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OLPC head: tablets must be more constructive than the iPad

updated 07:10 pm EDT, Thu September 30, 2010

OLPC's leader says XO-3 more creative than iPad

One Laptop Per Child project founder Nicholas Negroponte told those at the Mobilize conference today that tablets needed to be more creativity-driven than the iPad. While not directly critical of Apple's design, the OLPC lead said Apple was primarily making "peripherals for iTunes" that were meant for passive consumption. For devices like the XO-3 tablet, the focus had to be on active learning and creation, which Negroponte didn't see as an iPad strong suit.

"We can't turn these kids into couch potatoes," he explained to those at the GigaOM-run event. "Just because you interact doesn't mean you construct. [You need] learning by doing and learning by making. Learning by being told is only one way."

Apple has mostly focused on the iPad for media, such as books, games and video, although education has played an increasing role. Schools have been testing the iPad as a weight-saving and more advanced alternative to textbooks but haven't dwelled as much on creative apps, which exist but aren't dominant.

Educational apps have always been central focuses of the XO notebooks, but Negroponte also suggested that some of it would come from a hardware design that would encourage more input. Marvell is working on haptic feedback to give tactile response for touchscreen keyboards, but the use of Pixel Qi's transflective display would also help by making the screens usable in bright sunlight, encouraging use outside.

The social effect of a tablet was better than a notebook regardless of who made it, the executive said, as it meant people could share an experience and that a teacher would see faces instead of the "backs of laptops."

Veering away from OLPC's usual hands-on approach, he added that it was no longer absolutely necessary that OLPC make the devices itself. Many companies would try to duplicate his efforts, and could ultimately produce the intended result on their own. If "market forces" would reach the same goal, he and the team could afford to stop, he said.

The XO-3 is due in 2011 and could cost as little as $75 in very large quantities, though cost overruns have sometimes been an issue with the OLPC team. It will already be thicker and heavier than originally planned to get the release on track.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Flying Meat

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Kind of an odd perspective.

    What did he expect from a device with an OS on it? K-12 targeted programs?

    As far as physical challenges goes, get a Wii.

  1. bitwrangler

    Joined: Dec 1969


    better input

    So the sum total of what will make OPPC better suited to being a content creation machine is haptic feedback? To claim that the ipad is a couch potato creation machine and that his will do better and to only provide the above sounds almost like something Ballmer would say. Really, if your going to diss something and claim you can do it better, than you better have something pretty compelling to say. If he truly believes that that is what is needed to have more content creation (I'm utterly ignoring the Pixel Qi screen since it has little to do with content creation) then the project is doomed for failure (when measured against it's stated goal).

  1. panjandrum

    Joined: Dec 1969


    I get the feeling

    I get the feeling Negroponte didn't bother to actually use an iPad? I've moved about 75% of my content creation over to it and didn't even have to try hard to manage that. The one thing that really helped of course was my Bluetooth keyboard. That plus Pages and Keynote mean I can create all the content I usually do except for using iWeb. For that I've found that a good VNC client works fine for smaller website edits (wouldn't want to do large quantities of work that way though...)

  1. elroth

    Joined: Dec 1969


    think more

    Apple has been neglecting creative professionals more and more the last few years. Just because Apple is still the only real option for a lot of us, it doesn't mean they're doing a good job.

    It's obvious Apple's focus has turned from enabling creativity to selling media. That would be fine if they would still develop and improve their professional (and non-professional) creative software. iMovie is now basically a YouTube funnel, not a program for making good-quality DVDs. Final Cut Express hasn't been updated in several years now, and an update to Final Cut Studio has been delayed until next year.

    Other software, like iTunes, is now limiting choices more and more, so you can't use it exactly like you want anymore. Try to clean up the interface by geting rid of Ping, or being able to show Album Art any size you want.

    Apple seems to not have much interest anymore in making great software and letting people have choices to use it the way they want. And I'm someone who only uses Macs, and will use them forever, even with all the frustrations. I'll never change from using Macs, but it's getting more frustrating.

