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OLPC cancels XO-3 tablet, downplays need for new hardware

Design aspects of the XO-3 could be used by other companies, Negroponte says

By , IDG News Service
November 29, 2012 02:46 PM ET

IDG News Service - One Laptop Per Child has cancelled plans to release its XO-3 tablet, although technology from that project could still be used in other products, OLPC Chairman Nicholas Negroponte said.

"The XO-3 is by no means gone. It may emerge in its constituent parts rather than as a whole," Negroponte said via email.

BACKGROUND: OLPC brings tablet capability to aging XO laptop with touchscreen

OLPC started off in 2005 as a laptop project and is well known as a hardware innovator, with its first XO-1 laptop being praised for its unique and environmentally friendly design. The XO-3 cancellation comes as OLPC officials say the organization could de-emphasize the focus on hardware design in the long run in favor of education projects.

The nonprofit group announced plans for the XO-3 tablet in 2009 and showed early samples at CES earlier this year. The tablet was supposed to ship earlier this year for US$100, but it was delayed while OLPC finalized the design and sought partners to manufacture the XO-3. The tablet was meant to be a low-cost computing tool for students in developing countries.

The XO-3 was originally priced at $75 and that triggered a backlash, in part because critics said the price was unrealistic. OLPC didn't plan to have the product manufactured itself, as it did with the XO-1 laptop, which too was delayed and eventually shipped at double its promised $100 price tag.

The XO-3 design is still available, and it is more likely that companies use some of the tablet's key technologies, such as flexible power input and charging efficiency, said Ed McNierney, the chief technology officer at OLPC.

"There's a lot of decent tablet technology out there -- it's really a question of putting things together in the right package for the children we're trying to serve," McNierney said in an email. "The Nexus 7 is nice, too, and a more kid-friendly size, and there are other good examples."

 

The tablet shown at CES had a rugged body, an 8-inch screen and included optional technologies such as a solar charger and support for satellite Internet. It used a display from Pixel Qi that conserves battery life by using ambient light to brighten the screen.

OLPC's priority has always been education and the need to design its own complete hardware systems "may go away," Negroponte said. Tablets are an important learning tool for children, but companies may be able to ruggedize existing low-cost products for use in schools, he said.

"We had to build the [XO-1] laptop, but we do not have to build the tablet," Negroponte said, adding that, "the need for OLPC may morph into something else."

OLPC also designed a hybrid laptop-tablet called the XO-4 Touch, which includes some of the XO-3's features. That product is still scheduled to ship early next year. The XO-4 resembles the original XO-1 laptop but has a touchscreen that can swivel around and fold over the keyboard to make an e-reader.

As an alternative to the XO-3, Negroponte is not opposed to buying low-cost tablets and distributing them to schools. Tablets from companies such as Motorola, which have been deployed as an educational tool in developing countries, have shown good power management and no breakage in rugged environments.

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