$100 Laptop Still $400, But Now With More Advertising

from the market?-bah dept

Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child initiative has received plenty of press over the years, though we've never quite fully understood it. While the idea of making cheap, durable laptops available to people worldwide has some value, the benefits haven't been fully explained and Negroponte's thoughts on how best to deliver them have been a bit perplexing. In particular, his apparent belief that competition in the space is a bad -- when competition might actually help realize the goal of a $100 machine more quickly than if OLPC goes it alone. In an attempt to boost volume, OLPC is getting a bunch of media companies to donate airtime and and ad space for a marketing campaign for the machine, trying to drive donations or sales under its "Give One, Get One" program, where people can spend $400 for an XO of their own, while another one gets donated to the cause. The head of the agency which created the ads for the campaign says they'll help build the economies of scale necessary to get the XO laptops down to the magical $100 price point.

Meanwhile, the prices of other netbooks, as these things do, continue to fall. While none are yet down to $100, it's hard to imagine that it will be too much longer before somebody breaks the barrier. And it probably won't be the OLPC group. With that in mind, Negroponte's anti-competitive, go-it-alone stance continues to confuse. If the market and competition can drive prices down, that's great for the OLPC mission, right? So why not abandon the single-product model (especially since hardware is basically a commodity, even with the XO's features), and focus on getting as many devices as possible -- even if they're another brand -- into schools worldwide? If the real OLPC innovation is the software, install it on the machines. It would certainly seem that the best course of action is to do whatever will drive the cost down the most quickly, and somehow using the growing consumer netbook market, rather than OLPC standing alone with its own machine, would do that. Negroponte seems hesitant to acknowledge that the bigger market can actually help OLPC's mission, even when ignoring that fact hampers that mission.

Filed Under: $100, advertising, olpc


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  1. identicon
    critic, 19 Nov 2008 @ 1:44pm

    Damned misleading headline ...

    That's a damned misleading headline you are using.

    The XO laptop is NOT "still $400". The $400 buys two of them. Of course you know that -- you describe the actual situation in the body of the article. But that doesn't make the headline any less misleading. You ought to be ashamed.

    As for your question about why the OLPC project doesn't abandon their custom-designed XO laptop and adopt netbooks, which you say will soon approach the $100 price: It is hard to believe you are serious about asking that.

    You say that the software is the imporant component, so OLPC ought to be happy to run it on any hardware, but that is a very flawed view. The software is important, but without a device that is suitable for use in the environment in which you need to use the software, you are out of luck. Look at the list of critical characteristics listed by Michael Foord in comment #3. No netbook I know of approaches fulfilling all those critical characteristics very closely, especially not the ruggedness requirement, but many other unique aspects of the XO are very important. So it doesn't really matter whether the netbooks will soon approach $100. The cost is only one of the critical characteristics. The netbooks might someday get to the point where they meet all the requirements. When that day comes is the time to ask the question. Not now.

    The OLPC project is a charitable education project. It's intent is to develop and deploy a new approach to educating children in poor regions that will give them a better education than they've ever received in the past. The project may be flawed, and Negroponte's motivations may be questionable, in part, and he may not be a very good project manager, but the project seems to be an honest attempt at improving education. No doubt it isn't perfect, and ways to improve the project for improving education should be encouraged. So far, I am unable to see any of the competition as being capable of improving education. All they offer is the typical U.S. give-them-computers-and-pray approach, which hasn't worked in the U.S. and I'm sure won't work elsewhere, either.

    Some education authorities will fall prey to misinformation from the competition and choose other approaches. I hope that enough adopt the OLPC approach that the project survives, grows, and improves. If the OLPC education approach proves ineffective, it should be, and will be, abandoned. But it should be given the chance to be tried. Purely commercial interests should not be allowed to smother it in its crib.

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