OLPC faces 'vicious' rivalry in laptop market

OLPC faces 'vicious' rivalry in laptop market

Summary: One Laptop per Child exec David Cavallo says the organization welcomes new entrants to the low-cost laptop market, but describes the response of some competitors as "unfortunate."

When the One Laptop per Child organization first mooted the idea of a super low-cost laptop aimed at schoolchildren in the developing world some years ago, it was arguably on its own in the market.

Since the not-for-profit organization first unveiled its coveted wind-up PCs, however, it's seen the number of commercial interests hungry for a piece of the same pie grow and grow.

David Cavallo, chief learning architect for the OLPC, who gave the keynote at the Association for Learning Technology's annual conference earlier this month, is upbeat about the new entrants into the low-cost educational laptop market that his organization arguably kick-started.

Cavallo told ZDNet’s sister site, silicon.com: "It's great. We take that as a huge success. Some years from now we may not be making laptops at all and that's fine because we're not a for-profit company, we're not going to be a laptop company and we really are focused on the mission and the belief--it's a humanitarian project… to really provide education everywhere particularly for the most marginalized, so the fact that there are a lot of devices coming into being everywhere we think that's great. There's more than a billion kids in the developing world so there's room for everybody."

However, he described the response of some commercial laptop makers to the OLPC project as "unfortunate".

"What I think has been surprising and somewhat unfortunate is that some of the companies have taken this as just a market to compete in — and compete in a very vicious way and that's unfortunate, because we're not trying to take market share and make profit or knock anybody else out," he said.

Cavallo said the OLPC project is going to continue to keep pushing to reduce the cost of the hardware "to really make it accessible", adding: "We hope to keep moving the market and if others come in and keep filling in the space that's created fantastic, all the better."

Giving laptops to schoolchildren in developing countries has had some unlikely effects, according to the OLPC exec. While skeptics claimed the laptops would be sold or stolen by their young owners, it seems they have been converting truants into school-lovers and encouraging kids to brush up their reading and writing skills by turning to blogging.

The laptops are also having an impact on children's career choices, according to Cavallo. "If you talk to a kid in Brazil the girls want to become fashion models and the boys want to become football players. This changed," he said.

"They do much more reading and writing. It [laptop technology] lets in other ways of thinking about teaching and learning away from rote and gives support to do that. So we've seen just in the basic kind of work that also has really improved. It's laying the basis for a much more dramatic improvement over time. It doesn't happen immediately."

The hardware has also had a positive impact beyond the children--engaging parents and teachers in furthering their own education and skill level, according to Cavallo.

"The very first thing is that, almost everywhere we went, if it was in a remote place, the people would say the kids only show up for school half the time. And that just changes. Now you have basically… more than 100 percent attendance. Because they come on weekends, they come early to school and they stay late," he said.

"We had one place in Cambodia where the enrolment doubled. There were more kids, they just weren't coming to school. So from one year to the next we had twice as many kids and didn't know it. So we had to get more laptops there," he added.

Cavallo added: "Kids in the developing world who're really disenfranchised, they know the value of a computer. They know it's such a strong statement of inclusion--of their value. And these I think are really measurable. The families start to take education seriously. One of our students — when OLPC was just getting started--did a project in rural Costa Rica, and 70 percent of the parents entered vocational education using the computer at night after the kids...

"In Uruguay the parents wait for the kids to go to bed so they can use the laptops. So you saw people move to rural communities… so their kids could take advantage of [the laptops]. In Rwanda the families brought electricity to the schools so that the kids could keep using the laptops.

Everybody's fear was that 'oh the families will sell it, the kids will lose it, it'll get stolen' and we just haven't seen that."

However, Cavallo believes giving laptops to schoolchildren in the developing world is just the first step in a process to better education itself. "It isn't just computers and it isn't just computers and connectivity because you're really trying to bring with it the ideas about teaching and learning," he said. Much of the energy of the OLPC project is therefore focused on developing learning strategies to boost education locally--appointing a co-coordinator and a team of locals to ensure the laptops become part of a new way of learning, rather than just a tool to perform outdated practices.

