Remember when OLPC announced the new XO tablet back in January and showed it off at CES 2013? They said that this tablet was going to be available only from Walmart, but apparently that exclusivity didn’t last as long as one might have expected.
OLPC News posted late last week that this $149 Android tablet was out of stock at Walmart and that it was also now available from Target and from Amazon.com. And just to make anyone who believed in OLPC’s mission sad, the Amazon listing also includes related product links for branded headphones, a stylus, and a car charger.
When first announced, this tablet represented OLPC’s first foray into using commercially developed products to promote their educational mission. It’s a mid-grade Android tablet running Android 4.1 on a dual-core CPU, with OLPC’s custom software on top.
But now that the tablet is available at Amazon I think it is a sign that OLPC has lost its focus and is more interested in money than in education. OLPC’ used to be focused on getting computers (even the underpowered and limited ability devices like the XO laptops) into the hands of children in 3rd world countries everywhere, no matter how remote.
The power requirements, lack of repairability, and commercial design of the XO Learning tablet tended to break with the OLPC mission, but like many supporters I turned a blind eye to its shortcomings and gave the organization the benefit of the doubt.
The new accessories, like the headphones which you see at right, represent a corruption of the ideals of the OLPC organization. They don’t in any way support the OLPC mission (aside from the licensing fees) and they send the wrong message both to potential partners and to the public. They also mark the spiritual demise of the 6-year-old education focused non-profit as it mutates into a commercial operation.
That last could present a very interesting situation. While I might refer to OLPC as a single group, OLPC is actually both an organization and a network of cooperating non-profit and govt-funded groups around the world that are working together to support this open source education project.
The larger OLPC community might decide to break with the commercial operation here in the US and go its own way, though at this point I can’t say for sure what will happen.