The One Laptop per Child initiative seems to have found that imitation isn’t simply a form of flattery, it’s grounds for a new business model.
Speaking at the TED 2009 conference, OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte said that the future of the initiative–which set out to put simple, durable, low-cost laptops in the hands of schoolchildren in developing nations–is to become, in essence, more commonplace, to “build something that everyone copies,” according to Ethan Zuckerman, blogging from TED.
That copying has already begun, Negroponte said, pointing to the surging popularity in recent months of Netbooks–laptops built by a range of commercial PC makers with a focus on low cost and simplicity of design. “They didn’t copy the right things from us, but they exist,” Negroponte said, per Zuckerman. “We had to build the first laptop because no one else would do it.”
In the early days of the OLPC, the group’s design became famous as the “$100 laptop”–after the target price set for the device–but over time, the price crept up to nearly double that level; the $100 price tag would have to wait for economies of scale that proved elusive. Meanwhile, even before the advent of Netbooks, the price of higher-end laptops kept dropping.