Saturday, January 11, 2014

OLPC claims tablet is unfit for young Africans!

For more than three years now I have published postings in this blog about the inappropriate solutions that the OLPC company delivers to the African market.

On November 1st 2010 in "One laptop per child...but what "laptop"", I explained that the new paradigm that will be in use in Africa to access information will be based mobile internet devices using broadband internet to access applications and information. At that time, OLPC claimed a price of $100 for its laptop with a battery life of 12 hours which would qualify it as a mobile internet device. However I said that devices like the iPOD Touch were probably more appropriate as proven in a project in my town of Chapel Hill. I also said that the OLPC tablet would be a better solution but it was not available yet at that time.

Since then I moved to Rwanda where OLPC has engaged with the government for the sales of thousands of OLPC laptops to schools. I had the opportunity to be involved in a project to teach the use of those OLPC laptops to 150 children in a primary school in Kigali. That is when I realized that the OLPC laptop was even more inappropriate for Africa than I thought. Not only was the price ($200) now double the announced price but more importantly the battery life was only 2.5 hours which is unacceptable in Africa where access to electricity is difficult. In addition, the laptops have proven to be very fragile as several where unusable after only two weeks of usage by children. I reported about that experience here, claiming one more time that the tablet is a better and more appropriate solution.

So when in September of last year the OLPC Tablet finally became available I got really excited until I found out that it was not to be sold in Africa but only in the US at Wallmart! In a new posting "Time to switch from OLPC to tablet in Africa" I explained again why a tablet was not only more appropriate technically for Africa but also more intuitive for children to use.

Then at the end of October 2013, I had the opportunity to meet with the OLPC CEO Rodrigo Arboleda Halaby at Transform Africa in the vendors exhibit, here in Kigali. He was running around holding the new OLPC tablet in his hands. So I talked to him about my experience with their OLPC laptops and the battery life problem. He said that we were probably using an old model to which I answered that these had just been received by the school, new out of the box. As I continued sharing the problems we had using them, I could see that he became more and more irritated. He told me that I did not understand the technology and that he would ask his technical team to contact me. I gave him my business card and I'm still waiting to hear from them.

Then I asked him why they were not selling the tablet he had in his hands instead. He said that the tablet was not appropriate for young children, that the keyboard/touchpad interface of the OLPC has been designed specially for children and it was more easy to use. I have seen children struggling using that interface while I have seen even babies able to play on an iPad. He then said that they may eventually sell it later for high school kids because it was more appropriate for them! I could not believe what I was hearing as next door at the Samsung exhibit booth, they were showing more than 20 kids using their Samsung Galaxy tablets in a simulated school environment! It seems obvious to me that the touch interface is much more intuitive and therefore easier to use by young children. At the contrary, one could say that the keyboard interface used in the OLPC laptop could be of more use to high school kids when they start writing their assignments or their programming code. When I asked why they were selling the tablet only in the US and not in Africa, the answer was that they needed to establish a proven product before selling it in Africa!

As I said earlier I wonder why OLPC keeps selling outdated technology to poor countries like Rwanda while the appropriate solution (their tablet) is now available? Do they need to sell their old stocks first?
If so, shame on them...

See you later alligator...

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