Let’s get this out of the way. The OLPC XO-3, the rugged ultra-low-cost tablet addition to the One Laptop Per Child family, newly launched at CES 2012, is much thicker than the concept tablet, which they showed in 2009. Plus, it’s missing the ring!
"They’re still the ultimate goal," says Yves Béhar, founder of fuseproject and OLPC Chief Designer. The key component that enables the thinness of the concept tablet is flexible color e-paper, and that has been slow to come to market. When it does, the OLPC team anticipates that the robustness and low power consumption will make for an ideal very thin and lightweight tablet.
The ring was a design solution to that anticipated thinness. "Children have a nonchalant way of handling things," says Béhar, and the ring made it easy for small hands to keep a grip on the tablet.
With technology dictating a thicker tablet, and a bezel around the edges of the screen, the XO-3 is more comfortable to grip; testing showed that the ring becomes unnecessary. "It’s a detail I like, but part of what makes OLPC exciting and different is that we have to be editors and make sure that everything is there for a reason," he says.
Testing and getting back reports of usage on the ground is a core part of the OLPC design process. From their previous experience, they knew localization would be key for this product. For instance, one of the benefits of a tablet form factor is that keyboards and other interfaces are entirely done in software, so it’s easy to swap them out for different languages and milieus. Easier than doing it in hardware, anyway.
There is localization in the hardware as well. This is localization not for language but for the infrastructural conditions of the places where the tablets will be used. Every XO-3 comes with a removable cover. "The cover is the multiple personality side of the tablet," says Béhar. They can be simple passive protection, but depending on the needs of a particular locale, other capabilities can be built in.
For example, one version of the cover comes with a solar panel on the inside along with a thin battery. When you are in school, using the machine, you can leave the cover out in the sun to power the battery. When you put the cover back over the tablet, the battery connects and recharges the machine. Béhar says they are also working on a version of the cover with antenna that will enable the tablet to communicate with satellites. There are more accessories to come. "We learned a lot with the original OLPC XO," says Béhar.