Here is the the next-generation OLPC. It will consist of dual touchscreens on a single spine and include keyboard, face-to-face, and ebook functionality. The touchscreens will be built by a start-up by former OLPC CTO Mary Lou Jepsen. These screens will be readable in direct sunlight, just like the OLPC.
I’m glad that the second generation OLPC is more of an ebook than a laptop. While the “laptop,” as a designed object, is an excellent tool, books are what define our early education and creating an electronic book that works and is actively useful seems far more intelligent than the original OLPC, which is a stab at a “less is more” mentality that eventually hobbles the very people it is designed to help.
I remember a very interesting statistic from Freakonomics: the single, traceable correlation between a child’s ability in school and his home life are the number of books a family has in their home. I’m paraphrasing, but I’ve taken it to heart and I believe it to be true. A laptop is an interactive tool. An ebook, even if it’s just a glorified, dual screen laptop, is a reading tool. That is why tablet PCs never took off in the mainstream: people don’t know what to do with a form factor that is clearly not a laptop yet is also clearly a powerful computer. There is no way to connect the act of “scratching out words on a tablet” to processing worksheets in a spreadsheet. Why doesn’t the iPhone have handwriting recognition? Because it’s a horrible way to talk to a computer, even now. But that’s a different rant entirely.
That said, I worry about the project as a whole.