The XO Tablet Violates Fundamental Concepts of One Laptop Per Child

   
   
   
   
   

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I am Edward Lukacs and I have from the first considered tablets to be excellent playthings for those who use computers as adult toys. For adult work, on the other hands, they might best be considered large mobile phones for people who want to check email, etc. Secondly, the XO Tablet violates the most fundamental concepts of the original One Laptop Per Child concept, i.e., the use solely of open source and free-ware programs, to be added to a worldwide repository of instructional materials by people in the field.

I use a laptop as a convenient vehicle for writing fiction and for general written email communication. Actually buying a computer without a keyboard never entered my mind; for serious work the idea is absolutely ludicrous. In fact, I have retired my modern HP laptop for an older and upgraded Compaq Presario B2200 in order to get away from the idiotic 16:9 screen format and back to a more usable 4:3 shape, so much better for word processing.

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A Dumbing Down

In both cases, the XO Tablet and the newer wide format, the idea seems to be to optimize things for the entertainment of "The Great Unwashed" over their serious use in productive work. To which I add about the tablet that its sale in mainly the US market and with English software, with the active discouragement of foreign language software contributions is somehow appropriate.

After all, how else is a semi-literate American going to convince him/herself that they are teaching their child when in order to operate a true laptop, the adults might actually need to be literate? No, the organization has apparently decided to cash in its chips after making a lot of self-serving noise while simultaneously proving inept at their main mission, i.e., to make available and distribute at least a few hundred million XO-1x models to an easy billion waiting students instead of a few million.

A Return to Original Ideals

OLPC was good idea, a superb one, in fact. Why has it not succeeded? Could it have withered and died at the hands of officious do-gooders with an ego problem? Probably. But perhaps it might be possible to get the original concept on track by starting over.

ARM is going to produce an energy-efficient 64-bit processor, with prototype out this year. Perhaps the original case could be used, with a drop-in replacement motherboard with a huge (and far cheaper than in 2007) amount of memory and a modest solid-state drive? I cannot imagine that such a board could not be made now at a far lower cost than the originals seven or eight years ago.

Maybe, just maybe, if the work were done by good engineers, and in the back room and not in the educational reviews, a better and cheaper product could be produced, and in a more reasonable time. Then if politics and ego are removed from the distribution process, perhaps more of them could actually get into the hands of the children and teachers who actually need them? I think so, on both scores.

And truly, if we are ever to civilize this world and live in greater peace and harmony, it can only be done by educating every single child to the limit of their capacity.

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8 Comments

I am trying to make sense of the
XO tablet for my upcoming trip to Uganda. I cannot locate enough XOs to bring so I am trying the XO tablet.

I am disappointed in that many of the apps I click on require internet access as they are in the cloud. This won't work in areas where there is no WIFI.

One app in particular that I have been searching for is a writing app. The XO1 has a writing activity that allows photos and pictures to be inserted into a story. This is so important for the kids to tell their story or create new ones. Can't find it on the tablet but after 3 hours of trying to set up google play with a new login, so that these students are not using mine, I found genial writing 2, was able to download it, tried it, liked it BUT why doesn't it appear on my Apps list. Could it be another CLOUD app. Oh NO. Can anyone help!
Calling for a user guide (twice promised) is futile.

Hi Joanne,
There doesn't seem to be any writing app of the type you will find in Sugar on the XO laptop on the tablet. in fact, the whole "Writer" collection on the tablet is very disappointing. The "Christmas Story" collection has to be downloaded.
The "iStoryBooks" opens, but all of the books are unavailable... you get a note that says "premium content books are not allowed on this device". All of them are in that category, even the ones that aren't marked that way.
"Penzu" is a journal app that requires syncing with the web. "Wictionary" starts out like a nice dictionary... but easily goes astray and shows a lot of technical info about revisions... not what the children need... it stalls there and you have to go back to the home page to get out of it.
"Lexic" is a nice word search game, if you like that sort of thing.
"Quill" is basically an art program that looks like it is on a piece of notebook paper. I suppose children could practice writing their alphabet and simple words. They can change colors and make some simple drawings to go with them.... but perhaps paper would be better for that.
"Wattpad" requires a facebook login or that you join and log in. Children can't have Facebook accounts and I didn't want to "join"... so I don't know for sure what it does.
So, basically, most of the apps in the "Writer" section would be useless for the children you will be working with.
However, there is one really nice feature, sort of "hidden in plain sight." If the child goes to their own icon they will see an icon called, "My Books." This is one place they got things right! There is a very large collection of books, in both English and Spanish, for children taken from Project Gutenberg. They range all the way from simple fairy tales and to books for older children by authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain. Internet access is not needed to use these books, so, as a "book reader" the XO Tablet will serve quite well.
If it were my project, I would hold out for more regular XOs. The Sugar software they use is so superior for education that there is really no contest. Go with what you've got. Have the teachers work with them and learn how to use them really well, and meantime, keep looking for more machines. Good luck on your project!

