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$100 laptop - No Thanks. $100 smartphone - Yes Please!

Posted by gvix on December 12, 2005 at 10:24 PM PST

You may have heard about the $100 laptop initiative by the MIT Media Lab. If not, let me summarize it here for you. The initiative is to provide one such laptop per child in developing countries because "Laptops are both a window and a tool: a window into the world and a tool with which to think. They are a wonderful way for all children to "learn learning" through independent interaction and exploration.". This laptop will have the following features:

-- It will be Linux based and will have a full-color screen
-- A wind up battery to receive power
-- WiFi enabled
-- 500 MHz, with 1GB of RAM and a minimal Hard Disk

Hmm. Without any comment on these features, let me list the specifications of my mobile phone (Motorola A925):

-- Symbian OS based, TFT, 65k colors with touch screen and hand writing recognition
-- Rechargeable battery with upto 160 hours of standby
-- Network and Internet connectivity by 3G, which defaults to normal mobile network if 3G is not available. Bluetooth, Infrared and USB enabled.
-- ARM processor at 168 MHz, 32 MB RAM and 16 MB of internal memory with possibility to extend with a card

This phone is over 2 years old and currently retails for about $300. The phones that have been introduced in the market since this phone have even more impressive feature sets.

So, my point?

Instead of spending money on a crank it yourself laptop with limited capabilities and an arbitrary, ambiguous and sure-to-escalate price point, MIT labs should have looked at the mobile phone market and learned a lesson or two from it. Instead of a laptop, it should be looking at providing a smartphone.

Today's mobile phones are powerful devices. By the time the $100 laptop comes into production, the simplest of mobile phones would surpass it in technical ability by leaps and bounds, as you can see by my comparison with my 2 year old Motorola A925. The difference between a high-end smartphone and a computer these days is negligible. So why burden these kids with old technology which will find no relevance in tomorrows markets?

Further, the penetration rate of mobile phones in most countries, especially developing countries, is much higher than landlines, simply because Governments are incapable of providing this infrastructure, while private enterprise in mobility has flourished, providing networks in areas where people had to trudge miles to see a phone earlier.

So, not only do you provide these kids with a high end processing machine in the form of a smartphone, you provide them connectivity, perhaps the best possible gift for a child in a developing country.

One Laptop Per Child (OPPC) is wrong... Make it One Smartphone Per Child (OSPC).

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