The Apple Ultrathin: Who's Driving the Innovation Now?

   
   
   
   
   

The first manufactured computer to ship without a floppy drive was the original candy colored iMac, back 1998, which relied only on internet, a CD-ROM and a port called the Universal Serial Bus ports.

Ten years ago, a cd burner was something expensive, few people had heard of USB connections and the keychain flash drive wasn't coming to market for another two years. This move was considered highly ahead of it's time for apple and for some this helped launch the USB as a standard and displace the 3.5" disks onto oblivion.

olpc price

Fast forward to 2008 and Apple announced the wireless Macbook Air, a ultralight low power laptop with no cd or dvd drive, no hard disk, but highly connected portable computer. In a few years this will probably be the industry standard, but this time around it's not Cupertino who's setting it.

Granted, one cannot compare the $199 XO to a $1,799 Macbook anymore than one can compare the recently announced $2,500 Nano Car by India's Tata motor to a $50,000 Porsche, unless on technological grounds. And that is what I'm going to do.

Apple Macbook Air vs. OLPC XO-1

By using cutting edge technology, the Negroponte's team was able to come out not with a dumbed down version of a commercial laptop but a innovative product that was also cheap. The XO was the first portable rely solely on solid state drive and following it's steps came the classmate, the Eee pc and now the Macbook Air.

The XO stills sets some standards that are sure to be followed by the big players. The screen technology for example is certainly – as Lou Jepsen has said – to become a trend. The Apple iPhone is probably the only other product that can be compared in terms of screen resolution and I would not be surprised if their laptops upgraded to 144 dpi displays soon.

And I could bet that mesh networking is the next XO technology to come to a general consumer product. Of course this is not to say that other industries are copying the XO innovations but this is rather a consequence of bigger trends (like falling flash drive prices) that OLPC happened to catch first.

What this does means is that probably all this incredible "clock-stopping hot" technology the little green laptop has today will probably be quite common place by the end of 2008. And by then, what will happen to the One Laptop?

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Price vs. Power Future

By there we can expect Apple, Eee, Dell and every other computer manufacturer to have updated their computer models. Prices may go down a bit, but muscles will surely go way up. What can we expect from OLPC?

I hope XO2 to continue forcing the biggest innovation on the computer industry so far: that muscles might go up a bit, but price – oh price – will continue to drop radically.

Let all the computer manufacturers continue their Arms Race. Let OLPC step outside to another completely different kind of marathon.

The one for the children.

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24 Comments

"What this does means is that probably all this incredible "clock-stopping hot" technology the little green laptop has today will probably be quite common place by the end of 2008. And by then, what will happen to the One Laptop?"

First, by the start of 2009, the Wintel monopoly will be dead
(I know, but it just sounds so good, and later I can say:
"See, I told you so")

Second, the Red Queen dillema: You have to run very hard to keep in place.

Third, before anyone implements it in under $200, we will be a year on again. Who wants to be the first to undercut their own high margin sales?

Winter

Twas said: "The one for the children".

As and where you sew, there shall you reap.

I'm sorry to bust your bubble, but the Air is nothing new. Apple introduced a computer based upon similar concepts in 1992, and the product line was available until 1997. (Look up the PowerBook Duo.) Other companies have also pursused this route, producing much smaller and lighter machines than the Duo and even the Air.

While these machines have been popular in some cliques for well over a decade, they haven't really caught the eye of most consumers. Why? Probably because of the steep price and limited features. (A low end MacBook gives you roughly twice as much for about half the price, and isn't much larger, than the Air.)

As for the OLPC and Eee, one is breaking new ground because of its mission and the other because it is inexpensive. Both are in an entirely different leauge.

"And I could bet that mesh networking is the next XO technology to come to a general consumer product."
i saw a relation to the mesh network to their "remote disc".....the fact that you can access things on other machines...

(coming from an environmental mind that knows little about computers but is eagerly awaiting his xo)

r

There's just too much inertia in the computer industry at large to predict the end of the Wintel monopoly. Even the idea of innovation is a monopoly; I just heard on the news that Apple will revolutionize the film industry with online downloads, without a single word about other companies already offering such services.

Sadly, people will prefer the XO clones made by Apple, and will believe that S.J. is the inventor. They will prefer to spend ten times the money for the same product, because it will taste better anyway (like expensive wine taste better because of the higher price tag). Design matters too; most people around me think that the XO is a toy, because it's cute (and cheap), and because it doesn't run Windows or MacOSX.