"In the beginning, [with any new technology] we usually just reproduce what we were doing with the prior generation of technology. It's only after some time you start to see what's different or what you can do differently and that changes both the earlier technology as well as what you're doing with the new technology," Cavallo said.

The laptop itself, however, has had a few issues too--specifically, the mesh network connectivity has delivered less than was hoped.

Cavallo said: "This is the first large-scale deployment of this type of mesh. And we hit some stumbling blocks and in some ways we might have bitten off too much in the very beginning and that I think slowed us a little bit...

"With about 20 kids under a tree that's working actually quite nicely so we're doing really quite well in the smaller schools. In the very large schools--in Rwanda one of the schools we work in has 3,000 kids--and then you just have certain kinds of problems because of the number. Theoretically you'd say that's actually where the mesh really should work so those are the things that we still have to work out."

Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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  • amazing

    Not one bit of reference or substantiation to the main source's claim that thing's are getting cutthroat in his field. Poor journalism.
  • What is important is the results of the research for using computers in

    education. Hopefully, there will be vibrant competition to sell $100 rugged computers for developing (and other) countries. All of the technology of OLPC is open, and usable by any manufacturer.
    • Donnie, Donnie, Donnie

      I've been using computers in education and training since 1983. Don't need new research, just elearning and applications running on the global OS.

      There's another vicious competitor - eBay. Get a real laptop running XP for less than the price of the OLPC toy. You don't need to waste new resources and put more carbon in the air, just so you can have a shiny toy. Nor do we need to condemn the world's poor to living as fanbois.

      But keep wishing, Linux desktop is going to get to 1% global usage one of these days, years, decades, centuries.
      • Re: Dream dream dream

        Linux Market to Triple by 2012

        and lot of other researches.
      • Except you need to pay again for XP

        Boy, aren't those OS licenses are pesky? The rights to use the software is non-transferable, which means, if you buy a used PC with XP with it, you need to buy yourself your own license.

        Although I am sure that in those countries they don't care so much about pirating XP if it makes their life easier. And no one is going to ask them for "damages" money asking more than they can afford in the first place anyway.

        Still, it would not be possible to have an official stand for this. Imagine a charity promoting use of pirated XP. Highly unlikely.

        Plus, OLTP's design are somewhat ruggedized. And you have to appreciate its low power usage of the laptops, with ability to have LCD monochrome screen to save power and usable under sunlight. Try powering up your normal laptop by hand cranking for 5-6 hours so that you can use the normal laptop for 1 hour. OLTPs are designed to be used where electricity are scarce, with recharging the battery for two hours can provide 1 hour of computing.

        And oh yes, it has to be mostly self supporting. I don't think its feasible to have an IT technician in rural areas in Uganda just so that they can provide technical support. OLTPs are designed in a way that can be maintained by high school students, with only few days training.

        Any normal laptops takes care of those limitations? And those are just two. Go and read ahead of the amazing work they have done for OLTP.

        OLTPs are not designed even for developing countries. Its meant for the third world. And its not a "use for anything laptop", it is designed for education. The software in the laptop is very coherent with the mission. You don't have to know Linux to run it. Heck, you don't even have to know the OS and applications concept in order to use it. It is meant to be as seamless as possible, without any of the complexity of modern computings. (Oh, even an "out of memory" error is complex)
        • whuh?

          'The rights to use the software is non-transferable, which means, if you buy a used PC with XP with it, you need to buy yourself your own license.'

          What about all the used computers I've purchased with the OEM license sticker on them? I've got like 3 keys for XP Home I don't even use.
  • OLPC is a scam to ripoff poor people!

    It servers no other purpose than this! We can help them better donating used laptops at checks attached for maintenance cost.
    • Read a little, be less ignorant

      Had you done some research and reading regarding the OLPC you'd understand why it is not the same as you are suggesting.

