by Carlo Longino

Filed Under:
india, olpc


India Latest To Try And Fail Where The Market Has Succeeded

from the one-more-time dept

One of the most puzzling aspects of the One Laptop Per Child project has been the apparent belief of its leadership that it and it alone had the right to try and deliver low-cost netbooks for the young and poor of the world. While netbook sales are booming, the OLPC project looks to be struggling. This once again has us scratching our heads at why the OLPC folks felt the need to go things alone, rather than working more closely with industry to deliver low-cost laptops with high functionality that combined the ability of a competitive market to drive down prices with OLPC's philanthropic goals and the innovations of its device aimed at its target market. But OLPC's struggles haven't deterred other groups from pursuing a similar path, including the Indian government. Following failed negotiations with OLPC, it said it would create its own $100 laptop, and that laptop is set to debut on Tuesday.

Initially, reports put the device's cost at $10, an error blamed on a mistranslation, leading to a lot of wonder about just how the Indian government could drive the price so low. But even if you accept the correct figure of $100, some of the questions are still valid: if cost is the metric deemed most important by the device's builders, does it put a limitation on the devices' utility? Put another way, is functionality sacrificed in the name of low cost to such a point that the devices become largely useless? Either way, it still seems hard to believe that small, individual efforts can deliver better devices at a lower cost than efforts that piggyback on netbooks' success in the market. This isn't to say that governmental and non-profit efforts can't deliver good innovations, but it seems slightly beyond belief that they will be better able to drive down manufacturing costs better than the competitive market. Wouldn't their resources be better focused on delivering specific innovations, particularly in software and systems, that could be paired with market-based cheap netbooks of any kind, rather than developing their own proprietary, expensive and underpowered devices? This is a lesson that the OLPC crew seems to finally be learning, given the recent news that they're open-sourcing their hardware. Hopefully other groups will pick up on it, too.

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  1. identicon
    thinker, 3 Feb 2009 @ 4:14am

    You still don't understand, do you?

    You want to know why OLPC is going its own way instead of partnering with netbook manufacturers? How about because netbook manufacturers aren't interesting in delivering what OLPC needs: devices consuming extremely low power, devices not dependent on traditional network infrastructure, devices with a display usable outdoors, devices rugged enough to stand up to typical treatment by elementary school children, and devices designed for in-field repair by swapping parts using minimal tools.

    Compare any netbook to that list of requirements. No netbook meets any of them.

    Seems like hooking up with the netbook people would mean getting devices that can't serve the OLPC's target audience. What would be the point of doing that?

    Pretty simple if you think about it. You *can* think, can't you?

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