The OLPC project should innovate for its own sake. The XO2 won't have to be a "product", because changing the mind of the average dumbed down consumer is a very slow and expensive process that is not worth it.

"There's just too much inertia in the computer industry at large to predict the end of the Wintel monopoly. "

Yes indeed, but I still do:

1 Intel got hammered for the second time by AMD on innovation (64 bit first, low power second). They are in many courts for abusing their monopoly. They have to fight to get the upper hand in the innovation mindset again. They cannot kill AMD now.

2 MS has to FORCE people to buy and use Vista. No one needs it, no one wants it, and no one wants to buy it. Vista doesn't increase productivity, on the contrary, it decreases it at higher costs.

Tools that decrease productivity are difficult to sell to bussinesses. Even the hardware makers were hammered severely when their increased investments in RAM chips and periferals resulted in unsold inventory due to the tanking of Vista.

In short:
MS works in a market were everyone is worse off because of them. Sounds like a festive holyday season at the end of 2008!

Winter

Winter : "Even the hardware makers were hammered severely when their increased investments in RAM chips and periferals resulted in unsold inventory due to the tanking of Vista."

That's a Gordian knot. Economy is driven by "bigger is better". We shouldn't need that much memory. Most hard drives are polluted by junk data and unused software. Most RAM chips are occupied by inneficient and bloated code. Time spent in front of a computer is waisted because computers were supposed to work for us. I don't think the 64 bits data bus is an innovation, it's just "bigger"... My theory is that dinosaurs became instinct because they were computing too much. :-)

"I don't think the 64 bits data bus is an innovation, it's just "bigger"..."

I do not agree on this. There is some serious computing that needs loads of memory and therefore, 64 bit addresses. But if your needs stay below 4 GB, I think the 32 bit processor still has a life for you.

On the other hand, you are right that using highly inefficient code is a way to squander money. The OLPC XO proves that efficient code can do on low power hardware what inefficient code cannot even do on the highest end hardware.

The driving power behind this inefficient code was that programmers were expensive and customers were cheap (they bought everything).

FOSS has made code cheap again because it is 10-20 times as efficient in producing code:
http://perens.com/Articles/Economic.html

(read this paper and you know why I think MS is doomed)

Winter

Since I started this by squezzing an olpc article from the apple macworld, I cannot complain if you could squeeze a microsoft discussion from it..

Marc, I really don't see apple ever releasing such a thing as a "clone" of the olpc simply because they have another focus. Their iPods cost more (and have more memory probably) than the whole xo computer. The good thing for olpc is that it will not be able to reinvent itself to be able to keep ahead of the other vendors, only to lower it's own price..

just a correction: the macbook air of course has a 80gb hard disk in standard configuration.

Winter, I'm fully aware of the economic advantages of FOSS. I've been using and advocating free software for 15 years in my own little world. I'm still considered a weirdo by people of my generation, and younger people who embrace FOSS don't do it for ecological or political reasons, but because it's "gratis"; they all want to buy the biggest computer on earth to use and code the most bloated software in the universe. They want a 1024 bits processor and a petabyte of RAM.

Maybe Microsoft clients are not ready for Vista, but it's just a question of time. I doubt they will switch to FOSS only because it's leaner, cheaper, alternative or emerging. The Tata Nano car is a "first car"; Indians are being pushed to buy cars and they will get bigger cars. Most male XO users will dream of a gigantic Vista++ gaming tower with transparent sides and flashing LEDs. MS is not doomed, their clients are.

"just a correction: the macbook air of course has a 80gb hard disk in standard configuration."

Not just that. The 64GB SSD (Flash) upgrade costs 999 USD, bringing the total price of the MacBook Air to 2700 USD.

Comparing a MacBook Air with an XO is a cruel joke, Wayan. I'm sure you work for Apple...

:-)

The Wintel "monopoly" certainly won't be dead in 2009 since it really consists of two organizations with different, although obviously linked, markets and very different approaches to them. Microsoft had a monopoly lock on the desktop but Intel's market dominance wasn't nearly as solid. AMD's been nipping at Intel's heels for years, sometimes gaining, sometimes losing but always ready to swoop in whenever a competitive advantage presented itself.

