So I got quite excited when I read that the Indian Government had announced that it was going to produce an iPad/slate type computer powered by solar batteries with wi-fi and web-conferencing facilities all for the princely sum of $35 a unit.
The plan is to get 110 million of these units into the hands of school children in India. But this got the alarm bells ringing. I interviewed Nicholas Negroponte, (apologies if you get The Times’ paywall/registration page) the brains behind the One Laptop per Child programme to get a laptop into the hands of every child in developing country, a couple of years back. There were issues with production and take up. His units are far simpler and a lot less sophisticated and still they cost $100 a piece. He’s also announced a tablet for $75 but this is scheduled for 2012.
In a devastating critique, Mike Elgan of ComputerWorld, explains exactly why the $35 is nothing more than government hype and in Elgan’s words:
The $35 tablet announcement was nothing more than shameless political opportunism. The world’s media were suckered (again) — hook, line and sinker.
The whole affair is a shameful, disgusting spectacle that represents everything that’s wrong with politics, the media and public gullibility in the new idiocracy.
Cheap computers are nice. But what we really need is a little common sense.
Put simply, he says that the components alone would cost well in excess of the announced price. He points out among many other things that the cost of a screen is $35 alone and these would have to be imported from China as they are the leaders in manufacturing such components.
Negroponte did offer some interesting anecdotes about the OLPC programme in Latin America. He said that not only were the kids learning but that they in turn were teaching their parents to use the computers and that some were then using them for their own businesses.
There’s no questioning the importance of bridging the digital divide but one might argue that it’s the folks in developing countries who need a lesson or two on what is and is not feasible in a digital world.
Below is a video that might help. This is not real – it’s only an advert. Peugeot have not moved their production facilities to India . . .