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OLPC unbreakable netbook criticised

Bloggers brand device "vapourware"

An "unbreakable" netbook unveiled by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) group has been criticised by skeptics who believe the device is unrealistic and the price point that cannot be achieved.

OLPC's XO 3.0 is a handheld tablet with a touchscreen for users to surf the web and watch videos. It will be based on an Arm processor and include a software-based keyboard for users to type.

Designed for kids in developing countries, the tablet has a semi-flexible and durable screen that can turn it into an e-book reader.

It includes multitouch support "so many hands can play and learn together on the same screen", according to a blog on the website of the Fuse Project, which helped design the device along with past XO machines.

The screen will be made of a single sheet of flexible plastic and be unbreakable.

The XO 3.0's price is "well below $100 (£67)", according to OLPC. The conceived tablet will be constructed with a "totally different approach" and become available in 2012, OLPC said.

But skeptics are calling the netbook a dreamy device that may never see the light of the day. OLPC has been criticised in the past for announcing laptops at prices it can't achieve.

OLPC's founder Nicholas Negroponte said in 2005 the nonprofit would release the world's first $100 laptop.

However, the project was derailed by production problems and waning orders that delayed shipments and doubled the laptop's price.

By that time, competitors like Asus jumped into OLPC's turf with low-cost laptops and netbooks. OLPC also scrapped the next-generation XO 2.0 laptop, which had a dual-screen design many considered ahead of its time.

Calling the XO 3.0 hardware "vaporware", a blogger on Insight TS said building the device was a lofty plan that looked good in pictures.

"We'd love to see all of these devices, but CG mockups and philanthropic promises aren't the same as real, shipping hardware," the blogger said.

The OLPC project has become an unrealistic hardware "dream" and lost its focus on education, blogger Wayan Vota said on OLPC News, which has followed the OLPC since its inception.

The project comes up with unrealistic hardware designs and price points that destroy its purpose even more, he wrote.

"Excuse me if I get mad at the XO 3.0 hype. I'm angry at the energy devoted to fantasy XO hardware instead of OLPC educational reality. I miss the original OLPC Mission, where children, not computers, controlled our dreams," Vota said.

However, other bloggers defended OLPC, saying the company achieved its goal of building cheap, low-power machines like XO 1.0, which was a precursor to popular devices like netbooks.

In response to the criticism, Negroponte said that close to "1.4 million laptops in the hands of kids are doing our education mission superbly".

The non-profit is focused on education and also on being a leader in hardware design and engineering, Negroponte said.

"Some people have told me how nice that is, but a shame we lost our creativity as thought leaders in hardware," Negroponte said.

But the change in XO 3.0's form factor is a step in the right direction as the XO 2.0 design of two-handed reading was not the future, Negroponte said.

OLPC had to conceive a new design to keep in line with future trends in education.

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See also: OLPC '$100 laptop' dumps AMD for Via


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