Nicholas Negroponte of OLPC fame gave the final keynote at the annual AAAS meeting yesterday according to this piece by Wired Science. OLPC is the One Laptop Per Child program that hopes to provide these simple but sturdy XO laptops running an open source operating system to school children in countries just beginning to invest in devices and wireless infrastructure to support education.
He's predicting that the XO laptop will drop in price to $100 by the end of 2009, and then to $50 by 2011. He's basing this on the price of the electronic components dropping as Moore's Law (the number of transistors that can inexpensively be placed in an integrated chip doubles every two years) continues to be in effect for the newer products. It's interesting that there is no mention of economies of scale being the major factor driving down the price as I thought was the original plan. Originally, the XO was touted as a $100 laptop hoping that commitments from countries such as Nigeria or Libya to purchase millions of units would make this price point possible .
So, as we all know, electronics manufacturers fatten up cell phones with cameras and MP3 players, etc. Negroponte termed this problem, "a general obesity in the electronics industry." He went on to say, "Most laptops are like SUVs. You're using most of the energy to move the car, not the person."
He's saying that the XO needn't be "fattened" with new features to maintain its utility, and it's overall price will drop over time for this reason.
This is analogous to the term "feature creep" used to describe later versions of software with features added to prompt an upgrade even though these might work against the simplicity or stability of the program.
In his keynote he hinted at some deals in the works: " Over the next few weeks… there'll be partnerships and changes with companies that can start rolling this out." After all, the whole idea is for these laptops to be produced and distributed at low cost across the globe, even if the production isn't being managed by OLPC. Competitors are already looking at this market, notably Intel with its Windows-based Eduwise laptop. This device goes against the plan for the children teach themselves how to use an open-source operating system, and would require teachers to formally instruct the students on how to use Windows.