Sunday, August 07, 2011

Capacity Focus, 9: A wave of low-cost education oriented Tablet PC's over the next year or so . . . ?

Those who have been following this blog will know that I have been keeping an eye on the emergence of technologies that enable computers and ebook libraries for all, for students. 

That's because I think that affordable educational computing can and will have a transformative impact on how education, especially education beyond High School, is delivered. A wave is coming that can turn any church hall, cyber cafe or community centre with broadband access and a wireless -- or even wired -- network into a micro-campus centre for a regional cybercollege.

That's a wave that we need to catch and ride.

For instance, for some time now, theOne Laptop Per Child ( OLPC) people have been hoping to deliver their US$ 75 [now, sub-US$100 . . . ] XO-3 tablet for 2012 [now, end of 2012 . . . ], and -- about a year ago -- the Indian Gov't announced a US$ 35 subsidised tablet PC, now nearing release.

Here is a look at the Marvell 10" tablet prototype announced for about US$ 99, that may well be the prototype OLPC XO-3:

These days, US$ 100 is unfortunately a typical cost price for 1 - 2 or (if you are lucky . . . ) 3 textbooks for senior high school or college level; which would be a lot less flexible, would weigh more and certainly will take up more space. 

So, add in a wireless track-pad and keyboard set and carrying bag for maybe US$ 40 - 60 more, plus some open source office productivity software [e.g. Open Office] and some version of a Linux kernel operating system -- Android or OLPC's Sugar OS would do -- and we clearly would have a very viable educational platform. 

The Asus Epad transformer TF101 Android Honeycomb OS Tablet (a "surprise" no 2 seller to the Apple iPad at 400,000 units per month) shows these possibilities [costs "$400 plus $149 for the dock . . ."], being a tablet- and- netbook- PC- in- one thanks to an innovative -- though not yet perfect -- docking system:

Here is a look at the Google Android Honeycomb OS in action -- I guess your fingertip is the new pointer:

(NB: Steve Jobs comments on the new OS "war.")

What about the iPad vs Anrdoid?

J R Raphael of ComputerWorld makes some insightful comments:
An iPad, by design, doesn't work like a regular computer. You can't drag and drop files between it and your PC; you can't browse its hard drive in any normal fashion. If you want to manage your music, you've gotta use iTunes to do it. You can multitask only within the confines of limited and carefully defined parameters. You can't view any Flash-based websites -- and forget about installing any program that isn't explicitly approved by Apple's app patrol committee.

For some folks, that's fine -- and for those people, the iPad is a perfect solution. But for those of us who want the ability to fully customize our computing devices, to do what we want with them, the Android tablets can fill that gap and offer things the iPad can't provide. And with the wide range of options in manufacturer, style, and size that'll soon be appearing, there'll be no shortage of choices compared to the iPad's one-size-fits-all approach . . . . 

To be clear, there isn't going to be any sort of sudden overnight shift in the tablet market. The iPad isn't going to fall out of favor anytime soon -- heck, it's probably never going to "fall out of favor" at all. But over the next couple of years, more and more attractive Android tablets are going to arrive. They'll offer more and more alternatives to Apple's one-size-fits-all, locked down approach. The iPad will no doubt continue to be a financial success, just as the iPhone is now. But in terms of overall user adoption, it sure seems like the stage is set for another smartphone-reminiscent market share shuffle.
In fact, unfortunately, we have already seen censorship in the iPad Apps world, targetting Christian initiatives. So, while I cut my computing eyeteeth on one of the early Macs, and have some fond memories, I cannot any longer recommend Apple products; regardless of technology.

As a matter of policy, we must avoid one-vendor solutions, and go for open source as much as possible. For, a monopolistic lock-in makes us far too vulnerable in today's politically correct environment that teems with all too many radicals tanked up on anti-Christian bigotry through toxic atheistical or neo-pagan talking points, and spoiling for a fight.

Now, too, in a news update on the OLPC XO-3, we can see that:
One Laptop Per Child is developing new functionality and protection features for its upcoming XO-3 tablet with the hope to attract more interest in the device.

OLPC is designing rubber covers intended to protect the tablet but that could also integrate solar charging, satellite Internet or external keyboard capabilities, said Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of One Laptop Per Child.

The tablet was originally announced in late 2009 with a projected price of under US$100. The XO-3 will become available early next year or perhaps sooner, and price is still being determined, but it will still be under $100, Negroponte said.

The tablet will also include a camera on top of the screen, placed inside the bezel surrounding the display. A microphone will be placed in the bezel under the screen, and USB 2.0 ports and a headphone jack will be on the sides.
Windows OS addicts (most of us) will note the onward remarks:
On software for the tablet, Negroponte said OLPC has lost interest in providing Microsoft's Windows 8 as an option. The organization is going forward with other operating systems including Google's Android and Chrome OS, which are based on Linux. Google has already released a version of Android for tablets, while Chrome OS is targeted at low-power laptops.
OLPC offered Windows and Linux operating systems in the first few XO laptop builds, which were based on x86 chips from Advanced Micro Devices and then Via Technologies. However subsequent XO laptops, starting with version 1.75, were based on ARM processors, which at the time did not support a full Windows OS. 

In March 2009, OLPC pushed Microsoft to develop a version of the full Windows OS that could work on ARM chips, which are considered more power-efficient than x86 chips.
At the time, Microsoft said it wouldn't do it, but the software maker said earlier this year that Windows 8 will work with x86 and ARM architectures.

"Microsoft had to make that move. I told Craig Mundie he would have to do it in two years," Negroponte said. "He said 'absolutely no, never.' It was two years to the week."
OLPC has lost interest in Windows for XO-3 now, Negroponte said, adding that it "will have almost no meaning."
 The context for that, of course, is the rise of the Tablet and the smart phone as major computing platforms with an associated "apps" market -- especially the Android OS, with Linux based OSes thus becoming more and more acceptable. 

The key issue in delays of the OLPC XO3 has been screen technology:
Decisions are still being made about the display, which is holding up development of the device, Negroponte said. OLPC wants a transflective screen, much like the current XO, but with improved richness in e-ink and transmissive modes. OLPC plans to use spin-off Pixel Qi's hybrid screen, which can function in e-ink mode and like a normal LCD (liquid crystal display) to display full-motion video. The display can absorb ambient light to brighten screens and reduce power consumption.
That technology has been implemented in the earlier XO-1, but is to be improved. 

If successful what that does is that it produces a screen that works well as a substitute for paper, in terms or resolution and eye-strain, as well as a more conventional view-screen that can handle rapid motion in multimedia or video elements. (Longer term, there is a push to get colour and rapid responsiveness into electronic paper.)

So, over the next several years, we can expect to see the emergence of reasonable cost, good performance computing platforms suitable for students and for delivery of educational content via commonly accessible web based and open system technologies

That fits right in with the ongoing push to create a regional cyber-campus coupled to community-based micro campus centres, to equip our people for work, for leadership in the community, and for leadership in our churches, under the imperatives of the mission of the church in our region and from our region.

So, we come right back to the Mordecai challenge: why not now, why not here, why not us? END

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