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Mobilize 2010: Negroponte Sees Tablets as Creative Tool

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“Think about it. Turning pages. How ridiculous that is. It’s just unbelievably dumb,” said Nicholas Negroponte, describing the benefits of reading in bed on a tablet, and getting a big laugh from the audience at GigaOM’s Mobilize 2010. Negroponte described a scenario where your companion can fall asleep on your shoulder while you read a book on a tablet because you don’t have to use your whole arm to move from page to page. You also don’t have to use a light, and lean over to turn it off before you fall asleep, but just put the tablet down and drift off.

Reading comfortably in bed isn’t the only benefit of the tablet. There’s also “transparency of usage,” Negroponte said, comparing the way people can have friendly interactions around a tablet versus a teacher in a classroom facing “an army of backs of laptops.” Negroponte of course is mostly concerned with educational uses of tablets, as founder of the One Laptop Per Child. His non-profit has distributed 2 million laptops in 40 countries so far and announced it would transition to a tablet last December.

Negroponte spoke of the potential to make a tablet more than a consumption experience. “An interesting consequence comes from a level of creativity that can happen in places where it didn’t happen before,” he said, adding, “I think India is relatively overrated. I think China is underrated. And Africa isn’t even rated.”

Where Apple’s business might be described as “building peripherals for iTunes,” tablets should inspire and enable students to create things, said Negroponte. “We can’t turn these kids into couch potatoes. Just because you interact doesn’t mean you construct. [We need] learning by doing and learning by making. Learning by being told is only one way.”

OLPC’s tablet has now been prototyped, and includes things like a “transflective” screen that’s visible both during the day and at night. But Negroponte, appearing on stage with Weili Dai, the co-founder of OLPC tablet design partner Marvell, was vague about how and when this thing will actually be manufactured and released. “All we have to do is threaten to build the tablet and that may be enough because in the end, we are not hardware makers,” said Negroponte, calling that strategy “a new regime of trying to make things people will copy rather than doing it ourselves.” He said Marvell is helping OLPC with designing things like haptics to vibrate when a user types on the tablet’s virtual keyboard, but that it’s possible that children may not even care about getting feedback from the device when they touch it.

Negroponte described his motivation as such: “When I wake up in the morning I ask myself, ‘Will normal market forces do what I’m doing today?’ — and if the answer is yes, then stop.”

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7 Responses to “Mobilize 2010: Negroponte Sees Tablets as Creative Tool”

  1. Sengemo

    Pixel Qi’s continued involvement with OLPC is laughable. Mary Lou Jepsen has no interest in children as evidenced in the treatment of her own step children. They were barely in their teens when she began her pursuit of their married father. She continues to be completely self serving.

  2. An interesting thought this. ‘Will normal market forces do what I’m doing today?’ — and if the answer is yes, then stop.”

    What a fine way to explain away OLPC! I’ve heard about how netbooks are an avatar of OLPC, but this articulation is even more clever.

    Come to think of it, OLPC is overrated (by the media at large) and “normal market forces” are underrated (by certain academics).

  3. unfortunately we had no time for q&q after negropontes session cause i would have loved to ask him how the kids in africa or india are able to eat a piece of plastic and silicon.
    i really love idealism but sometimes it can turn out to be pretty pathetic.
    and to be honest, the olpc-tablet prototype will have the same problem as the olpc (even though they sold almost 2 millions of it), means they won’t be able to build it with these features for the estimated price. this is pure marketing!

    instead of delivering hardware to rural parts of the world, where the people need way more existantially goods, we should ship them to our kids, so we can educate them to share in the future and not to rape these so cald “third world countries” anymore. This would make a difference and would help these kids down there.

    yes, education is the key but i would prefer to feed a child that is close to die because of hunger and then educate it!

    • Not every one of the 1.5 billion children OLPC is targeting is starving. It’s not either or. We need to improve education everywhere, it has to be a huge priority.

      OLPC created the Netbook market. And just them threatening to make a tablet creates the tablet market.

  4. I posted about it here:

    I hope to be able to film the 7″ 4:3 Pixel Qi and Marvell Armada 628 OLPC $75 XO-3 tablet prototype at the upcoming CES.

    They should definitely convince India and China to use Pixel Qi in their educational tablets, no matter what. 50 hours battery instead of 10 hours, e-ink quality and sunlight readability is a huge difference.