I would agree that tablets are mainly for information consumption, but so are books the value of which in education was never questioned.
I would also agree that tablets are mostly for playing, but play is probably the most effective learning avenue.
I would also agree the tablets are less appropriate for creating some kind of work that involves mostly typing, but can be better in artistic creation (images, video painting, music).
So I do not see anything a priori detrimental with the form factor.
Of course machines that combine tablet functions with a keyboard like the XO-4 are obviously the most appropriate.
Software-wise, it would be ideal for everything to be free and open. The question is what do you do when they are not available and you can not do without them (hardware drivers) or the free one are really inferior/misbehaved or simply no one volunteered to build them? Do you chose to provide an inferior but free education or a better quality education with some propitiatory blobs in it?
I certainly do not suggest that the XOtablet is an ideal solution, but I would think a bit before I cast any stones and better yet work within the community to offer a high quality alternative before I think casting any stones.

I've seen many productive and businesses uses for smartphones and tablets. I've seen them used for presentations, signatures, Point of Sale, and shopping, among other things. The touch interface and GPS integration allow for some different uses, and people are being really creative with this. It's also easy enough to attach a keyword to a tablet, and some people I know do, and they use their tablets for a variety of uses daily.

How this translates to the OLPC tablet, I don't know. One of the advantage of apps is that they can be used offline when they aren't dependent on live data, depending on how they are programmed. I do believe in the touch interface though, as I see it as more natural to use than a keyboard for a child. Technologies used are different than they were a decade ago. Whether this is the best direction or not, OLPC has also changed, and adaption is wise. I wish them well.

Nice to see a balanced overview here thanks Edward. For my part tho - and I've worked with XOs for over three years, and tablets as well - the one thing (something Wayan alluded to in his articles) that has me interested in the XO Tablet is the bundled software - I don't think anyone could seriously think that part time volunteer coders writing in Python for Sugar can now ever compete with the quality of apps available for Android and especially iOS - there is no comparison in capability. So whatever hardware design one prefers (and lets face it, cheap but decent bluetooth keyboards can be used with the XO tablet very easily - some even combine with a case) IF the software is lacking then you can do very little with them, or at least very little in comparison to what's in the Play Store and App Store. Am I right?
And isn't a sugar port headed to the XO tablet anyways?

Just as a thought regarding the asence of good writing software... ABIWord allows text input from the keyboard as well as graphics nsertion either by insert or drag and drop. The sourcecode is open, and as with so many other major aplications, it has about a hundred times as many "features" as any sae person could ever need for 95% of all work. It is available with everything including spell-checking in languages from Farsi to Inuktitut. Perhaps someone with better coding skils than me could "strip" ABIWord down to its essentials fr the XO-1.x machines? I have never taken on a large project, and being retired for twelve years, my coding skills are morethan a bit rusty.

Talking about tablets, schools and education, here is where the XOtablet should be heading.
http://vimeo.com/72815459#

I find this blog post to be filled with opinion and somewhat short on useful (read: objective) criticism.

"I have from the first considered tablets to be excellent playthings for those who use computers as adult toys."

I love it when people decide for all how tools should be used. Right here, the writer tells us "I disregard tablets as useful."

That's a very useful thing for the reader to determine, first thing, because we can know that this post will not be bringing a balanced critique to the table. If that's what we are looking for, we can stop reading now.

"I use a laptop as a convenient vehicle for writing fiction and for general written email communication. Actually buying a computer without a keyboard never entered my mind; for serious work the idea is absolutely ludicrous."

This comment insults the choices of anyone who sees and/or uses tablets for "serious work." I do serious work on a tablet all the time. I write blog posts, administer my websites, write email and a few other things I consider the opposite of "non-serious work." I also think using a traditional laptop for your "serious work" is fine. I use a netbook and a laptop for various things, too. True, most of my own fiction writing happens with a tactile keyboard, but I have a friend who wrote a full-length play on his iPad. So, plenty of "serious work" is possible on a tablet.

