The $100 laptop

It's a great story, and it's even true. The MIT Media Lab is launching an initiative to get tens of millions of inexpensive laptops into the hands of children in developing nations around the world.  We like the details, like the handcranked power and the instant mesh networks that the kids will form using these devices.

With the help of AMD, Brightstar, Google, News Corporation, and Red Hat, the Media Lab is planning to ship these things in batches of no less than a million units at a time to ministries of education around the world.

The idea is that the devices will be so distinctive (and so numerous) that anyone who isn't a kid and is carrying one will feel conspicuous — which will make a the arrival of a greymarket in these laptops less likely.  They're also going to be indestructible. (As somone who recently accidentally drowned her cellphone, I applaud this design mandate.)

They're going to be cheaper because they will have cheaper displays, use less software (and more open source software), and will be manufactured in enormous numbers. 

Prediction:  adults will want them too.  But we won't be able to buy from the Media Lab source — no individual purchasers welcome there — so we'll need another vendor.

5 thoughts on “The $100 laptop

  1. Anonymous

    5 years ago, there was a scheme hatched to use donated computers from a developed nation such as the United States, which would be shipped to a developing nation, and instantly (within a few weeks) bring an entire nation into the digital age. Bangladesh had 68,000 communities. The cost to ship the computers broke down to $700 per community, per year. This cost would be handled through microfinancing methods by nonprofit bank. The cost of gathering the donated computers and preparing them for shipping, would cost something close to $9 to $12 million. This cost would be raised through marketing agreements with corporate sponsors who recognize the value of bringing an emerging market on board, of some 250 million potential customers.
    Would you rather provide each community in a developing nation with a computer that is state-of-the-art audio and visual media ready, or the program you describe that costs these countries more than 10 to 20 times as much?
    Of course, the cockamamie scheme I offered as an example, is but one such alternative that the policy makers continually reject in favor of greed and corruption by the powers that be.
    By the way, you interested in bringing meshed networking capability to our schoolchildren?

  2. Anonymous

    How about a $100 appliance marketed toward Americans so that we have massive incetives to get costs down and then it would be even cheaper for the developing world because they wouldn't have to respect IP laws as they would pirate the stuff anyway?

  3. Anonymous

    How do you pirate hardware again?

  4. Anonymous

    If it's free software then with $100 DVD players, it's no leap of faith to believe that the private sector can drive done the price of these “Fisher-Price” looking laptops below $100.

  5. Anonymous

    I wouldn't characterize the donated computers scheme as 'state-of-the-art audio and visual' exactly, especially if they're donated dell laptops, in which cas they'll be a doorjam in short order. Further, the $100 dollar initiative is more attractive fro the point of view of generating manufacturing activity, possibly in the very countries that may get the computers. There's no reason that both can't exist together.
    As for the Fischer-Price look discouraging grey markets, in case anyone hadn't noticed, in developing countries looks aren't always high on the list. I guess the people hatching the scheme haven't spent time in the homes of common folk in countries economically up-and-coming. If they're so disconnected from reality that they think that people everywhere respond to the same kind of demographic marketing hit and miss that seems to work in the US, I can't give this initiative much of a chance of hitting its mark.

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