The XO-3, a low cost, rugged tablet computer due for release in 2012 (Via: OLPC)
One Laptop per Child (OLPC) XO-1 low cost laptop (Via: Wikipedia). Designed for children, but a perfectly capable laptop device with some really innovative thinking involved in its development. This sort of initiative has real potential to be a game changer in raising universal information technology literacy.
Basic computers reached a point where they met the immediate needs of human beings over a decade ago. This is why my workplace still uses Windows XP, because it is ‘good enough’.
With a sufficiently lean operating system, a basic computer is powerful enough to play and edit video and audio, edit graphics and process text. Computer components are mass manufactured and economies of scale have made basic computers commodity items.
This insight led the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative to state an aim of producing a $100 laptop with their XO-1. OLPC’s focus was on improving the educational opportunities for children. So, they sought to limit the market for their computer to children and initially planned to only sell to government education institutions. This hindered them from achieving the economy of scale needed to reach a price of $100.
Asus also applied the essential insight that computers can be low cost commodities by releasing the Eee PC 701, which in the UK cost around £220. This was a small, lightweight laptop and had a significant disruptive effect on the computing market. The initial 701 had a very small screen, but later models increased the size of the screen.
I purchased a 701 when it came out and it really met my use case of computing whilst traveling.
The Eee PC was so disruptive that the industry quickly moved to coin the term ‘netbook’. After all, we couldn’t have people thinking that these were perfectly capable laptop computers.
The Eee PC also reflected the increasing minaturisation of computing. Small form factors did not need to command vast (>$1000) fees.
This has taken us to a point where cheap personal computers, cheap ‘plug computer’ servers, cheap mobile computer/phone devices are readily available. Larger ‘tablet’ mobile devices are still significantly more expensive, but OLPC may lead the way there again…
All of this allows you to have a personal computer, a mobile device and a web server for just a few hundred dollars. None of these are cutting edge, but they are good enough for bringing ideas to market.