The XO-2 laptop looks great, but can OLPC deliver in 2010?
The OLPC project announced today the next generation of its XO laptop. The news was expected--enthusiast sites such as OLPC News have been talking about it for a while--but this was the first time that OLPC has shown what it will look like.
The concept is pretty interesting. In place of the typical clamshell design with a physical keyboard, the XO-2 has two 16:9 touch-screens, one of which can be used as a touch-sensitive keyboard (think of a cross between the iPhone and an overgrown Nintendo DS). OLPC will market it to developing nations as an e-book reader, capable of holding up to 500 books, that also happens to be a simple notebook PC. (This raises the question of how e-books in many different languages will be produced and distributed.) The XO-2 will also fold flat so the two displays form a large tablet.
In the presentation, Nicholas Negroponte conceded that the current XO was "too big and heavy," and said the XO-2 would be about half the size and weight. OLPC is also working to improve the power consumption (no sign of the XO's maligned crank-handle).
So far, so good. Negroponte also said the goal was to sell the XO-2 for $75 beginning in 2010. The rationale for this seems plausible (sort of): The screen size and widescreen format will allow OLPC to take advantage of the cheap, high-volume displays manufactured for portable DVD players. But given the track record with the $100 XO laptop, which was late, reportedly costs $188 to manufacture, and has fallen far short of its sales goals, a "no comment" might have been in order here.
Last week, OLPC and Microsoft announced a version of the XO laptop running Windows XP, a project that had been in the works for a year. The move was controversial because some XO fans--including some former OLPC executives--think the foundation has abandoned its focus on developing educational software, built on top of Linux. (Or, as Fake Steve Jobs put it, Borg launches sinister plan to bring even more misery to Third World children.) In reality, it seems like a practical move to convince prospective customers, state governments that may be more comfortable with Windows, to get laptops into the hands of as many school kids as possible.
OLPC also announced that it would bring back its Give One, Get One program for XO laptops in the U.S., and also offer it in Europe, starting late summer.