OLPC Part 2: Nicholas Negroponte on the Mideast and the XO 3 Tablet—and Why He May Not Ever Have to Build It

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exactly the same size and screen size, smaller bezel.” (The bezel is the rim around the computer screen.)

—Haptic feedback: The idea is that when you use the onscreen keypad, it gives you force feedback that feels like typing on a regular keyboard.

—Dual mode display: Like the current XO laptop, the XO 3 would have a display that works both indoors and in bright sunlight. This might be the toughest part to produce, and Negroponte says it is one big reason the tablet won’t be ready before 2012.

—Extremely low power: “What I’d like to do,” says Negroponte, “is have it so you can just shake it so it will charge…you know wrist watches have worked that way for years.”

In sum, he says, “You want it unbreakable, no power, and always connected. And those are aspirations, but it’s the kind of thing we should be doing whether it’s at OLPC or MIT.”

If You Don’t Build It, They Will Come Anyway?

Negroponte took time in our meeting to philosophize a bit about tablet computers. “There’s a very interesting thing happening,” he says. “Paper books are really dead—they’re gone. And they’re not being killed by tablets, they’re creating tablets.”

That’s the opposite of what many people might think—but Negroponte sees the forces at work at close hand, because of his OLPC work. “It’s the fact that physical books don’t work anymore, especially in the developing world,” he says, comparing the difficulty and cost of shipping physical books against downloading 100 books or more on a single tablet. “It’s a complete luxury,” he says of physical books, “and it makes no sense.” (You can hear more about this from Negroponte directly this Saturday: he will be on a panel at the Boston Book Festival called The Tendencies of Technology.)

One other really interesting thing that came up in our conversation was that Negroponte left open the question of whether OLPC would ever really have to make the XO 3. “We may not ever build it,” he says. That’s largely because competition in the tablet and education spaces is so intense that commercial computer makers might fill the void themselves.

“The interesting thing about now versus five years ago—five years ago, we had to build a laptop, because there wasn’t a laptop” geared for the developing world, he says. Now, Negroponte says, it’s possible that “we don’t have to build a tablet. All we [might] have to do is threaten to build a tablet. And what’s interesting is that the key features of our tablet are ideas we want people to copy. So our IP will be as open as humanly possible.”

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Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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