OLPC's founder, Nicolas Negroponte, is one of the best hype men in the tech industry. His aims are admirable--to create ultra-low cost laptops for the developing world. But he's also fond of announcing crazy products with completely impossible timelines and feature sets. The next version of the OLPC XO, the XO-3, may actually buck that trend.
When it was initially announced back in December, it seemed like yet another pipe dream, with an unrealistic artist's rendering to accompany it. The idea was a $75 tablet, running Android (though Negroponte seems open to other OSes, Android is both free and well-established, thus probably the best choice), with a dual-mode screen like the Pixel Qi. You can use it backlit, like an iPad, but then flip a switch and the display becomes static, like the Kindle's e-ink display. This is great for both reading books and for outdoor use--backlit screens are difficult to read outdoors, but static screens are impossible to read in the dark, so for developing countries, dual-mode is ideal.
It all seemed too good to be true--but Negroponte announced yesterday that OLPC will be using Marvell's Moby reference design, pictured above--an already-existing template that currently sells for $99. It's much higher-powered than the XO-3 would need, with features like a 1GHz processor, HDMI-out, and HD video encoding that aren't really necessary for the XO-3's target market. Perhaps OLPC can scale down some of the internals to hit their $75 target.
Regardless, this means the XO-3 has an excellent chance of actually coming to market within our lifetimes. Hopefully Negroponte and OLPC can get it together and out the door.