Microsoft will still be around based, to a significant extent, on the inertia of large organizations like governments, corporations and NGOs. MS software does pretty much what they need done so why should they look at/buy anything else?

Vista may or may not become dominant in the MS universe although much to the chagrin of MS management the issue's still in doubt. After-market sales are very thin and the major venue for the spread of Vista is the new computer market. That's big in numbers but not big as a percentage of the installed base of computers running MS operating systems and due to it's ridiculous hardware requirements doesn't look to make much headway in the after-market.

Of the two Intel is in better shape to compete in the "poor folks" market that the XO has legitimized. While Intel management would certianly prefer to produce very-high margin uber-chips they'll go where the market takes them and a market that makes up in size what it lacks in per-unit profits is the poor folks market. The siren call of 100 million unit production volumes won't be ignored by Intel and that market's served by a cheap, high-efficiency, reasonably powerful processors and related hardware.

Microsoft management is aware of this market which they're trying to penetrate with their $3 version of Windows although I wonder what they plan to do to monetize the new Windows users? The price is aimed at people who are now pirating Windows, hoping to make them legitimate purchasers by setting the price low enough. But what's being a legitimate customer got to offer to someone who's already a software pirate?

On the other hand, what's Microsoft to do? Sit there while the future arrives without their trying to effect it? I doubt it. That's not the way Microsoft does business.

My prediction is that Microsoft will still be big, wealthy and successful but they'll be the lords of the realm of an essentially static market. Intel, by contrast, will be selling sophisticated low-end processors/chip families by the hundreds of millions as well as multi-core, desktop super-computers the market that has to have lots of on-hand computing power.

And poor kids? Neither the XO, Intel nor Microsoft will have much of an effect on their education. The technology'll play a crucial roll but it'll take a solution that owes relatively little to the current way of thinking.

I believe the newest ipod nanos have a 200 dpi screen already, so coment about 144 dpi is in error. I found S.J.'s superb showmanship on introducing the Air model interesting, The did provide a seperate Super drive
with USB at extra cost. The main thrust of MACWorld address was "you can rent movies , make and pay for ringtones, buy more on itunes." Apple is about marketing, OPLC is about education.

Apple offered these morons OS-X for FREE and they turned it down. That level of stupid is rare even amongst tech reporters. So of course some third world countries will be stuck with useless laptops and their kids will think computer technology is like toys for two year olds.

Alexandre,

"Apple Macbook Air vs. OLPC XO-1"

Apple is certainly a very innovative company (I still remember their Apple Lisa from early '80s) and I admire their design skills. But, quite frankly, there's very little 'innovation' in the current Apple Macbook Air - the main claim to fame is how incredibly thin the machine is but even some portables from 10 years ago were thinner [1]...

XO's design, on the other hand, focuses on usability: readability (hi res, sun-readable, eBook reader quality screen [2]), durability ( sealed, ragged construction matched only by Toshiba's Toughbook), safety (LiFePO battery), security (Bittfrost) and focus on collaboration (mesh networking with a Desktop Environment, Sugar, specifically designed for that purpose) - none of that can be matched by Apple's Air (or other contenders for that matter) and that's for 1/10th of Air's price. Now, that's innovation!

While Apple Mac Air is (yet another)very stylish laptop, OLPC XO's design is revolutionary for others to follow.


"Price vs. Power Future"

The obsession with 'power' has certainly been very profitable for Wintel - more and more bloated OS/Apps requiring more powerful processor and regular OS 'upgrades'. Never mind that 90% of people use their PC mainly for word-processing Internet/Email and, perhaps, some digital photos management - all that working perfectly well on my old Gateway 2000 from 1997 (USB was already, contrary to what you said, common then and before release of iMac 1998).

Gaming (which was a major driver in 'power' race) is moving away from PC towards dedicated consoles. Clearly, PC market is changing rapidly. Watch Intel scrambling to match AMD, Via and others' low-power processors in the near future. Microsoft is in a more difficult position as the premium prices they got in the past for their products (both Apps and OS) will be under pressure not just from increasingly functional Open Source offerings but also more difficult to match the (much lower) prices of PCs.

The future of common PC is not a water-cooled super-duper box but appliance-like portable laptops with focus on usability, low cost (both purchase and maintenance) and security - just like....errr.... OLPC XO.


