Take a look at the designs for what could someday be the world’s cheapest PC, and you may start to wish you were a third-grade child in Burundi.
BY Andy Greenberg / 12.22.09

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte’s non-profit effort aimed at putting cheap educational laptops into the hands of developing world schoolchildren, is working on an upgrade to its so-called XO computer, once known as the “hundred-dollar laptop.” That revamped machine, known as the XO-3 and targeted for release in 2012, is still more of a pipe dream than a product. But early designs for the PC reveal a minimalist slate of touch-powered electronics that drops practically every feature of a traditional computer except its 8.5-by-11-inch screen, a scheme that would shed all of the first XO’s child-like clunkiness without losing its simple accessibility. “I wanted to bring the One Laptop Per Child identity to life in this new form,” says Yves Behar, founder of FuseProject, which designed the both the original and the XO-3. “That meant taking the visual complexity away, bringing tactility and friendliness, touch and color.”

Behar says he hopes to shrink the frame around the XO-3’s display down to practically nothing, opting for a virtual keyboard instead of a physical one, and no buttons. The result, in his mock-ups, is a screen surrounded by only a thin green rubber gasket. “Nicholas [Negroponte] asked for something extremely simple and practically frameless,” he says. “The media or content on the computer will be the prime visual element.” In fact, that new form factor is just the beginning of OLPC’s monstrous ambitions: It aims to make its tablet PC highly durable, all plastic, waterproof, half the thickness of an iPhone and use less than a watt of power, despite an 8-gigaherz processor. The price: an unprecedented $75.

Many of OLPC’s goals, to be fair, are more imagination than road map. And Negroponte has a history of overpromising. The original XO never hit its original goal of $100, (it currently sells for $172) and another touch screen upgrade to the XO that Negroponte announced in May 2008 was quietly scrapped this year based on costs. But in this case, Negroponte’s plan has a twist: As OLPC assembles the components for its dream machine, it plans to open the architecture of the device to allow any other PC maker to take over the project. Negroponte is more interested in pressuring the industry to make cheaper, more education-focused PCs than he is in manufacturing any specific machine. “We don’t necessarily need to build it,” Negroponte told Forbes. “We just need to threaten to build it.”

Regardless of who puts their stamp on the ultra-cheap tablet, OLPC’s biggest task may be getting the various components in line. A typical fragile, glass LCD screen hardly seems a wise choice in the hands of young children, or in countries with unpredictable and scarce electricity. So OLPC hopes to incorporate plastic back-plane components, possibly from Mountain View, Calif.-based Plastic Logic, that would be far more durable. The tablet will also likely use ultra low-power screens from start-up Pixel Qi with both reflective and LCD capabilities, created by former Negroponte disciple Mary Lou Jepsen. If Behar’s design comes to fruition, the XO-3 will feature a camera on the back of the device and a finger-hold ring on the computer’s corner. That loop, a metal cable that runs from the device’s rim and is encased in the same rubber as the screen frame, can be used to steady the computer in the user’s hand or to let it hang at one’s side. Magnets in the loop could also be used to keep it tucked behind the machine, out of the way.

Those simple additions are the only departures from the tablet’s minimalist design: Ideally, the machine won’t even have a charging port. Behar says OLPC wants to use induction to wirelessly charge the battery through its rubber frame. “We wanted to remove all the scars that you typically see on a laptop from Lenovo or HP,” he says. While the tablet isn’t slated to appear until 2012, OLPC has other plans in the meantime. An incremental upgrade of the XO set for release in January will have several times the memory, storage and processing power of the current machine. The next upgrade, in 2011, will boost the machine’s performance again and replace its AMD chip with a lower-power processor from phone chip maker Marvell.

When it comes to his plans for the $75 dream tablet, however, Negroponte admits his track record of lofty promises doesn’t offer much assurance that this latest fantasy machine will appear. But he warns the computer industry not to underestimate OLPC. “Sure, if I were a commercial entity coming to you for investment, and I’d made the projections I had in the past, you wouldn’t invest again,” he says. “But we’re not a commercial operation. If we only achieve half of what we’re setting out to do, it could have very big consequences.”

BY Robert Evans / 23 Dec 2009

“One Laptop Per Child is a charity run by Nicholas Negroponte. Their goal is to provide laptops to every child in the developing world. One of the ways they do this is by selling their ultra-cheap machines to Westerners for double the price. That way you get a laptop, and you get to buy a laptop for some kid in Uganda or Somalia. While the current versions of the OLPC are fairly unimpressive, the XO-3, Negroponte’s design for the 2012 OLPC, looks incredible.

