One Laptop Per Child - Android, meet Dr. Negroponte

The OLPC XO-3, because it will be based on an existing, working reference design and the Android OS just might succeed where other OLPC efforts have not.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

I don't know if the latest incarnation of the One Laptop Per Child initiative will actually come to fruition. The first XO essentially created the netbook market and continues to find some new foreign governments willing to subsidize purchases for students.  XO 2.0 was canceled and now Nicholas Negroponte is talking big (surprising, of course, because he's usually so understated and conservative in his forward-looking statements </sarcasm>) about his XO-3 tablet, slated to be available in 2011.

As Larry Dignan notes, any products from OLPC have more value as conversation starters than as actual products, but what interests me most about the XO-3, regardless of whether it actually becomes more than vaporware, is the platform.  It will be running on a Moby Tablet from Marvell, a $99 device that has already been shown in prototype; again, Larry called it out as a potential educational game changer while I was concerned with its mainstream viability as a Linux device.

According to Negroponte, though, it won't just be running Linux, it will be running Android. Go figure.  It wasn't so long ago that Negroponte was doing his damnedest to get into bed with Microsoft, whether or not Microsoft and the rest of the OLPC organization wanted to or not. Android, of course, can run quite well on ARM processors and this would provide access to a large and active developer community, but one has to wonder about the strategic shift at OLPC.

So what could go wrong?

I'm not complaining, of course.  This warms my Googley little heart more than any other announcement from OLPC and, unfortunately, Android is the only Linux-based OS that has gained any real mainstream consumer traction. So Android is mature, the actual hardware is almost ready, announced independent of Negroponte (and well before his most recent announcement), and development in Android is a relatively quick and painless process. Given how many handset manufacturers have built custom UIs for Android, it even seems likely that at least some elements of Sugar could make it to the new devices.

So what could possibly go wrong here? Well, Negroponte doesn't have a particularly good track record of delivering on his promises in a timely or cost-effective manner.  However, by partnering with Marvell (who ironically uses ARM technology that it bought from Intel years ago) and implementing Android on it's reference design (again, taking a cue from Intel, whose reference design model for their Classmate PCs has been quite successful), we just might see the XO-3 happen. And not just happen, but happen relatively soon with strong interest in both mature and developing markets. And with the combined brand recognition of OLPC and Android. Even I'm getting excited about this one.

It's worth checking out Marvell's Moby site (http://www.mobylize.org/) for more information, both on the tablet and their partnership with OLPC. I'll close with a quote from Weili Dai, Marvell's Co-founder and Vice President and General Manager of the Consumer and Computing Business Unit.

"Marvell has made a long-term commitment to improving education and inspiring a revolution in the application of technology in the classroom. The Moby tablet platform – and our partnership with OLPC – represents our joint passion and commitment to give students the power to learn, create, connect and collaborate in entirely new ways...Marvell's cutting edge technology – including live content, high quality video (1080p full-HD encode and decode), high performance 3D graphics, Flash 10 Internet and two-way teleconferencing – will fundamentally improve the way students learn by giving them more efficient, relevant – even fun tools to use. Education is the most pressing social and economic issue facing America. I believe the Marvell Moby tablet can ignite a life-long passion for learning in all students everywhere.

Could it be? Could OLPC actually bring us the holy grail of 1:1 devices? I may not be holding my breath, but you can bet your netbook that I'll be watching this very closely. And probably at least breathing shallowly. And actually holding my breath at CES next year when we're supposed to see a working prototype.

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