OLPC XO-3 tablet delayed as design gets finalized

OLPC is negotiating with partners to make the product

Shipment of the XO-3 tablet has been delayed as One Laptop Per Child finalizes the design and seeks partners to make the product, said the non-profit organization's founder and chairman Nicholas Negroponte on Tuesday.

The XO-3 tablet has an 8-inch screen, and will be offered as an educational tool for children in developing countries. The XO-3 was first announced in late 2009 and working units were shown earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

The tablet is tapped to be priced around US$100, and was scheduled to become available earlier this year. The design is being finalized, and OLPC is talking to potential partners and device makers to take on manufacturing and the job of pushing the tablet to market.

"We're in a handful of negotiations with people to make it," Negroponte said in an e-mail. Once OLPC reaches an agreement with a partner, it will take about five months for the product to ship.

Suggestions that development of the tablet has come to a halt are untrue, Negroponte said.

"Development of the motherboard for the ARM laptop and tablet are basically the same and continue full speed ahead. I heard of some suggestion that development stopped, but it has not," Negroponte said.

OLPC is a non-profit organization with the goal to provide a computing device as a learning tool to children and teachers. The organization's first laptops, XO-1 and XO-1.75 are in the hands of 2.4 million children and teachers worldwide, according to OLPC. The XO-3 is the organization's first tablet offering.

The XO-3 tablet won't suffer the fate of the XO-1 laptop, which shipped late and at double the promised $100 price tag. OLPC has learned from the issues that affected the XO-1, and won't be directly involved in handling the manufacturing of the XO-3, Negroponte said.

"It is not OLPC making them 50,000 at a time, like we did with the laptops," Negroponte said.

OLPC will instead work with any company that wants to rollout the tablet on a large scale. The XO-3 reference design will be made available to companies, Negroponte said. Device makers could potentially use the reference design to make tablets for the consumer market.

The shipment of the product will be a relief for OLPC, which has taken criticism around the XO-3, with some dubbing the tablet as being unrealistic. Skeptics also have questioned OLPC's mission, criticizing the non-profit of losing its educational focus in favor of designing hardware at unachievable price points.

The XO-3 is not as fast or as thin as Apple's iPad or Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2, but has innovative features that should make the tablet friendlier to use in developing countries, where power is scarce. The internal batteries can be charged by solar panels or hand cranks, and the organization is trying to determine if the battery can be detached and the tablet powered directly through a solar cell. The tablet provides about eight to 10 hours of battery life.

The tablet weighs 0.6 kilograms, and has a Marvell chip with an 800MHz ARM processor. It has storage of up to 16GB and RAM of up to 1GB, and features a front-facing camera and an optional rear-facing camera.

The tablet will have either a traditional LCD screen or Pixel Qi display, which takes in ambient light to brighten the screen, which can extend the tablet's battery life. OLPC has made some last-minute design changes, including the addition of a magnetic power cord.

The tablet will run on Linux-based OSes such as customized Linux-based Sugar OS, Google's Android or Chrome, but will not support Windows RT. Negroponte has come out strongly in favor of open-source Linux as a platform for XO-3, despite the support for Windows RT on ARM architecture.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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