Forbes reports that this new OLPC is going to be a totally stripped down, 8.5″-11” tablet PC. The only features of this tablet will be the touchscreen, and a little ring on the side to act as a hand-hold or to loop into a belt. The XO-3 will be simple and durable; it’s going to be made entirely of plastic will be waterproof. It should pack an 8 GHz processor, but will use less than a watt of power. Remember; this thing isn’t scheduled to hit until 2012.

The price is expected to be $75. Whether or not this device will ever launch, let alone at that price, remains to be seen. I really hope it does, though. One Laptop Per Child is an incredibly beneficial charity that allows poor children all around the world to connect to the Internet. It makes possible a level of communication and exposure to information that none of these children would otherwise have.
Plus, the XO-3 is supposed to have a camera. That means Flickr will soon be populated with thousands of shots from OLPC owners in exotic locales all around the world. That alone is worth a donation or two.

Nicholas Negroponte
email : nicholas [at] [dot] edu



FrontlineSMS is free software that turns a laptop and a mobile phone
into a central communications hub. Once installed, the program enables
users to send and receive text messages with large groups of people
through mobile phones. What you communicate is up to you, making
FrontlineSMS useful in many different ways.

* It does not require an Internet connection.
* It works with your existing plan on all GSM phones, modems and
* It is laptop-based so it can be used on the road or during power
* It stores all phone numbers and records all incoming and
outgoing messages.
* All data lives on a local computer, not on servers controlled by
someone else.
* It is scalable. Messages can be sent to individuals or large
* It enables two-way communication, useful for fieldwork or during
* It is easy to install and requires little or no training to use.
* It can be used anywhere in the world simply by switching the SIM

* Human rights monitoring
* Disaster relief coordination
* Natural resource management
* Election monitoring
* Emergency alerts
* Mobilising task forces
* Field data collection
* Conducting public surveys
* Health care info requests
* Agricultural price updates
* Organizing protests
* Mobile education programs
* Coordinating fundraising efforts
* Providing weather updates
* And more


Ken Banks
email : ken.banks [at] ngomobile [dot] org / ken.banks [at] kiwanja [dot] net

“Ken Banks, founder of, specialises in the application of
mobile technology for positive social and environmental change in the
developing world. He combines over 22 years in I.T. with over 15 years
experience living and working throughout Africa in countries including
Kenya, Nigeria (where he ran a primate sanctuary), South Africa,
Mozambique, Cameroon, Zambia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. In 1999 he
graduated from Sussex University with honours in Social Anthropology
with Development Studies.

His vision is to empower others to create social change, and he does
this by developing and providing tools to mostly grassroots
organisations who seek to better use technology in their work. In 2007
he hit headline news on the BBC when his text messaging application –
FrontlineSMS – was used to help monitor the Nigerian Presidential
elections. Since launch the software has been successfully implemented
in over forty countries including Afghanistan, Indonesia, Zimbabwe,
the Philippines and Pakistan.

Ken has recently been interviewed by the BBC World Service, The
Economist, BBC News Online, The New York Times, Nokia,,
The Africa Journal, White African and the Sussex University Alumni
magazine, among many others, and he was recently invited to take part
in an Aspen Institute round table discussion on the use of mobiles in
activism and civic engagement. Ken has written about his work, and the
wider role of mobile technology, for a number of publications
including Didactics World, BBC News, Boston Review, Vodafone Receiver
and Stanford and Harvard University magazines, and has a regular
online column in PC World. He has also acted as an official judge for
the Global Mobile Awards, the Mobile Messaging Awards and his own
nGOmobile initiative, and is a regional judge for the 2008
Adjudication Panel for the African ICT Achievers Awards Programme.

He has spoken about the application of mobile technology at a number
of conferences, workshops and organisations including Nokia, IDEO,
Stanford University, the MacArthur Foundation, Amnesty International
and the University of Arizona. He has also presented papers at the W3C
Workshop on the Mobile Web in Developing Countries (Bangalore, 2006
and Sao Paulo, 2008) and the 16th International World Wide Web
Conference (Canada, 2007), where he also sat on a specialist panel
discussing web delivery models for emerging markets. Ken also spoke at
the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (2008), and delivered a keynote
address at Mobile Messaging 2008 in Cannes.

Ken was recently awarded grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the
Open Society Institute (OSI), and has been short listed for two mobile
industry awards for the development of FrontlineSMS. Between 2006 and
2007 he was based at Stanford University as a Visiting Fellow on the
Reuters Digital Vision Program, and in 2008 was named as one of
sixteen Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellows. He currently spends his
time between Cambridge (UK) and Stanford University in California.”