      Here are some of the main benefits:
      Maintenance with low cost parts
      Low power requirements
      Small size
      Low weight

      There have been some new techologies (and uses of existing ones) to make this OLPC what it is.

      I highly recommend you reading about it. You'll be surprised.
      • I live in a so called "third world country"

        And in my opinion Negroponte did a stupid and mistakenly marketing research seeing NatGeo TV, for example here i can buy a old-and-second-handed-but-usable pc for less that $70 ($90 with a printer), so what is the point to buy a EXPENSIVE AND USELESS "semi notebook" instead to buy a real computer?. Operating system?, who cares, you can install linux for free or you can use a "bootleg" windows copy also for free. Low power, maintenance?, we don't really care, if fail then we can toss it (recycle it) and buy a "new" one.

        Negroponte failed because:
        -miss the target price.
        -miss the market.
        -miss the deadline (by 2 years!).
        -miss the specifications (removing key components).
        -miss the expectation.
        -miss the marketing channel, also the customers.
        -miss the community (inside and outside OLPC foundation).
        -miss the manufacturing and developing process.

        -miss the usability, sugar ui stink!.
  • RE: OLPC faces 'vicious' rivalry in laptop market

    If we have to provide them with new laptops it would be nice to set up the manufacturing sites in the countries you are providing the help in.

    Ultimately even if every child has a laptop and gets a slightly better education they will still not have a job and thier countries have next to no infrastructure.
  • Billion Laptops - Vicious Rivalry - Oh Really?

    Well there's a surprise. Laptops for a billion children up for grabs and this idiot is surprised/concerned that the manufacturers are competing.
    How does he get up in the morning? How does he find his shoes?
    Just where do we find these people. God give me strength.
    • It's you who needs some help to tie your shoes

      And maybe you would have benefited from some comprehension reading in your younger years.

      The article said that he is surprised that for profit companies are [unnecessarily] competing viciously when there is market for everyone.
  • RE: OLPC faces 'vicious' rivalry in laptop market

    You're as bad as the other guy. Do you think there is such a thing as friendly competition? Or co-operative competition? There is only one way to compete and that is totally, 100%, all out. Anything else is a cartel with market allocation, price fixing, no-compete deals etc. Sound familiar? Sound illegal? All you NGOists need to get real. With a bit of all-out, red in tooth and claw competition for this alleged billion unit market you'll see good product - not some jokey lash-ups - at a price point well below your 100$. ASUS are nearly there already and they're not even targetting this market - yet... And then there's re-cycling... TVs with browsers.. Mobile phones with browsers.. Who needs a PC?
    • photographer with mobile digital camera

      So I can be professional photographer with my super, super mobile digital camera, can't I ?

      Or maybe I can learn and practice in graphic design with my PC mobile.

      Maybe in the future, or if I'm idiot :)
    • It's not about competition

      Friend, I think you may have missed the main point. OLPC is not about competition or profit. It's about education and reaching billions of disadvantaged children.

      It is interesting though that none of the other UMPCs out there have anything like the mesh networking (even if it has some growing pains), the screen readable in full equatorial sunlight or wind-up operation. Not that they couldn't. There's just no profit in it. But that's just the point.....
    • sigh

      Yes, there is a such thing as friendly competition. All out competition must occasionally be mitigated when it starts to detract from the overall health of society and the people that competition is supposed to benefit in the first place. But you're obviously socially inept so I don't expect you to understand this.

      I'm having a barbeque next weekend, please don't come as you'll probably annoy my guests.
  • RE: OLPC faces 'vicious' rivalry in laptop market

    <p>You can view the whole of David Cavallo's keynote captured using Elluminate, from <a href="http://elluminate.alt.ac.uk/play_recording.html?recordingId=1220022802661_1221129041835">this link</a>. </p>

    Seb Schmoller
    Association for Learning Technology
  • RE: OLPC faces 'vicious' rivalry in laptop market

    Wow $70? I live in Texas and I'm such a broke ass that would take me a month to save up for. Maybe I can get a laptop?