I may be stuck in drab Toronto, enviously reading the tweets of other tech journos lucky enough to be in Vegas covering the massive CES expo. But I can still tell you what the most exciting new gadget on display there is: this X0-3 tablet unveiled by the non-profit One Laptop Per Child organization.
Sold exclusively to educational organizations in developing nations, the X0-3 is designed for use in unforgiving environments. It can run off a battery, a solar panel or a hand crank. It has a rugged, flexible screen that switches between backlit color and reflective black and white eInk, so you can use it indoors or under the bright sun. It runs Android or Sugar, OLPC’s own kid-friendly open source OS. And it will cost under $100 for a basic model.
Or so they say. The original OLPC XO laptop was also supposed to sell for $100, but never quite got there. There were two problems. First, once you figure in the hand crank and solar panel (not included with either device) or the dual-mode screen on the tablet, the price climbs. Second, the XO only sold 2 million units globally in five years. Nothing to sneeze at, but hardly the economy of scale needed to drive per-unit costs down to the ground (by way of comparison, 900 million cellphones have been sold in India alone). By the time OLPC got the price of their laptop down near $100, so had many commercial electronics companies. And while OLPC struggles to get their thoughtful and well-designed tablet on the market for $100, quick and dirty slabs like the Aakash are already out there for an astonishing (albeit subsidized) $30 each.
That may sound like a fail for OLPC. But consider this: One Laptop Per Child’s mission is to get one laptop (or one tablet, I guess) into the hands of every kid in the world. Whether it’s their laptop or tablet is incidental. The very fact that the for-profit world is now targeting the educational market in developing nations is itself something OLPC can boast about.
After all, they helped establish this market in the first place.
Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown