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OLPC makes first-world tablet

Non-profit partners Marvell on PC for western consumers

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One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has taken $5.6m from chip shop Marvell to create a tablet PC intended for western consumption, stepping somewhat away from its stated aim of "providing an affordable educational device for use in the developing world".

The tablet, which will apparently be demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, will be Android-based rather than making use of the Sugar environment originally favoured by OLPC, and won't use the project's clever screen technology either, or carry the OLPC branding. But OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte told Xconomy that it would be an interim step towards the XO 3.

That XO 3 follows the XO 2, which was junked before the design had been completed - when the donations started to dry up and following the failure of the original design, the XO 1. The XO 1 itself never achieved the economies of scale necessary to get the price down to the envisioned $100. But with an intermediate step funded by Marvell, Negroponte is confident that the XO 3 can still happen, and bring tablet computing to the developing world.

Quite why the developing world needs tablet PCs is open to question, but perhaps we're being shortsighted. Mobile phones have already revolutionised many parts of the world, generally for the better, and few would argue that providing schoolchildren around the world with computing resources is a bad thing. However, the original XO 1 would seem to still meet most of those requirements if it could be made cheaply enough.

But no - tablet computing is where the smart money is these days, so that's what the third world should be aspiring for.

More worrying, for the project, is the fact that an Android-based tablet costing £85 is going onto the market next week. It was equally-cheap competitive products, backed by known brands, that killed off the XO 1, though a healthy degree of mismanagement played its part. This time the same management is in place and the competition is already in the market, which bodes badly for the OLPC.

Not that Marvell cares about that: in return for its $5.6m, the company will at least get a decent reference design for an educational tablet. And while it won't carry the OLPC brand on the box, Marvell will be able to bask in the feel-good factor the brand still carries. Meanwhile, the children in the third world get back to twittering on their mobile phones while Negroponte plots the XO 4. ®

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