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OLPC and the "Innovator's Opportunity" 64

Posted by kdawson
from the saturation-one-twenty dept.
viralMeme sends in a piece from OLPC News featuring a video interview with Pixel Qi's Mary Lou Jepson. The interview goes over some of the improvements in the company's extremely power-efficient screen technology that will show up in the next generations of the OLPC. The article links a video side-by-side comparison among Pixel Qi, Kindle, and Toshiba R600 displays in sunlight and in shade; Pixel Qi is arguably more readable than Kindle, and in full color. Jepson refers to Clayton Christenson's 1997 classic The Innovator's Dilemma, explaining a seeming paradox in high-tech: why companies that listen to their customers aren't the ones that innovate. According to the article it's mainly because "the next big market isn't with your current customers. It's with a vastly larger group of would-be users who couldn't afford your previous products, or couldn't carry around the huge devices of previous generations." Jepson says, "The cool thing about the Pixel Qi technology is, you know, poor kids in Africa got it first... It's the classic Innovator's Dilemma."
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OLPC and the "Innovator's Opportunity"

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  • Not a paradox (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 03, 2009 @05:00PM (#29630099)

    "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

    You listen to your customers because they mostly can't articulate what they want. But you do have to understand their needs.
    The OLPC is a stupid idea, because it's based on the assumption that the needs of poor kids in Africa are unique.

    The first company that realizes the obvious, and sticks a power efficient screen in an ergonomic form factor, ignores all Microsoft attacks and bribes to make it run 7, and makes it almost disposable cheap... ...will have a product that the whole world will stampede to buy.

    • Re:Not a paradox (Score:5, Interesting)

      by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Saturday October 03, 2009 @05:58PM (#29630559)

      Yeah I disagree with the article's assertion you shouldn't listen to your customers. You should listen to your customers, but do so understanding most requests aren't for what they're asking for, it's for a more fundamental desire. And it's up to the innovator to determine what that is.

      "I want a faster horse." "So you want to be able to travel further faster?" "Yes." "Ok how about a cart that travels as fast as a horse and go several hundred miles without stopping to rest, would that satisfy your desires?"

      "I want a brighter backlight."
      "Why do you think you need a brighter backlight?"
      "Because I can't see the screen in direct sun."
      "Ok would a screen which reflects light and is readable in all lighting conditions satisfy that need?"

      It's always helpful to deconstruct your customer's or client's feedback into outcomes or objectives instead of technical specifications. And if they ask for something specific it's usually a good idea to define whether they really want that in specific thing or there is some specific attribute of that thing that think is unique to it.

      • by Unoti (731964) on Saturday October 03, 2009 @06:27PM (#29630773) Journal

        You should listen to your customers, but do so understanding most requests aren't for what they're asking for, it's for a more fundamental desire...

        That's fine. But the Innovator's Dilemma is a wholly unrelated to that form of customers not knowing what they want. Here is an excellent introduction to the Innovator's Delemma [businessweek.com]. The article talks about the rapid changes in the hard drive industry over.

        This article isn't about customers not knowing what they want. It's about how over time, who your customers are can radically change as brand new markets emerge. For example, hard disk business with mainframes was all about cost per megabyte. But in the new desktop computer market, the criteria by which things are judged is totally different than just cost per megabyte. Overall cost for the unit is more important, and physical size. A mainframe customer wouldn't be interested in a drive that costs more per megabyte but is smaller and has an overall lower price per unit-- but a desktop customer would be interested. The topic of the article is that if you exclusively listen to your customers without contemplating how the world is changing, you can sink yourself. Same situation with the newspaper industry: over-focus on existing markets and existing business lines can cause you to not see the opportunity in emerging markets, as the Rocky Mountain News [scribd.com] learned.

        • by vadim_t (324782)

          Eh? Hard drives come in 2 normal standard sizes.

          You pick one if buying for a desktop, and another if buying for a laptop. Then buy based on cost by MB.

          SSDs have made this slightly more complex, but you can easily see it with them: The main reason why everybody didn't switch to a SSD yet is that the cost per MB is too high.

          • by Nethead (1563)

            You might have missed the time scale of the OP's topic. NOW drives come in 3 sizes (more or less) but I remember hard drives of all sizes, not just 5 1/4" platters either.

          • by cas2000 (148703)

            The main reason why everybody didn't switch to a SSD yet is that the cost per MB is too high.

            not for me, it isn't. as Unoti said in the post you're replying to, it's the price of the unit. i'd quite happily buy one of the high-end Intel (or equivalent) 64 or even 32GB SSD drive as my boot/OS drive if the price was between AUD $100 and $200 rather than over $600 (32GB) or $1000 (64GB).

            For the OS drive, i *really* don't care about the size or the cost per GB for this purpose - my OS (debian) can easily fi

            • My friend, 10 years ago, that 15 Gig was much, much more expensive. Please don't mistake the surplus drive space available this year to the economic and social forces that applied a decade ago, or which funded development of the latest round of Terabyte platters.

              • by cas2000 (148703)

                does that make any sense in your native universe? it certainly makes no sense here. i try to be tolerant of bizarre alien thought processes but there is a limit.

