Sunday, December 09, 2007

unintended consequences

One of the unintended consequences of the OLPC project has been Asustek's Eee PC, "a small, inexpensive laptop for grown-ups", which is currently selling like hot cakes.

Citigroup in Hong Kong, predicts that the company will sell at least 3 million Eee PCs next year but could easily tally 6 million

My friend Paul has done a comparison of the two machines, which I reproduce below, with a few additions:

  • Intel Mobile CPU 900mhz (power consumption not specified)
  • 7" LCD display 800×480 pixels
  • One-click intuitive interface
  • WiFi 802.11 b/g (no mesh networking)
  • 512MB memory upgradeable to 2G
  • 4GB flash drive
  • Built-in webcam
  • Linux based operating system
  • SD memory card slot
  • price $300 - $340

  • WiFi 802.11s (mesh networking 2 km range, article / video)
  • Mesh network works when PC is turned off
  • 433 mhz geode processor consumes 0.8w !!!!
  • Viewable Screen 6 x 4.5 inches, 1200 x 900 pixels
  • Monochrome display: High-resolution, reflective sunlight-readable monochrome mode; Color display: Standard-resolution, Quincunx-sampled, transmissive color mode
  • 256MB RAM
  • 1 GB of NAND Flash memory on motherboard
  • Gamepad: Two sets of four-direction cursor-control keys;
  • Touchpad: Dual capacitance/resistive touch pad; supports written-input mode;
  • Camera: integrated color video camera; 640 x 480 resolution at 30 FPS;
  • Three external USB 2.0 ports
  • price $180 US but not available for "normal" sales in the developed world ( see give one, get one)
Relative sizes of the OLPC and Eee PC and their viewable screens are displayed here

Overview: Eee PC is slightly more powerful but the major differences are in the software, mesh networking, high resolution sunlight readibility and power consumption of the OLPC, all of which are oriented towards 3rd world conditions and educational use

Reflection: This is an interesting exercise in the workings of capitalism. A philanthropist, Negroponte, has a great idea about helping the poor children of the third world. This does involve potentially millions of sales but the OLPC is a non profit. The big monopolies (Intel, Asustek) see a market opportunity, take part of Negroponte's idea ( the cheap high performance laptop) and quickly produce rival machines. Intel's Classmate competes directly with the OLPC. Asustek's Eee PC sells direct to the developed world (initially not a market for the OLPC but subsequently it has become one). This does create a lot of pressure and problems for the OLPC project. It is a relatively small non profit, only hires a few people and is not in a position to compete with the high powered marketing clout of these new, unexpected competitors who are not the slightest bit interested in the educational development of third world children. OLPC has the high moral ground , which counts for something, but in the marketplace the dollar dominates.

So the main beneficiaries of Negroponte's idealist vision may turn out to be the consumers of the developed world who just want to buy a cheap high performing laptop and who haven't thought much about how it all became possible. Let's hope the OLPC educational vision doesn't get trampled in this rush to the marketplace.

Some quotes from The Jonney Machine (Forbes magazine):
"... the prospect of millions of new PC users buying the Eee PC without Windows seemed to worry Microsoft. Just before the launch, it agreed to give Eee PC buyers the option of getting Windows for under $40, more than a third off the standard price"
"Asustek will tap into a new market--consumers unable to buy computers because they're too expensive or just too intimidating. Indeed, the Eee name comes from easy to learn, easy to play and easy to work. That new market has been nicknamed the second billion. An estimated 1 billion people now have access to computers and the Internet, but even in developed countries, computers are just out of reach for millions. In the developing world that number is in the hundreds of millions"

1 comment:

Tom Hoffman said...

I don't consider the EeePC an existential threat to the XO. The Classmate is.