XO Tablet is For Rich Americans And That is a Good Thing



When Nicholas Negroponte launched One Laptop Per Child back in 2006, he said that XO Laptops were a mission, not a market. He famously refused to sell them via retail channels, requiring government purchases of 1 million laptops or more.

We all understood the underlying reason - he needed million unit orders to start the production line - but it didn't make the exclusion feel any better. The latent demand for XO Laptops in North America was proven with the Give One Get One sale in 2007.

With the XO Tablet, OLPC has abandoned the 1 million-unit requirement both because it wasn't needed any more, there are already plenty of Android tablet manufacturers happy to build small lots of 7-inch tablets, and because a good product should be in-demand and be sold to anyone with $150, not just governments.

This means the dream of so many is now close at hand: small scale deployments started at the school level with 5, 10, 20 XO Tablets - what would never be done with XO Laptops (unless you bought them 1 by 1 off eBay.)


Americans, North and South

What is curious about the current XO Tablet specifications is that it's available in English and Spanish, but not French. Also, as you can see from the marketing video above, OLPC is positioning the XO as a tablet for nice, upscale, white households.

That suggests the target market for XO Tablets is North and South America - North America because the USA is the largest consumer market, and South America, which has the largest XO Laptop deployments.

That makes me wonder: Will XO Tablets go on sale in Walmarts across Mexico? Will we see XO Tablets is Uruguayan stores? Right now, they are only on sale in the USA.

Not Francophone Africa

The lack of French on the XO Tablet is intriguing. That rules out Francophone West Africa, but that wasn't much a sales success with the XO Laptop. In fact, outside of Rwanda, all of Africa was a bust for OLPC. Maybe now, OLPC realizes that having a mission is great, but you also need a market for your intervention for long-term success.

That's not to say the XO Tablet would not in African schools. Only that most educational systems in Africa need much more basic investments in teachers and schools long before laptops or tablets.


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The lacking French variant is intrigung, at least. But it's basically about what comes first: either the "egg" (the offering of a properly localized tablet) or the "chicken" (the demand for an usable - that is child/teacher/parent friendly - tablet, including the proper localization of the user interface, the applications/activities and the accompanying documentation).

As a professional translator/localizer, I tend to advocate for the "egg" option, which consists in offering an adapted product, as a prerequisite for the potentential demand in the French speaking countries.

Let's remember that French speaking people are located in all continents (a few example: America (Québec, Haiti), Africa (Madagascar, Marocco), Pacific islands (French Polynésie), or Europe (Switzerland) to name a few.

As for the localization effort, I am not sure that the makers of the tablet are aware of the fact that its a doable AND necessary step before marketing a device in the non english speaking world. Wait and see ;-)

1. The francophonie can be indeed intriguing. As much intriguing as the USA-phonie. You have to be either completely in it, either you're out of it. There's not too much respect for being somewhere in between or living in 2 worlds. The francophonie is often quoted to be the americans of the Europeans: large community, their own way of doing, established structures, you can expect both the worst and the best.
2. Nobody prohibits people from the french speaking community to jump on the the olpc train. OLPC France is often lauded as one of the more active communities.
3. English is the most common speaking language of the planet. French is highly ranked too. There is a lot of french language open source creative common licence data available. The francophonie - as I know them - when things really are important, the "liberté, égalité, fraternité ... ou la mort" type of francophones - the kind we like - appear and are present. It's not because we don't hear them, they don't don't listen in and will cherry pick e.g. xo-xservers if they think they're what is needed. The francophonie exists for over 200 years, they have their own public - open to all structures. These structures often work very well, or at least as good or better than newer structures in place s.a. the USA-development aid structures or the EU's equivalents.
4. For the time being, apparently the conclusion by their specialists in education is that there is better use of about 163 € for the XO + 30 € for the pv panel to contribute to education.

Samy, thanks for reminding me of the French Canadians. My apologizes, it seems OLPC forgot about you all too.

I wouldn't qualify myself as a "rich" American but, rather, someone wanting to see OLPC succeed at their stated mission: get something into the hands of poor Third World kids that may help enrich their lives. Wealth - at least on a financial scale - is a relative term anyway.

When the XO-1 first appeared, I wanted to purchase one but, of course, was stymied. Later, the money simply wasn't there to participate in the "buy one, give one" program. Later still, I purchased a used XO-1 on eBay for a reasonable sum.

So, I ended up with a machine of my own, but none of that money even got into the hands of OLPC. Had I been able to purchase a new one through a conventional retail business model, OLPC could have seen at least a sliver of that money go to their cause. What was accomplished back then by their intransigence in not selling to "rich" Americans? False altruism and less money in their pockets, as far as I could tell.

The XO-1 was an interesting gadget but a marginal computer. I was "warned" that Sugar was not for me, but I did actually find a few of the activities useful with kids I taught in an after-school program. Had the software been mated to a machine that ran at a reasonable speed, it probably would have suited my not-so-demanding technical needs.

Then, I got the goat of open source Linux fanatics. There was (perhaps still is) a ready-to-go SD card that could be purchased with an "adult" version of Linux that works on the XO-1. I plunked down around $30 or $40 and was up and running. The purists, though, who don't believe ANYTHING should be purchased for hard cash (food, housing, much less computer software) and believe that suffering along in open source purism for free builds character, were aghast. Not only had I, figuratively speaking, "stolen" a laptop from some poor kid half a continent away by purchasing a used one on eBay, I was shunned for being an evil capitalist by the Linux Leninists, as I simply couldn't see the logic of their so-called open source nirvana.

Meanwhile, the hyper-meager processor and RAM on the XO-1 could barely keep the machine running and I simply got tired of waiting several minutes for the thing to boot and connect online. I liked the rugged form factor of the computer itself, but just wish it had more robust guts inside. So, I basically forgot about OLPC and the XO-1 eventually became a dusty relic on my bookshelf.

It was with some surprise, then, that I received an emailed article from this blog the other day, announcing the new XO Tablet.

$150? Via retail purchase at a local Big Box? A device that functions as well as any comparable one right out of the box, without fiddling around with codes? Some of the profits kicked back to a good cause? What's not to like?

As these XO Tablets start to appear on the store shelves and I can scrape up the $150 (yes, even some of us "rich" Americans have to budget such a purchase,) I'm sure I'll jump in. I honestly don't care what sort of operating system it employs, as I'm sure I'll be able to devote time in actually using the device instead of wasting it in an attempt to "crack the code." Perhaps some of the profits generated will help OLPC develop a more "ruggedized" next generation tablet that will be even more adaptable to Third World survivability.

Ben, thank you. Your frustration with the XO-1 and its related FOSS crowd mirrors my own.

You will find the XO Tablet to be a refreshing change. It just works. And its good!

And thank you, Wayan, for passing along the news to me. Good to chat with you again.

I've spent the morning catching up here and noting that an XO-4 laptop and a "touch" XO-4 laptop got developed, but (unless I missed something) both appear to be on hold.

It seems to be prudent for OLPC to go with what amounts to an off-the-shelf tablet clad in green rubbery skin and with minor software updates for their latest iteration. I hope it does them well.

For a taste of nostalgia, contrast OLPC NEWS contributor Martin Woodhouse's idea of a $50 tablet from the fall of 2007 with what we now have . . .