May 28, 2010

One Laptop Per Child To Offer $100 Tablets

After trying to offer a $100 laptop for children in the world's poorest regions, the One Laptop Per Child organization will be taking on the challenge of creating a tablet computer.

The nonprofit's next computer will be based on chipmaker Marvell Technology Group's Moby tablet design, which Marvell announced this year will cost around $99.

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop Per Child, is optimistic that his organization can keep the price under a $100.

"We want to see the price drop, and volume is the key to that," said Negroponte.

The XO laptop sold by One Laptop Per Child to governments and organizations around the world wasn't made for such a broad audience. The organization had to keep scaling back expectations for how many of the laptops it could produce, and it couldn't get the price anywhere near the $100 goal it had intended.

5 years ago, Negroponte envisioned 100 million laptops being built within two years. Today, only 2 million are in use.

Tablet computers would be much less expensive to build because they do not have as many moving parts as laptops and they would not need to have expensive features meant to withstand glaring sun and blowing sand. Also, it would be easier to change software on tablet computers such as the touch-screen keyboards for different countries.

The new tablets will have at least one or two video cameras. They will have Wi-Fi connections to the Internet, multi-touch screens and have enough power to play high-definition and 3D video.

Marvell hopes to make screens 8.5 by 11 inches for the device. Unlike Apple's iPad tablet, the device will also work with plug-in peripherals such as mice.

The first generation of the "XO 3.0" tablet will likely run with the Android operating system, but Negroponte hopes other versions will eventually run the free Linux PC operating software.

Negroponte also said the tablet computer will not use Windows 7 -- like on the XO laptop -- because the software requires too much memory and computing power.

Negroponte said he plans to unveil the tablet computer at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show in January.

One Laptop Per Child's work has helped its competitors turn to the growing market for technology in developing countries. Companies like Intel Corp. came up with their own design for inexpensive laptops for children, while other companies and organizations figured out ways to turn regular computers into multiple workstations, drastically cutting costs for school computer labs and other areas.

The move toward producing cheap laptops for kids in developing countries also helped bring about the recent flood of "netbooks," which are smaller, cheaper and less powerful than laptops.

Negroponte said the last few months have been a turning point for his group. "People are no longer asking "ËœDoes this work?' The one question I hear all the time is, how do I pay for it? How do the economics work?"


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