[1] Mitsubishi unveils notebook, November 10, 1997
( http://www.news.com/Mitsubishi-unveils-notebook/2100-1001_3-205190.html )

[2] TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home
( http://www.teleread.org/blog/2008/01/13/the-olpc-laptop-as-a-promising-school-and-library-machine-plus-detailed-e-reading-tips-for-people-lucky-enough-to-own-xos-already/ )

Heydon Ratherburg IIIrd,

"Apple offered these morons OS-X for FREE and they turned it down. That level of stupid is rare even amongst tech reporters"

Does OS-X support collaboration? No. Is OS-X open source so that not only features can be easily (and that also means without legal hassles) added and modified ? No. Does OS-X has applications base of free software to match Linux? No.

Here, it's not that difficult choice is it ;)

allen:
"The Wintel "monopoly" certainly won't be dead in 2009 since it really consists of two organizations with different, although obviously linked, markets and very different approaches to them."

The MONOpoly can be dead, but the companies alive (see IBM). Maybe I was not clear enough. The Wintel monopoly exists because both companies can control the sales channels. They are losing their grip here.

Intel is losing the initiative. Others define the new markets and technology and Intel has difficulty in following.

Microsoft has always been a follower.

Intel's prospects are better, as they have the fabs which require real investments. MS is only hot air.

"My prediction is that Microsoft will still be big, wealthy and successful but they'll be the lords of the realm of an essentially static market. Intel, by contrast, will be selling sophisticated low-end processors/chip families by the hundreds of millions as well as multi-core, desktop super-computers the market that has to have lots of on-hand computing power."

All my idea. Except that both will not have monopolistic power anymore.

But think of the fact that MS has to spend 15 times as much to create essentially the same functionality as FOSS, with lower quality. And that Vista costs EXTRA but doesn't increase productivity, it decreases it. That is, a company that introduces Vista will see *no* ROI. It will just eat into the profits.

That last point would be a killer. This means MS has to *force* people to buy Vista. And you see that everywhere. And if you try to force people to eat crow, they might switch to an alternative food supplier.

Winter

Marc Lavallée:
"Winter, I'm fully aware of the economic advantages of FOSS.
....
but because it's "gratis"; they all want to buy the biggest computer on earth to use and code the most bloated software in the universe. They want a 1024 bits processor and a petabyte of RAM."

I think that there is a misunderstanding here. Economics is NOT about money, but about efficiency. Money is an efficient way to exchange goods and services, but the economy is about the goods and services. Bruce Perens writes about the fact that it *costs* MS ~15 times as much (really 15) to create and distribute a piece of software than it *costs* a FOSS project to create the same piece of software. And Bruce Perens assumes that the FOSS coders are all *paid* for their work. Volunteer work has a cost in economic theories.

The fact that most FOSS software is free of charge is because of the low production costs. These production costs are so low that they are generally already paid for by the productivity increase of the producer of the software. That is, FOSS software can be gratis because the production costs are so extremely low.

Marc Lavallée:
"Maybe Microsoft clients are not ready for Vista, but it's just a question of time. I doubt they will switch to FOSS only because it's leaner, cheaper, alternative or emerging. The Tata Nano car is a "first car"; Indians are being pushed to buy cars and they will get bigger cars. Most male XO users will dream of a gigantic Vista++ gaming tower with transparent sides and flashing LEDs. MS is not doomed, their clients are."

But MS is like a car producer that asks much more money for a lower quality car. If Porsche wants to ask 20 times as much money as Tata, they have to deliver more quality. You can't sell a Fiat 500 for 20 times as much as the Nano and expect to conquer the market. And Vista currently has *nothing* that sets it apart from, eg, Ubuntu (maybe it's lack of security).

And for any hardware you chose, you get more out of it with FOSS than with MS. Linux can even output morse code on the leds ;-)

Winter

Another perspective:
as computers have developed over the years there was first a drive to bring the cost down to a point where many people could afford them. Once the price range where people would buy was established the next task seems to have been to maintain the price but give "more" as an incentive to change - of course fuelled by more memory hungry programs. Most companies are still going that route whether it be design features or technological additions (normally both since appearance does matter!)

OLPC has gone well outside this thinking IMO - it has addressed a specific purpose, thinking creatively AND addressing cost reduction as a prime factor based on that defined purpose.

It is truly an educational project but the industry and certainly those who bought it for reasons outside the educational aspects are caught up with a novel concept - OLPC has "distilled" the common uses of computers into an innovative machine for a specific purpose that perhaps resonates within us by making us think what we really use them for and that there could be a better AND cheaper way of doing things. I applaud their efforts and am enjoying being a learner again. If it changes a direction in production within other companies they must be, and should be feeling good.

Now let's see what it does within education! I believe therein lies a lot more.

It's funny. These discussions keep coming around to the same points.

Ultimately, the best Apple product to compare against the XO is not the Air but the iPhone. Both are good examples of Bell's Law (not Moore's Law as some might argue). They are both examples of a new technology class displacing the current norm.

The XO just happens to look a lot like a laptop, because that physical format works best for it. The iPhone looks like a cell phone for the same reason. But using those terms for either one is a gross oversimplification of what they can do that traditional laptops and smartphones cannot do. For example, the XO's collaborative network and software are unique and are a good indication of where conventional designs likely will be in 5 - 10 years. The iPhone's lack of a traditional keyboard, while inconvenient in some ways, makes it far more flexible and configurable than any other handheld device, while still usable as a phone.

My take is that we need to look at products like the Nintendo DS or sub-$100 smartphones and less at a svelte example of the "old guard" technology class.

(Although, if I had Steve Jobs' bank account, I would definitely buy an Air. They're nothing if not sexy.)

Get 10 XOs for the price of one Mac. Easy choice.

Delphi wrote:
"Never mind that 90% of people use their PC mainly for word-processing Internet/Email and, perhaps, some digital photos management - all that working perfectly well on my old Gateway 2000 from 1997 (USB was already, contrary to what you said, common then and before release of iMac 1998)."

My father has a 1997 Winbook XL laptop with two USB ports that used to have Microsoft Windows 95. I have bought an Ethernet adapter for wireless connection and installed Puppy Linux. Sine then My father is more than happy to fully use his laptop without the need to replace with another one although he has a Tablet PC.

XO Tablets for Sale

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  • Oh, come on Michael. Do you really think anything that was said on OLPC News would have had much …

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  • Hi!

    I bought 2 "Tablets OLPC." I had to return because the two did not work. O …

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  • Dear sir
    I have one question to sir?

    -1 why XO Tablet children play OK but when h …

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  • Dear sir
    I have one question to sir?

    -1 why XO Tablet children play OK but when h …

    Comment on The XO Tablet - A First Impression in 750 Words

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  • Dear sir
    I have one question to sir?

    -1 why XO Tablet children play OK but when h …

    Comment on Guest Post: My XO Tablet Technical Review and First Impressions

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  • Bonjour Mokifisi!
    Je suis bien d'accord avec vous. Je travaille depuis 4 ans dans un petit …

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  • You just follow the same route upstream how you got the 2XO Tablets? How did you get them? Bring …

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  • quelle adresse envoyer mes deux XOTablet qui ne fonctionnent pas?

    At what address to s …

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  • That's called "Death on arrivals". They happen. That's why there's always some additio …

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  • What is a shelf XO? If you tell me what did you buy and from whom, perhaps I will have a suggest …

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  • Voici mon message en franais...

    Bonjour,
    Je viens d'acheter 2 tablettes XO. Les d …

    Comment on The XO Tablet - A First Impression in 750 Words

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  • I just bought 2 shelves XO. Both tablets are not working. One does not start and the other touch …

    Comment on The XO Tablet - A First Impression in 750 Words

  • Warning: Use of undefined constant title - assumed 'title' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h05/mnt/54379/domains/olpcnews.com/html/includes_c/sidebar.html on line 1473

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  • I just bought 2 shelves XO. Both tablets are not working. One does not start and the other touch …

    Comment on Goodbye One Laptop per Child

  • Warning: Use of undefined constant title - assumed 'title' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h05/mnt/54379/domains/olpcnews.com/html/includes_c/sidebar.html on line 1473

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  • I just bought 2 shelves XO. Both tablets are not working. One does not start and the other touch …

    Comment on Goodbye One Laptop per Child

  • Warning: Use of undefined constant title - assumed 'title' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h05/mnt/54379/domains/olpcnews.com/html/includes_c/sidebar.html on line 1473

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  • OLPC is not death; eg. this One Laptop per Child San Francisco (OLPC-SF) June 21, 2014 Meeting a …

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