Protesters and governments are mastering the tricks of the mobile trade
Cats and mice and handsets  /  Nov 29th 2007

BACK in September, protesters from many parts of the United States
poured into the small town of Jena, Louisiana, to express their anger
over the over-zealous prosecution (as they saw it) of six young
African-Americans on charges of assault. Mobile-phone text messages
played an important role in pulling in the crowd.

But for pioneers of mobile telephony and texts as tools of protest and
dissent, simply summoning people to demonstrations—a technique first
deployed in the Philippines as long ago as 2001—is old hat. The search
is on for ever more creative ways to use this ubiquitous device.

At a recent conference in São Paulo on “mobile activism”—a term that
embraces humanitarian work as well as protest—there was much talk
about how to “go beyond text” when using mobile phones. And it became
clear that exuberant practice was galloping ahead of theory. One
recent craze has been the use of political ringtones. Once again,
Filipinos are in the vanguard. Since 2005 that country’s best-known
tone, especially among youngsters exasperated by corruption, has been
“Hello Garci”—a snatch of taped conversation in which President Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo seems to be chatting with Virgilio Garcillano, her
election organiser, ahead of the 2004 poll that confirmed her in
office. In Hispanic countries, meanwhile, the latest fashion is a
royal voice saying “Why don’t you shut up?”—the recent outburst of
Spain’s King Juan Carlos to President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela at a
summit in Santiago, Chile.

Mobiles are also being used in more sophisticated ways, to capture and
disseminate images that were never supposed to see the light of day.
Witness, a non-governmental organisation that aims to record and
denounce human-rights abuses, is one pioneer. Instead of merely
posting verbal reports, it invites visitors to its website to the
“Hub”—a collection of harrowing video clips, often uploaded from
mobiles, which depict cruelty in action. On the “Egypt” country page,
there are grainy images showing torture in a prison.

For now at least, expense and technological problems make it hard to
organise any international mobile-based protest. The lack of full
interoperability between mobile systems means that borders are still
difficult to cross. But efforts are under way to get round that
problem. For example, FrontlineSMS, a laptop-based (and thus portable)
technology has been designed for use almost anywhere. Early this year
it was deployed in the monitoring of elections in Nigeria. Voters
texted complaints to a computer where they could be processed and
cross-checked by monitors from international bodies such as the
European Union.

More recently FrontlineSMS was used in Pakistan to get round curbs on
information flowing in and out of the country. Both there and in
Myanmar (Burma) recent disturbances have produced some interesting
insights into the cat-and-mouse games of protesters and political

In Pakistan the equipment used by local authorities was too cheap to
block the flow of text messages. This helped Pakistani protesters to
stay informed about sympathetic rallies taking place in America and
Britain—and to give the outside world a glimpse of ordinary people’s
reactions to the state of emergency.

During the recent protests in Myanmar, the authorities temporarily
suspended text messaging altogether. That did not stop activists from
using expensive satellite phones, which are harder to shut down. The
political, and above all, economic cost of blocking text messages was
relatively low in Myanmar, because not many people use mobiles. But in
many other developing countries, shutting mobile systems would be
economically disastrous and politically costly, because so many small
businesses depend on them.

In some places, like Belarus, the authorities have refined the art of
blocking mobile coverage in specific places—such as protest venues.
They have also turned text messages to their own uses: by using the
state-owned network to spread warnings that a rally is likely to end
in bloodshed.

For hard-pressed activists in search of new techniques, help may come
from an unlikely quarter. Google, the internet giant, has offered $10m
for the most innovative new application for mobile phones. The offer
extends to ideas that bring humanitarian benefits or contribute to
economic development. Mobile activists have never lacked imagination,
and many of them are already hard at work, thinking of clever new uses
for those little devices—mostly rather crude, five-year-old models—
that have become part of daily life in the poorest parts of the world.

Computing: In future, most new internet users will be in developing
countries and will use mobile phones. Expect a wave of innovation
The meek shall inherit the web  /  Sep 4th 2008

THE World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the body that leads the
development of technical standards for the web, usually concerns
itself with nerdy matters such as extensible mark-up languages and
cascading style sheets. So the new interest group it launched in May
is rather unusual. It will focus on the use of the mobile web for
social development—the sort of vague concept that techie types tend to
avoid, because it is more than simply a technical matter of codes and
protocols. Why is the W3C interested in it?

The simple answer is that the number of mobile phones that can access
the internet is growing at a phenomenal rate, especially in the
developing world. In China, for example, over 73m people, or 29% of
all internet users in the country, use mobile phones to get online.
And the number of people doing so grew by 45% in the six months to June
—far higher than the rate of access growth using laptops, according to
the China Internet Network Information Centre.

