Saturday, January 02, 2010

Not the Apple iTablet or iSlate -- the OLPC XO-3

My XO-1 was the proto-netbook, an innovative low-power mini-laptop with wifi, mesh networking, a rotating screen with a "panel" mode (but no touch screen, alas), and a daylight-viewing mode I still haven't seen matched... as well as some fascinating educational software concepts.

And that was the point: One Laptop per Child had/has a goal of getting teaching machines into the hands of children around the world.

Alas, that first XO also had a keyboard that was a royal pain -- not just built for child-size fingers, but prone to "stuck" membrane keys for "ctrl" and "alt," which rendered my XO useless, especially after "pinching" a key to unstick it caused a rip in the membrane. (Presumably school systems met with the same problem acquired bushels of replacement keyboards, along with these easy-repair instructions.)

I wasn't surprised to see the XO-2 "concept" design last year featuring only a touch panel in place of the keyboard half of the laptop, eliminating the XO-1's weakest link and creating an intriguing two-page "electronic book," with either half usable as an iPhone-style touch-panel keyboard or display.

But now OLPC has taken the conceptual evolution another step, simplifying things even more with the

XO-3 concept design

That first typing-surface image made me laugh, reminding me instantly of the screen-keyboard configuration of my second computer, circa 1985, the Tandy TRS-80 Model 100. It ran on four double-A batteries, had a text editor, communication ports and a programming language, and I used mine for about seven years, including some news-reporting trips on the backroads of coastal New England.

Meanwhile, I'll keep watching the Apple tablet gossip. (There's even some speculation that the XO screen I like so much might play a part.) Whatever happens, I certainly hope they don't seriously call it the "iSlate," no matter how much the name might appeal to procrastinators.

As for the thin just-a-panel XO-3, while folks like Forbes magazine speculate about roadmaps and practicality, I have a mental image of thousands of school kids holding panels above their heads, wirelessly networking their screens together to build a composite-image reminiscent of sports-stadium audience card-stunt displays... but a thousand times more creative... and saying... whatever the 21st century generation wants to say to the world.

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