When I saw the One Laptop Per Child device, I just had to tinker around with it. So during an hour-long train ride home I explored the little OLPC and was quite impressed. I was impressed because it is a fully functional computer, with a screen size a tad larger than the Kindle from Amazon. I don’t think these two devices will compete with each other for market position, but they both have some features that put them in a similar category. And they both cost $399, although the OLPC’s price buys two devices — one for a youngster somewhere in the world who will make good use of it, and one for you to help get more apps built for it.
Both the Kindle and OLPC can browse the Web. However, the Kindle was designed to browse Amazon’s library of content to purchase. The OLPC has a Firefox browser and it truly operates like it was meant to browse. The Kindle uses Whispernet from Amazon, which is quite impressive in its coverage. It is not painfully slow either. I have read GMail with the Kindle and checked basketball scores on NBA.com. I did a quick bit of math. If you are paying roughly $49 a month for an internet service provider, you could buy a Kindle and use Whispernet for free. After about eight months, your Kindle would have paid for itself in the savings you were shelling out for an ISP. I am not going to do this myself, but it is possible for low-volume browsing and internet useage. I am hoping the browser delivered in the Experimental section of the Kindle improves with time. I believe Amazon has a good opportunity to make this a very compelling device, even more than it already is. I do like the reading quality of the Kindle. The reading experience is excellent if you keep your thumbs off the sides. I have well-trained/controlled thumbs now. I have a Sony Reader as well and, I am sorry to say, that it just does not compete well with the Kindle’s intuitiveness and readability.
But the unexpected entrant is the OLPC. I know it is not intended to be an e-book reader solely, but it does that function very well. I logged into our Safari Books Online and — voila. A nice experience. For a couple of weeks now, I have been trying to get my Kindle to get into Safari and have had no luck. The OLPC was a snap. I did have some DNS issues so I used the IP address of Safari [126.96.36.199] and that resolved things. The OLPC has another competitive advantage over the Kindle as far as reading e-content — the OLPC can handle PDF documents just fine. This is a huge advantage. Open any PDF you like and it works. The Kindle requires that you send a document to Amazon for conversion if you want to get it on your device. If you navigate to a PDF with the Kindle browser, it just craps-out because it was not meant to read PDF. I do not understand why the Kindle does not read PDF [the Sony Reader reads PDF quite well] other than Amazon wants to force the proprietary mobi-format on publishers and consumers. This gets me steamed. We have Apple with its wonderfully loaded iPhone forcing buyers to use one cellular service. We have Amazon not accepting the standard PDF format of web documents. Whatever happened to innovators shooting for ubiquity rather than lock-in and lock-down? I just don’t get these two cases.
That leaves me with the wonderfully crafted and delivered OLPC. What’s not to like about it? Okay, my fingers are too fat for the keyboard, because it was designed for a younger and smaller person. But the keyboard is no more difficult to get use to than a Kindle, Blackberry, iPhone or other small device. And actually it has many function keys that take you directly to menus, scrolls, and page jumps. So one of the big wins is also the business of the OLPC. It is open. It is Linux underneath. It is not going to lock you in, down, or out.
This first picture is the Kindle and OLPC side-by-side. Click to see a larger shot.
The bottom line: Both of these devices are going to be around for along time. I hope that Amazon sees the potential of their device and realizes that OPEN is going to get it more consumers laying down $399 than a closed proprietary device. It will also ensure that a publishing ecosystem will build around them. As for the OLPC: here’s to you folks. Nicely done. A wonderfully crafted device, a noble vision, and an Open mindset. Brilliant!