Tablet puts power in young hands
The recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas saw new super-slim 'ultrabook' laptops, smartphones and tablets hit the headlines, but it was one rather low-spec example that won the battle for hearts and minds.
The XO 3.0 tablet PC has a basic 20cm touch screen and a mere 4GB of storage under a bright green rubber cover; it looks like the kind of exercise book schoolchildren carry around - and there's a good reason for that. It's been created by Marvell on behalf of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a project started in 2007 that has since put 2.5 million units into the hands of children and teachers in Latin America and Africa. The OLPC's self-stated mission is to empower the world's poorest children through education.
The brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, the non-profit OLPC initiative (www.laptop.org) has had some notable successes so far. With the project's help, Uruguay has become one of the first countries to provide every primary school student - all 510,000 of them - with a laptop. More than 900,000 students in Peru have also benefited. Students in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Ethiopia and Rwanda now have a laptop while, closer to home, the mainland and Mongolia have also taken advantage of the initiative.
The XO 3.0 tablet wasn't the only child-friendly gadget to be aired at the Nevada expo. The family-friendly theme continued at Sony's booth, where its Tablet S (HK$3,888), which folds like a magazine, ships with a wrist strap.
Fuhu was in the US to show off its own child-friendly tablet, the Nabi Pad. Designed for four- to 10-year-olds, the Nabi Pad is a 17cm tablet that's primarily about education - books and mathematics. But it has games, movies and music capability, too. Wi-fi is on board, but only to access child-friendly web browsing and content from a select few providers. Intriguingly, this child-centric tablet has a 'mummy mode' that enables parents to access the web at large and download apps.
Creativity-boosting, child-friendly apps and mobile accessories were also unveiled at the CES by Griffin and Crayola. The Crayola MyPhones Earbuds' main feature, from a parent's perspective, is a volume limiter for music to safeguard against hearing damage. They come with a carrying case shaped like a Crayola crayon and in plenty of bright colours, and will cost HK$120 when they're launched this spring. Aimed at lucky children with an iPhone or iPod Touch already in their pocket, the level of the market for Crayola's apps - including the Crayola Lights, Camera, Colour HD app that turns photos taken on an iOS device into personalised digital colouring pages - is significantly different to One Laptop Per Child's intentions. But the aim is the same: to make technology fun and accessible for children.
That's the thinking behind the deceptively simple new tablet. It's been designed by Yves Behar's Fuseproject to be durable and adaptable. Although it's similar to the iPad in some ways - it has a camera and goes from horizontal to portrait reading mode for e-books - the XO 3.0 has a multitouch screen for several children to operate simultaneously. It's not the highly personal device that the iPad is; this one's for sharing.
The XO 3.0 works outdoors, the screen can be used even in direct sunlight, while its rugged exterior and solid-state storage aids longevity. As possibly the first piece of technology its users will have seen, it's simple and intuitive to use, and just as importantly, uses as little power as possible. As with all OLPC hardware, it comes with a manual hand-crank 'accessory'. One minute of cranking earns 10 minutes of use. There's also a solar cell in the lid of the foldout cover.
A self-powered as well as self-empowering laptop? Now that's the kind of digital double-act the Consumer Electronics Show should be about.