybody would say the XO and OLPC is about discount computers. Again: ""... the XO learning system was developed by OLPC to provide educational opportunities to children around the world through connected devices ...". That's what OLPC said! It's not a laptop for poor kids. So again: the XO is the best laptop for kids out there, also for your kid, wherever you live.

The XO was a low-cost laptop, designed and engineered with great talent and with significant in-kind resources for the specific purposes you cite. In contrast this tablet is a branded off-the-shelf SKU. Its a critical leap away from what distinguished OLPC from industry and defined a mission. Nothing wrong with the availability of such devices but it is a dramatic departure from what OLPC was intended to do and into the mainstream of what - from Walmart's website - many, many others have already done.

The comment from AERTS confirms what you've said, Christoph, about the deviation from the founding mission of OLPC, "it's not a laptop for poor kids." It's a device mildly competitive in places where public schools have an array of choices for content, software and hardware.

What I find most unsettling about the whole effort is the silence and vagueness from OLPC itself. Though they've never been very open, I had hoped that the move into Walmart would have prompted a little something - more than that creepy promo video or the brief post in response to the alarms you raised about staff leaving OLPC.

This is such a far cry from the original announcement at the UN alongside Kofi Annan, when the mission really was about equity, access and learning outcomes for all - not about about the app store, the parental controls or this extremely surreal and nonsensical dream interface.

If OLPC had included a simple AM/FM radio antenna and a manual power source (the crank!) then maybe I could see a few features relevant for developing country contexts. As is, the house in that creepy promo video is the only context where buying one of these things would make sense to me.

My hunch is that ten years down the road, 'OLPC' itself will be something of a cooky hardware relic (a la Kinkajou), largely remembered only for having given birth to Sugar, whose potential and breadth is still just getting underway.

Thanks for all OLPC News does!

Well said Scott!

XO Tablets for Sale

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OLPC is selling the new XO Tablets on Amazon.com for just $149. Buy yours today!

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