"In fact, I have retired my modern HP laptop for an older and upgraded Compaq Presario B2200 in order to get away from the idiotic 16:9 screen format and back to a more usable 4:3 shape, so much better for word processing."

OK, this is silly. It would be one thing if the shape of displays on laptops and tablets were somehow odd or strange, like a circle or a pentagon, but taking issue with the ratio of the dimensions? Describing 16:9 as "idiotic" and 4:3 as "more usable" seems to me to be, first, extremely subjective, and second, somewhat nonsensical. How is one ratio more or less usable than another? The different screen ratios is completely up to personal preference--and not something that it up to a universal judgement (let alone an insulting one). If you want to use a 4:3 display, fine, but why are you calling my 16:9 display "idiotic"?

"In both cases, the XO Tablet and the newer wide format, the idea seems to be to optimize things for the entertainment of "The Great Unwashed" over their serious use in productive work."

To you it may seem that way, but to me, it just makes sense. We humans see in wide-screen. That's why movies and, for the last ten years or so, TV shows are formatted like this. And what's with this "Great Unwashed" stuff? Now you're talking about class? Really? Do you wear a monocle while using your 4:3 laptop?

"To which I add about the tablet that its sale in mainly the US market and with English software, with the active discouragement of foreign language software contributions is somehow appropriate."

An example of "active discouragement" would be the tablet flashing messages to users saying "Don't try to install software on this device that is in a foreign language. Don't do it!! Seriously!" If the device doesn't let you run foreign language apps, that's bad, but is still not an example of "active discouragement."

I know this is an opinion piece, but that's simply an inaccurate use of the words "active" and "discouragement."

Also, I believe there is a Spanish language mode on the XO Tablet so it's not entirely English-centric, as the wording suggests to me.

"After all, how else is a semi-literate American going to convince him/herself that they are teaching their child when in order to operate a true laptop, the adults might actually need to be literate?"

I'm not sure what is being said here. Maybe I'm just too much like a 16:9 laptop display?

"No, the organization has apparently decided to cash in its chips after making a lot of self-serving noise while simultaneously proving inept at their main mission, i.e., to make available and distribute at least a few hundred million XO-1x models to an easy billion waiting students instead of a few million."

Wow--that's an awkward sentence. OLPC may not have *completely* succeeded in their goals, but it has been able to succeed dramatically where no one else had even tried. Disregarding what success they have had is pretty unfair. I mean, it's not like the goal wasn't pretty lofty when you honestly think about it.

"OLPC was good idea, a superb one, in fact. Why has it not succeeded?"

This is my point. Their goal, was to put one inexpensive, somewhat advanced, educational laptop into the hands of every child on Earth. This would be a tall order if every government in the world wanted to do it. Since they don't, it's an even taller order.

"Could it have withered and died at the hands of officious do-gooders with an ego problem?"

Well, I think it's amusing when this far into a post you talk about "ego," Mr. Tabletsforseriousworkisludicrous.

"Probably. But perhaps it might be possible to get the original concept on track by starting over."

Start over? Well, I don't think this is an unreasonable opinion to have but I don't think OLPC starting over is feasible or entirely necessary. (Of course, any opinion seems reasonable compared to the one about 4:3 display being more usable. What does that even mean?)

The last three paragraphs of this post actually manage to avoid using highly subjective rhetoric and include some suggestions and hopes that are well reasoned.

Regarding the point suggested in the title of this post, that the XO Tablet violates fundamental concepts of OLPC, I do take issue. The original idea was for OLPC to produce a $100 laptop. That price point has still yet to be reached. Considering this, and the literal idea of "one laptop per child", we see that these principles are goals to strive for, but not necessarily to be reached. I don't think any program should be viewed as a failure simply because they didn't manage to achieve everything they set out to do. What OLPC attempted and is still attempting to do is incredible and incredibly hard.

Does this mean we should avoid being critical of them? No. But let's be fair about it and recognize when progress has been made. We're all human and whether we are one of the "great unwashed" or a Harvard graduate, we all have potential to come up with and implement the next big thing that will change the world for the better, as individuals or as teams working together.

The answer to the question you are having: yes, I have better things to do, I just needed to get this giant comment out of my system. And incidentally, I wrote this comment on an iPad.

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