OLPC's Negroponte: A new "constructionist" medium needed for tablets

OLPC's Negroponte: A new "constructionist" medium needed for tablets

Summary: "There's an interesting point in history for us. All we have to do is threaten to build the tablet and that may be enough," said One Laptop Per Child founder Nicholas Negroponte.


One Laptop Per Child founder Nicholas Negroponte said his effort is at an interesting juncture. Previously, the OLPC had to make a laptop and take it to Rwanda and other places because the private sector wouldn't go there.

Today, the OLPC is more of a prodding organization. Negroponte seemed to imply that its latest tablet design may never be built---at least by the OLPC.

"There's an interesting point in history for us. All we have to do is threaten to build the tablet and that may be enough. There's a new regime of designing things people will copy instead of doing ourselves," said Negroponte, speaking at GigaOm's Mobilize conference in San Francisco.

That's a refreshing view given the hubbub between companies like Intel, Microsoft and OLPC in the early days.

Weili Dai, co-founder of Marvell, seems to be lining her company up as foot soldier to Negroponte's plans. She said Marvell is actively designing tablets. Indeed, Marvell had a handful of prototypes at the conference running Android. They were a little clunky, but they weren't finished. And if Marvell can hit a $99 price point, it will play well in the education market.

Earlier this week, Marvell launched Mobylize.org, an effort to revamp education via technology. Dai said there are "huge opportunities" to create an ecosystem between multiple devices to better communities. The goal: Get kids thinking about being entrepreneurs earlier.

To say Negroponte was bullish on tablets was an understatement. Negroponte was kicking physical books every change he got. Why? They're too expensive, take up too much space and are too hard to update for the developing world. "Turning pages. How ridiculous is that?" asked Negroponte.

"There's no way a paper book is going to work," said Negroponte. "Physical books are a luxury." Shipping costs into developing markets. "Books are so much better on a tablet. How can you make tablets a constructionist medium," he said. "Have to get kids to use them to make things."

Other key needs on the tablet front:

  • Make it unbreakable.
  • Portrait replaces landscape.
  • Transflective will emerge.
  • Design matters.

Among other notable points:

  • Tablets are all about consumption, said Negroponte. "You could say that Apple makes peripherals for iTunes," he said. In a developing world and educational environments, you need haptics and ways to make tablets constructive. "You can't turn these kids into couch potatoes," he said. "You learn by making."
  • Areas such as China and India will contribute to the OLPC vision.
  • Cloud computing won't fly where OLPC plays. "Clouds are fine for us, but there are no clouds over Ethiopia, Rwanda and Gaza," he said.
  • Laptops transformed learning. The forgotten part of the OLPC project is that they come loaded with dictionaries and books.

Related: The OLPC's real importance is as a conversation starter

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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  • RE: OLPC's Negroponte: A new

    What is going to happen in a few years is educational computers will become so inexpensive that a significant portion of the population in developing countries will start purchasing them on their own. (In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if we are already seeing educational software on cell phones.)

    Parents will do this because they are unhappy with the schools, and because they know their children will enjoy educational computing and so put in a lot of time learning.

    This development will in turn pressure the schools to get going with educational computing.
    • RE: OLPC's Negroponte: A new


      Already publishing HTML 5 eLearning so it can run on the iPhone and with klots of workarounds on the iPad. Problem is the screen is too small on the iPhone for easily readable text and the iPad is fine if you want to carry a brick around everywhere and only look at it indoors.

      The real problem for students is the ability to actually create things and that's where the iPad is useless. It may also act as a great breeding ground for disease vectors as the screens are filthy after a few mintues of fingerpainting.

      What is important is the poor are not treated like second class citizens to help NN's ego. The only way to get people integrated and upwardly mobile is to have them using Windows not send them in to the wasteland of Linux and OSS.

      When will it become obvious that we have a mountain of cheap, slightly superceded XP computers that could be aggregrated and shipped to developing countries, instead of wasting even more resources by building new toys?
      • RE: OLPC's Negroponte: A new

        @tonymcs@... Uh, you've ... never been to one of the villages he's talking about, have you?

        In point of fact, I haven't either, but my wife and I have a number of close friends who have invested their lives in helping in those contexts. Being as kind as possible ... you don't know what you're talking about.

        Is the OLPC, and the learning and cultural change it promotes and supports, an instant cure? Of course not, it's just one piece in a puzzle, but an important piece strategically ... and one that you're idea of shipping refurbed XP computers wouldn't even touch.

        The only counterargument is greed - that doing something like what you're suggesting would more directly tie back into OUR economic interests, not theirs.

        Sorry if that sounds mean or confrontational, just being direct and honest.
      • Tonymcs, do you sell software?

        @tonymcs@... Whether you like windows or not, linking education to MS's software is tantamount to granting them worldwide monopoly. Your description of other OS's as a "wasteland" is frankly infuriating. A student needs exposure to as many different OS's as possible, so that when they are able, *they* can make a choice, not Redmond. <br>Your complaint about "carrying a brick around" but suggesting we send "slightly superceded XP computers" makes no sense at all. <br>And you're worried about disease transmission - a touchscreen would a heck of a lot easier to sterilized than a keyboard.<br>And as far as being able to create things? A student's job is *learning* first, *creating* second.<br>Somehow I don't think you have these kids' best interest at heart.
    • Computers instead of textbboks?

      @Eduardo_z I really don't think children (here, anyway) will take to computerized education any more than they do to conventional methods. They are far too jaded now to be as fascinated with the technology as we are. Computers will be and should be part of a well - thought - out variety of learning resources, as should be paper books. Let's face it, we really don't know what the future holds for our reliance on tech, and children should be prepared to use old fashioned non - battery requiring sources of information.<br>Yes, computer skills are essential to today's education and should be taught everywhere - But let's not abandon the "conventional classroom" for technology's sake.
  • Re: Negroponte on tablets

    Not just books. Newspapers, magazines, current content.

    And tablets have longer battery lives than laptops.

    Dr. Colombes
  • RE: OLPC's Negroponte: A new

    The sorts of cheap educational computers I am talking about would be tablet or hand-held devices, because that is what the target population could afford to buy. They would run on ARM because there isn't enough electricity available to run refurbished intel XP machines (which also will never exist in nearly great enough numbers).

    You seem to be a follower of the brilliant Loverock Davidson and his "Microsoft is always best" philosophy.