  1. dicklacara

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Dreams must be tempered with reality...

    While I agree with some of what Nicholas Negroponte says... we must temper his dreams with reality.

    The iPad is being enhanced, daily, with productivity apps and accessories-- so it's a story that has yet to be written.

    In 3 years of OLPC about 1.5 million devices were sold:

    Sure, we can, and should, strive for an ideal solution-- but if the OTPC cause is righteous, wouldn't a less ideal, but more practical, solution be worthwhile?

    Here are some things to consider:

    -- Apple builds more iPads in a single month than OLPC built in 3 years.
    -- The cost of the OLPC was $260 in 2007 dollars
    -- The build cost to Apple is in that range in 2010 dollars
    -- OLPC was sold as B1G1 (buy one, get 1) for $399
    -- The iPad bests the OLPC in every meaningful spec- especially battery life
    -- The iPad is the only tangible solution available, today
    -- Likely, the iPad will be the only solution available in quantity for the next 2 years.
    -- The iPad has an established ecosystem in place... the others not so much.
    -- iPad solutions are being implemented across a broad swath of education, medical, technological, industrial, financial industries.
    -- Before long there will be apps that run on the iPad and provide the capability to write/test iPad apps
    -- by learning and using an iPad solution the children would be learning on the same system they will encounter in the work or creative environment

    Some may say that things like haptic feedback, transflective display... whatever, are necessary for an OTPC solution -- but are they really?
    -- There was an experimental haptic feedback app for the iPhone that can be adapted for the iPad
    -- The flap on any of several inexpensive iPad cases can be use to shade the screen when in bright sunlight
    -- inexpensive hand crank chargers are available for remote areas

    You can go through the ideal requirements one-by-one and estimate how the presence (or lack of) each effects the size of the target audience.

    I suspect a better way is to take a more positive approach:

    Here is an iPad with all its beauty and all its warts:

    -- how can we use this to meet our basic goals of providing education and enabling creativity for every child?
    -- how can we build on the initial successes (publicize publicize) to enhance the solution and address a broader audience.

    Talk about giving back... the OTPC child could publish apps, art, videos, writings, music, etc. on the iPad ecosystem to better himself and to encourage those who follow!

    Someone once said: "If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right!"!

    Another way to think about this is: "If it is worth doing, it is worth doing... even if it means just doing it just pretty well!"

    Why are we waiting for?


  1. facebook_Tom

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Sep 2010


    software not hardware

    the ipad can be as constructive, creative and instructive as the application software that runs on it.....

  1. samirsshah

    Joined: Dec 1969


    OLPC goals will be served better by a software onl

    If OLPC effort uses off-the-shelf hardware that is available in many emerging economy countries rather than making hardware themselves and makes software that unleashes the creativity of students, it would be a better choice. Off-the-shelf hardware can be much cheaper due to market forces

  1. samirsshah

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Continuing from previous post

    In India, in 1984 an effort called CDOT was started to develop indigenous telephone exchange with the goal of bringing telephony to rural India. It proved to be very ambitious and the goals of giving telephony to rural India are now being realized by commercial companies with mobiles at very low cost to rural folk.

    Why am I saying all this? HARDWARE FOLLOWS ONLY MOORE'S LAW. Chasing hardware is, now, only affordable to big companies. Rest of us provide software for the off-the-shelf hardware to further our goals.

    Smartphones and Tablets are examples of Moore's law in full force. OLPC can latch on this bandwagon to further her goal of children's education.

  1. JeffHarris

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Nice Looking Prototype

    This one is quite nice. I like the loop and color.

    How come every other iPad wannabe we've seen to date simply make exact copies of the iPad? That'll fly until Apple starts sueing the pants off the lot of them!

  1. dicklacara

    Joined: Dec 1969


    comment title

    The OLPC/OTPC is a "gonna be".

    The iPad is an "is".

    Which is more constructive and creativity-driven?

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