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Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen – OLPC’s XO Learning Tablet is in Stock at Amazon w\Branded Accessories

XO learning tablet 1Remember 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 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.

XO learning tablet 1

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.

61JbV0NGpTL._SL1284_[1]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.

But I can’t ignore what the new stylus, headphones, or car charger say about OLPC.  This is not what an educational organization should be doing.

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.


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Felix August 4, 2013 um 10:41 am

The OLPC was always about the money. Had they *really* wanted to make an ultra-cheap laptop available to poor children, they would have sold their product on the open market, and taken advantage of scale economies to lower the cost. Remember how many nerds wanted one? But no, they insisted on only taking huge orders from government agencies, which resulted in prices much higher than expected. (They also insisted on highly customized software, which coupled with the low availability of the device meant too few developers who could make it more useful.)

And so we ended up in a world where any off-the-shelf Android tablet can achieve everything the OLPC project originally intended and more, with *at most* a custom launcher. Let that be a lesson.

Seth August 5, 2013 um 5:35 pm

Not quite. It’s really really hard to setup a distribution network to store, ship and support a consumer electronics product. It is far easier to sell in larger quantities, non-intuitive but true. The amount of effort required to sell/ship/support 100 units is about the same as 10,000 units.

Nate Hoffelder August 7, 2013 um 11:22 pm

Except you can hire a distributor to do the job, can’t you? Small publishers do it all the time.

Sean September 5, 2013 um 10:06 am

You said it, OLPC created the market (netbooks -> tablets) and now they can source the hardware from anywhere. The original idea was to have revolutionary hardware that no commercial entity would produce (solar charging, hand charging, mesh networks). I’d love to see these things come back. It would be nice if Google put some OLPC-XO enabling features into Android.

At this point, I don’t even think they should be in the hardware business. Just license the XO brand to makers of stuff that meets their guidelines and anyone can load OLPC software onto Android.

The OLPC sauce should be in the software.

$150 is ridiculous, not for you and me but for anyone outside of a first world economy.

Olympia Press August 4, 2013 um 1:55 pm

I think with OLPC, Hanlon’s Razor is in order:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Negroponte was always clueless, but in that TED Talk way that got him backers.

OLPC se expande gracias a su tablet y a Amazon August 5, 2013 um 3:47 am

[…] Fuente – The Digital Reader […]

dave August 5, 2013 um 7:12 am

O yes, what a cunning plan, spend years sending laptops to other countries just so that you can improve your marketing in the West and sell more computers here, pure twisted genius’s at OLPC, I bet Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft and others are all kicking themselves, no one else ever thought of it, must be all about the money, I mean take a look at the marketing of their Website, terrible use of technology just to chase cash, Negroponti should be ashamed of himself;

Felix August 5, 2013 um 12:27 pm

Isn’t reading comprehension hard, Dave? My whole point was that they wanted to *bypass* the market, not to build their reputation *for* the market. They only went on the open market grudgingly and in a roundabout manner with their "buy one, give one" program, which always had limited availability, and quickly became a terrible value proposition are the price of more widely available machines crashed through the floor.

And yes, that can be adequately explained by greed-induced blindness — no need to assume malice here.

But damn, is this reading comprehension thing hard. Let’s just make fun of the guy who tries to have a conversation, that’s easier than paying attention.

Len Feldman August 5, 2013 um 12:19 pm

I suspect that the issue isn’t that the tablet is selling so well that OLPC added more resellers; rather, something happened that caused Walmart to drop its exclusive. After all, if the XO tablet was selling really well, Walmart would want to keep its exclusive. (And, if Walmart couldn’t get inventory, Target and Amazon shouldn’t have been able to get inventory, either.) It’s possible that when Walmart saw the production tablets as they came from Vivitar, they didn’t like them. Another possibility is that Vivitar or OLPC couldn’t deliver the tablets at the price negotiated with Walmart. In any event, it’s very likely that something went seriously south in the relationship between Walmart and OLPC/Vivitar.

Biff August 9, 2013 um 11:57 am

Distributors are an additional cost and there was originally an aggressive $100 target price. The target was third world countries; how many distributors even serve that market?

How many XOs would have made it to the third world if it were openly available in the first world at a third world affordable price? Give 1 Get 1 was not intended to be a good value; it was intended to use first world interest in the XO laptop to provide free laptops in the third world.

I went through the disaster of the first round of G1G1. Like other parts of the OLPC, they had a big idea without a clue on how to follow through on it.

Nate Hoffelder August 9, 2013 um 12:15 pm

The distributors would only cover the developed world. And hang the additional cost; that gets passed on to the consumers.

The main reason I think this should have gotten into the retail market is that it would have gotten even more XO laptops into the hands of already educated first-worlders, thus giving them a chance to contribute to the OLPC community not just with money but also with software. That could have helped everyone.

Biff August 10, 2013 um 12:47 pm

Hang the additional costs? Pass it on to the consumers?

OLPC was a philanthropic effort to provide computers in under served areas, not a commercial venture. When the XO laptop became available, the price was already 50% above the target ($100), so adding distributor costs on top of that is probably something OLPC wanted to avoid. They didn’t do it for G1G1 until after the first round turned into a complete mess. That was the point in insisting on large (million-ish) government purchases initially. Let the government buying the lot be the distributor.

As I said, OLPC was built around a bunch of big ideas that ended up not working in practice.

Just this guy November 7, 2013 um 10:40 am

Funny article. If you were talking about a marketing scheme from E.G. Dell, the interpretation might make sense. In the case case on OLPC, trying comercial distribution means they have grown sufficiently to justify moving to a wider audience. They can continue to focus on education, without noise from arbitary critics whose focus is elsewhere, such-as marketing for-profit products and competion among comercial suppliers.

While your insights are valid, OLPC is not part of that context.

@Biff – Actually this move shows that the "big ideas" worked out pretty much exactly as expected. It also had the side effect of creating the netbook market, and bringing the cost of laptops in general down from the $1200 entery point (if you recall 2007).

Sandy LloydJr November 16, 2013 um 1:41 pm

Well, I for one, hope that OLPC, is selling these in big box stores to get the funds to do their original plan. However I don’t hold very high hopes. On thing that has grabbed my attention is that on the box it says there is a gyroscope in the tablet. Upon further inspection there is no gyro in the tablet. Only a super low end accelerometer.

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