It was disappointing, if not surprising that the previous One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) didn't fully materialize, but perhaps third time will be the charm? No question OLPC had many other positive effects, some of which are noted here in this posting by Kit Eaton on FastCompany called “How the OLPC Version 3 Predicts the Future of PCs” (December 23, 2009), although their work on the interface and OS was more interesting to me.
In any case, it’s great to see this vision back in the news and hopefully provoking more good discussion and reactions in the market regarding things such as the pros and cons of ubiquitous computing in the world, future interfaces, eReaders, and costs.
According to Kit:
“One can easily argue that Nicholas Negroponte's OLPC XO computer predicted the entire netbook phenomenon. Now the company's revealed its vision for the OLPC XO3 in 2012--Is it similarly visionary? You betcha.
Designed by Yves Behar, the XO3 is a totally different 21st-Century beast compared to the classic notebook design of the original XO: It's a super-skinny plastic tablet/slate PC. Suited for its intended use out of the normal comfort zone for PCs, the screen is actually plastic, so it's resilient and slightly flexible. It's also a multitouch device, laden with sensors so it can transform into book-reading or Web-surfing mode. And, just like the original machine it's got a dual-mode screen that works both in daylight or as a self-illuminated LCD (no surprises that the OLPC team has links with PixelQI).
... the design, which was driven by Negroponte's request to make the thing "extremely simple and practically frameless." As a result, there's practically nothing separating the computer from the screen, just a thin trademark green rubber edge, a camera on the back and a finger loop for steadying the PC while it's hanging from a belt. The screen and body of the XO3 mean the machine itself practically vanishes when it's being used--the experience is delivered entirely on screen.”
You can see some of the other photos in the Fast Company article for a better sense of what this offers.
The Forbes article "The $75 Future Computer" has better details in terms of projected timelines (2012). Negroponte's design challenge for this future version of the OLPC was "something extremely simple and practically frameless," and I thought his additional point that "The media or content on the computer will be the prime visual element." was most telling and prescient. He has wisely shifted his goals from that of actually manufacturing these devices and rather acting more as a bully pulpit for the vision of ubiquitous computing in the hands of everyone in the world. As he told the Forbes reporter "We don't necessarily need to build it. We just need to threaten to build it."
Negroponte added "..... we're not a commercial operation. If we only achieve half of what we're setting out to do, it could have very big consequences."
Let's see and let's hope!
Personally I don't think the biggest challenges facing the global equalization of the distribution of computing capabilities are the hardware and infrastructure. There remain more intriguing challenges and questions such as the pros/cons of providing teacher training for these devices, developing specific content for them, etc. I would still ask most of the same questions I asked back in my April 2007 posting "Opportunities in our Laps?" such as:
"There is no current funding or plans for any associated teacher training programs to go with the OLPC project. Is this foolish or brilliant? Should such teacher training and "train the trainer" programs be formally developed or will it be better to leave this to the teachers and adults themselves? Will teachers learn (and teach) best by doing so with their students and adopting a "guide on the side" type approach?"