This year China overtook America as the country with the largest
number of internet users—currently over 250m. And China also has some
600m mobile-phone subscribers, more than any other country, so the
potential for the mobile internet is enormous. Companies that stake
their reputations on being at the technological forefront understand
this. Last year Lee Kai-fu, Google’s president in China, announced
that Google was redesigning its products for a market where “most
Chinese users who touch the mobile internet will have no PC at all.”

It is not just China. Opera Software, a firm that makes web-browser
software for mobile phones, reports rapid growth in mobile-web
browsing in developing countries. The number of web pages viewed in
June by the 14m users of its software was over 3 billion, a 300%
increase on a year earlier. The fastest growth was in developing
countries including Russia, Indonesia, India and South Africa.

Behind these statistics lies a more profound social change. A couple
of years ago, a favourite example of mobile phones’ impact in the
developing world was that of an Indian fisherman calling different
ports from his boat to get a better price for his catch. But mobile
phones are increasingly being used to access more elaborate data

A case in point is M-PESA, a mobile-payment service introduced by
Safaricom Kenya, a mobile operator, in 2007. It allows subscribers to
deposit and withdraw money via Safaricom’s airtime-sales agents, and
send funds to each other by text message. The service is now used by
around a quarter of Safaricom’s 10m customers. Casual workers can be
paid quickly by phone; taxi drivers can accept payment without having
to carry cash around; money can be sent to friends and family in
emergencies. Safaricom’s parent company, Vodafone, has launched M-PESA
in Tanzania and Afghanistan, and plans to introduce it in India.

Similar services have also proved popular in South Africa and the
Philippines. Mobile banking is now being introduced into the Maldives,
a group of islands in the Indian Ocean where many people lost their
life savings, held in cash, in the tsunami of December 2004.

For the W3C, M-PESA and its ilk are harbingers of far more
sophisticated services to come. If mobile banking is possible using a
simple system of text messages, imagine what might be possible with
full web access. But it will require standards to ensure that services
and devices are compatible. Stéphane Boyera, co-chair of the new W3C
interest group, says its aim is to track the social impact of the
mobile web in the developing world, to ensure that the web’s technical
standards evolve to serve this rapidly emerging constituency.

The right approach, Mr Boyera argues, is not to create “walled
gardens” of specially adapted protocols for mobile devices, but to
make sure that as much as possible of the information on the web can
be accessed easily on mobile phones. That is a worthy goal. But Ken
Banks, the other co-chair of the W3C’s new interest group and the
founder of, which helps non-profit organisations exploit
mobile technologies in the developing world, points out that simple
services based on text messages are likely to predominate for some
time to come, for several reasons. All mobile phones, however cheap,
can send text messages. Mobile-web access requires more sophisticated
handsets and is not always supported by operators. And users know what
it costs to send a text message.

As countries work their way up the development ladder, however, the
situation changes in favour of full mobile-web access. Jim Lee, a
manager at Nokia’s Beijing office, says he was surprised to find that
university students in remote regions of China were buying Nokia
Nseries smart-phones, costing several months of their disposable
income. Such handsets are status symbols, but there are also pragmatic
reasons to buy them. With up to eight students in each dorm room,
phones are often the only practical way for students to access the web
for their studies. And smart-phones are expensive, but operators often
provide great deals on data tariffs to attract new customers.

Xuehui Zhao, a recent graduate of the Anyang Institute of Technology
in Henan province, explains that a typical monthly package for five
yuan ($0.73) includes 10 megabytes of data transfer—more than enough
to allow her to spend a couple of hours each day surfing the web and
instant-messaging with friends. It is also much cheaper than paying
200 yuan per month for a fixed-broadband connection.

As this young generation of sophisticated mobile-web users grows up,
what sort of new services will they want? Many NGOs and local
governments are trying things out. Several examples were discussed at
a workshop in June organised by the W3C in São Paolo, Brazil. The
government of the Brazilian state of Paraná, for instance, is using
text messages and voice-menu systems to notify the unemployed about
job opportunities and farmers about agricultural prices.

But the workshop also highlighted the limits of what such efforts can
achieve. It quickly became apparent that more or less identical
services are being developed from scratch repeatedly in different
parts of the world. There is clearly room for more co-ordination of
such efforts, which is exactly what the W3C has in mind.

Furthermore, many clever systems are being developed by NGOs with no
apparent interest in setting up commercial services. As Mr Boyera
points out, this raises the issue of sustainability. What happens when
the NGO’s funding runs out? One conclusion from the workshop was that
promoting social development through the mobile web will mean engaging
with businesses. Regulators can also help by fostering cheap mobile

The developing world missed out on much of the excitement of the
initial web revolution, the dotcom boom and Web 2.0, largely because
it did not have an internet infrastructure. But developing countries
may now be poised to leapfrog the industrialised world in the era of
the mobile web.


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