$100 Laptop Prototype!

Wow they have done it! MIT Media Lab has launched their first prototype of the $100 Laptop for children that hopefully silence all the critics including Bill Gates.

What is the $100 Laptop, really?
The proposed $100 machine will be a Linux-based, with a dual-mode display—both a full-color, transmissive DVD mode, and a second display option that is black and white reflective and sunlight-readable at 3× the resolution. The laptop will have a 500MHz processor and 128MB of DRAM, with 500MB of Flash memory; it will not have a hard disk, but it will have four USB ports. The laptops will have wireless broadband that, among other things, allows them to work as a mesh network; each laptop will be able to talk to its nearest neighbors, creating an ad hoc, local area network. The laptops will use innovative power (including wind-up) and will be able to do most everything except store huge amounts of data.

I have been following this project with great interest. The reason is that I have been recently as I have been interested in design for BOP or Bottom of the Pyramid. I truly believe a product such as this is possible in today’s manufacturing driven economy. In reality, today’s consumer electronics are actually very very cheap to make if you have the product manufacturing volumes or numbers. It’s just all the marketing and branding jazz that blows the cost all out of proportion.
Let me tell you a secret, did you know the average mass market mobile phones only cost about USD$12-15 or less to make? What are we paying when we buy them? USD $100-$300 or more for the newer models like say from Nokia?

How is it possible to get the cost so low?
* First, by dramatically lowering the cost of the display. The first-generation machine will have a novel, dual-mode display that represents improvements to the LCD displays commonly found in inexpensive DVD players. These displays can be used in high-resolution black and white in bright sunlight—all at a cost of approximately $35.
* Second, we will get the fat out of the systems. Today’s laptops have become obese. Two-thirds of their software is used to manage the other third, which mostly does the same functions nine different ways.
* Third, we will market the laptops in very large numbers (millions), directly to ministries of education, which can distribute them like textbooks.

Anyways looking at the design in context of the surrounding, I really can’t believe how small this product is. Its looking smaller that a 12″ laptop! If what the quote above says is correct the screens are the sizes of the portable DVD players people love to watch soap operas on! Also they took out the “fat”, which I wonder if this is a jab at Windows operating system?

However I notice there is no wind up dial? It looks like the prototype runs on AC/DC power instead of the wind up dial that is actually a vital component in energy starved 3rd world countries. I not too fussed though, as this is a validation of a concept and the components look like they all work together.
What I’m concern is the overall industrial design. The flip out antenna ears, and a swivel top screen (touch screen display?) seem logical, but the traditional clam shell design of a laptop? Take note this is targeted to kids that may not have even seen appliances like TVs, Fridges or even Cars. Perhaps it could have been more “book” like as its distribution channel is via schools. Or even like a tablet stone or sheet of paper, an orientation that the target market may be familiar with. As we can only speculate, but this is probably because of manufacturing constraints as well as ODM vendors can only understand a laptop in this configuration.
I shall stop here, as I’m ultimately nit-picking on what is a project that has been a long time waiting.
For more information and a FAQ, check out the official website: http://laptop.org/ for a truly awesome world changing experience.
For more pictures of the prototypes, check out here.

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    January 8, 2009 at 10:12 pm Reply

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