The One Laptop Per Child initiative has always believed in the power of technology to transform the lives of children. Founded by outspoken techno-utopian Nicholas Negroponte with the goal of putting a working $100 computer in the hands of every child on Earth, OLPC has not always been without controversy. In some parts of the developing world, kids have far less use for laptops than clean drinking water, working toilets, and a good deworming. Even so, ever since the first OLPC computer came out in 2006, the project represents a vision of the future in which free access to information and technology in considered to be the clean drinking water of the mind: a basic human right.
The first Children’s Machine came out in 2006 during a curious period of mass insanity in the computer industry when everyone thought that netbooks--cheap, crappy laptops with tiny keyboards that didn’t do anything particularly well--were the future of computing. Half e-reader, half netbook, the OLPC XO-1 is now used by over 2.4 million children around the world--but it looks as much like computing’s future as a pair of parachute pants represents the future of fashion. As Steve Jobs once famously put it, we’re now living in the post-PC world. That’s the one kids are going to have to grow up in.
Enter OLPC’s latest Children’s Machine, the XO Tablet, available to buy starting today at Walmart and for $150. A co-production between OLPC, design house Fuseproject, and gadget maker Vivitar, the XO Tablet is a Children’s Machine for the post-PC world that takes a dash of inspiration from Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age to give kids the tools and inspiration they need so that they can realize their dreams, no matter their background.
The first thing you’ll notice about the XO Tablet is its kid-friendly design, which inherits a lot of the bulbous, bright green visual queues of the XO-1. It’s a durable, accessible gadget masterminded by design legend Yves Béhar, who is also the principle designer behind Jawbone products like the Jambox and Jawbone Up.
Underneath the green rubber shell, the XO Tablet is a fairly low-performance tablet running Google’s Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) operating system. It features a 1.6GHz dual-core ARM processor, a seven-inch 1024 x 600 display, and boasts nearly eight hours of battery life. But the specs of the machine aren’t really the point: aspiration of dreams, not clock cycles, is the MO of OLPC. And what really makes the XO Tablet so interesting is the way it reimagines Android as a hub of dreams that children can explore.
The XO Tablet doesn’t want children to interact with a touch screen; it wants them to touch their future. When a kid boots up the XO Tablet, they are presented with a menu that doesn’t ask them what app they want to launch, but what they want to be. If a child tells their XO Tablet that they want to be an artist, it would show them a number of tools that would help them realize that goal: a picture book of art, or a fun drawing app. If a kid wanted to be an astronaut, they might get to explore the solar system, or learn more about NASA. A budding writer might find a collection of e-books or an app that asks them to collaborate on writing a story. And while the XO Tablet comes pre-loaded with a large number of apps, games, and e-books that children might enjoy, it’s fully Google certified, meaning that kids can download and install apps from the Google Play store if they want to. Perfect for would-be hackers.
It might seem odd that a computer meant for kids in the developing world is first going on sale at Walmart, but OLPC has always tried to offset the cost of getting cheap computers into the hands of children who need them by selling the same computers locally to those who can afford to pay more. Anyway, even in America, there are still children for whom the future is murky and grey and dreamless. If there’s one thing that the XO Tablet has been designed to correct, it’s that.