OLPC's XO-3 tablet to debut at CES

OLPC will defy skeptics by delivering the XO-3 on time and at the projected price point of under $100

One Laptop Per Child's XO-3 tablet is ready to ship after years in the making, and working units will be shown next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, OLPC founder and chairman Nicholas Negroponte said.

The tablet has an 8-inch screen and will be priced at less than US$100 as originally planned, Negroponte said via e-mail. Like OLPC's XO-1 laptop, the XO-3 will be offered as an educational tool for children in developing countries. Negroponte declined to say if it will also be sold at retail.

The XO-3 was first announced in late 2009 with availability targeted for early 2012. At the time, skeptics questioned OLPC's mission, accusing it of losing its educational focus in favor of designing hardware at unachievable price points.

The XO-3's on-time release will help erase unpleasant memories of the XO-1 project, for which the laptop shipped late and at double the promised $100 price tag.

The XO-3 uses a Marvell chip with an ARM-based CPU running at 1GHz and will run Linux-based software such as Google's Android or Chrome operating systems. It will be offered with optional technologies, such as a power-saving Pixel Qi screen and a solar charger for the battery.

"[The XO-3] price will be $100 or lower. But this time there are options, so we cannot guarantee the final price," Negroponte said

The tablet provides about eight to 10 hours of battery life, though some audiences may choose a smaller battery capacity to reduce the purchase price, said Ed McNierney, chief technology officer at OLPC.

The internal batteries can be charged by "just about anything that produces DC power," he said. The charging options include solar panels or hand cranks, and a study is under way to see if the battery can be detached and the tablet powered directly through a solar cell.

"Our ability to accept erratic, variable, noisy power inputs is extremely important to us, and something no other tablet has even attempted," McNierney said.

The tablet is also available with a traditional LCD screen. But the optional Pixel Qi display absorbs ambient light to brighten the screen, reducing power consumption and extending battery life.

Eight inches is the right size for the display, McNierney said, because a 9.7-inch display is too big for children to handle, and 7 inches "seems too small to be usable."

Microsoft's Windows will not run on the device, only Linux-based OSes, Negroponte said. The nonprofit has abandoned its pursuit of Windows for tablets, even though Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 will work on ARM processors. Negroponte has said the tablet on display at CES will run Google's Android OS.

OLPC didn't share further specifics, but the tablet may include a camera and USB ports, according to some design details shared with IDG News Service in July, .

The XO-3 ultimately will replace the XO-1.75 laptops that are currently shipping, Negroponte said.

OLPC is not dependent on a specific manufacturer for the tablet and will work with "whomsoever wants to roll-out the tablet, for whatsoever purpose, at a very large scale," Negroponte said, adding the objective is to see prices plummet.

As part of a two-year project to study educational development among young children in developing countries, researchers will collect data from XO-3 tablets used by three-to-eight-year-olds in India, Tanzania and Sierra Leone. Software on the tablets will record audio and video and adapt a reading platform to the needs of the children without human intervention. The project will study how children interact with the tablet and will aid in the study of tools for self-learning and critical thinking among children. One goal is to provide basic comprehension and reading, which is important in countries where teacher training is inadequate.

"In the reading experiment, where we ask can a child learn to read on his or her own, we imagine many hours of use per day, as many as six or eight. Frankly, the reading experiment may be the most important thing I have ever done....if it works," Negroponte said.

The study will be run out of the MIT Media Lab and be conducted in partnership with Tufts University, Newcastle University, and OLPC.

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