I've been following the One Laptop Per Child project with great interest and was thrilled when the first pictures of the XO laptop were released. The design was so clever, robust and practical and I thought at the time, really, you couldn't do much better. Since then, things have not all gone the right way for OLPC and the XO. The target of 100 million orders in 2008 has not been met - 600 thousand have been sold. The cost of the laptops - intended to be $100 - has been more like $200. There have been problems finding the right partners (erm, no-one say Intel) and the right package - the package that governments will buy millions of. Governments are reluctant - the latest move is to include Windows as an OS option, and it is hoped this will make some purchasers more comfortable with the compatibility of the machine (sounds like OLPC needs a 'switch to an XO' campaign).
Despite all this, there have been exciting stories emerging from the laptop trials in Nigeria and Brazil, and I think the vision was glimpsed again in the first use of this device - just as the vision was glimpsed when the little laptop with green ears and a handle was first introduced to us. I loved that the laptops had an effect not just on the children, but on their teachers and their parents too.
“Pupils go even beyond what I can teach in the class. It's a very interesting thing to use. I personally have a better idea about teaching... We discovered that giving them time to discover something and to do it in their own way, they feel more happy and they are so excited in using it that, ‘Yes, I discovered it! Yes, I can get it!! Yes, I can do this on my own!!!’ Teaching is getting more interesting and less stressful.” — Mr. O., Galadima School, Abuja, Nigeria - link
Recently, the platform - Sugar - was spun off for separate development for other devices. Now, the BBC reports that there is a new design from the One Laptop Per Child project, the XO2.
The XO2 is immediately appealing, and has a bit of the iPhone wow factor, I think, presenting itself more as a book than a laptop. Being electronic, that makes it more like an eBook reader than a laptop.
The new version loses the green rubbery keyboard, sporting instead a single square display hinged at its centre.
This allows the device to be split into two touch screens that can either mimic a laptop with keyboard or the pages of a book.
"Over the last couple of years we've learned the book experience is key," he said.
The idea is for several children to use the device at once, combining the functions of a laptop, electronic book and electronic board.
Having two touch sensitive screens that can be used as reader, writeboard, keyboard etc. is a canny move, as it enables the UI to be adapted to the content.
As an eBook reader it is ideal and another example of the power of combining digital lifestyle elements in a single device. It will have internet connectivity, a manually renewable power source (assuming this feature will persist from XO to XO2), a mainstream OS and various applications, and be able to store up to 500 eBooks. And it will be cheaper, projected to cost $75 and be available in 2010.
Update: Teleread have posted an interesting piece about the XO2, opening up the idea of the XO2 as a way for Microsoft to get back into the eBooks game. [Thanks, P.]