                • I apologize, sir or madam, for being unclear. Using tools like Ubuntu for operating systems, you're in a sweet spot right now where the difference in price for a 20 Gig or 250 Gig drive is nominal. If you were doing something like, say, running your own in-house Bittorrent and FTP site for downloaded music (as a recent engineer at work admitted doing, and I had to slap his wrist for using our bandwidth for downloads), the price/Gig would matter much more. (He had 2 Terabytes on 2 external drives he kept plu

          • Ever seen a rack mount hard drive for a HP3000?
            • When Gary left Digital Research with Tom, they were mastering the first encyclopedia on a CD. They were using a VAX to create the CD image, and it took two washing machine sized hard drives to model the target CDROM. Things have come a long way since then.
      • Re:Not a paradox (Score:4, Insightful)

        by lawpoop (604919) on Saturday October 03, 2009 @06:29PM (#29630793) Homepage Journal

        It's always helpful to deconstruct your customer's or client's feedback into outcomes or objectives instead of technical specifications. And if they ask for something specific it's usually a good idea to define whether they really want that in specific thing or there is some specific attribute of that thing that think is unique to it.

        The thing about that is that you have to talk them into the idea that what you're offering is *really* want they want, not what they already think they want. Which takes some marketing and salesmanship savvy. If people have made a decision ( " I need a brigher backlight" ) it takes a lot of work to get them to change their position.

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        I agree with you. However, a company needs to do more than just translate its customer's needs as well - it has to have a vision of its own.

        I have to deal with a software vendor at work which gets this completely wrong. Whenever we sit down and ask them what they're working on, we get the question "well, what would you like us to work on?" Oh, and usually it comes along with an implicit understanding that we'll have to pay them to work on anything at all (over and above software upgrade subscriptions).

        I

    • Re:Not a paradox (Score:5, Insightful)

      by abigsmurf (919188) on Saturday October 03, 2009 @06:38PM (#29630869)
      Can we drop the whole 'microsoft killed the OLPC' thing? The more extreme OSS advocates did far more damage to the devices success than MS ever did with their belief that making a device as Open source as possible (apparently Africa is full of 10 year old kernel programmers) was far more important than getting it into the hands of as many kids as possible. The second signs were shown that having the device open source played second fiddle to more important concerns, the device was viciously attacked by these people.

      People in the west were screaming to buy this product but negroponte refused to sell it to the west. Selling them at a slight markup could have funded charitable donations, as well as drive the prices down. When he did offer it for sale, it was with a stupid 100% markup for which you could, by then buy a much more powerful eeepc and have money left over.
      • by hughk (248126)

        Can we drop the whole 'microsoft killed the OLPC' thing?

        But they and Intel did, didn't they? I would actually say that their 'marketing efforts' in several countries was questionnable under the FCPA.The other thing that shafted it was the initial failure to sell it in the west. Heck they could even have given the marketing to Fischer-Price (the colours were about right).

        The OLPC was not about shipping a PC, rather than a multi-purpose enabling device for access to education. Sure Sugar is eminently hackabl

    • by westlake (615356)
      "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

      It's just as likely they would have told you:

      "I don't want to shovel all that shit.
      "I don't want to build a barn and hire a boy to stable, feed and maintain a horse."

      "I'm a country doctor on call.
      I can't be spending half an hour hitching up a buggy."

      "I'm a farmer.
      I need a practical tractor for field work. Something with a PTO for a harvester or baler."

      The first company that realizes the obvious, and sticks a power efficient

      • Re:Not a paradox (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday October 03, 2009 @10:06PM (#29631943) Homepage Journal

        The world is stampeding to by the BSD based iPhone though. They like the shiny interface. The difference is marketing.

        • The world is stampeding to by the BSD based iPhone though. They like the shiny interface. The difference is marketing.

          I doubt that a bare 1% of the iPhone market knows or cares about the *nix roots of the OS.

          But you are quite right to say that they care about the iPhone's UI. That is where they spend their time.

          They also care about the iPhone app. [apple.com]

          That it comes with the Apple stamp of approval. That is clearly and attractively presented to the iPhone shopper.

          This is where branding and marketing can reap hu

    • A man who goes to a hardware store to buy a power drill doesn't really need a drill. He needs holes. The customer is always right.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 03, 2009 @05:04PM (#29630123)
    anymore? In the classic Innovator's Opportunity, netbooks have pretty much rendered this thing completely useless. They do pretty much the same thing(are actually better in some areas), for about the same price, sans all the smugness.
    • by schwaang (667808) on Saturday October 03, 2009 @05:38PM (#29630393)

      According to the interview, Pixel Qi are still supporting OLPC, but they aren't designing just for -- or even primarily for OLPC any longer. It is neat that kids in Africa were the first market for the new display technology, but we're going to see the newer Pixel Qi stuff in commercial netbooks long before the XO-2 is out, most likely.

      The newest stuff does full color in direct sun, and apparently the generation after this will cut power consumption by a bunch.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The newest stuff does full color in direct sun, and apparently the generation after this will cut power consumption by a bunch.

        Yes, and if you believed everything that Mary Lou Jepson has been saying over the past year or so, we should have seen Pixel Qi screens in laptops/netbooks by now. And yet there still hasn't even been an announcement of a device that will use the screen in the semi-near future. I'm sure it will come eventually, but I don't exactly expect it to live up to the hype that it's been g
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ThreeGigs (239452)

        To hell with netbooks.
        The real market for this will be automobile dashboards.

    • You have a point, but I'm not sure if the original (laudable, perhaps naive or misplaced) aims of the original OLPC project were just about the hardware.
      Since it's /., let's use a car analogy; Electric cars, (100% ones, not hybrids), will require significant changes to infrastructure. For that matter, so will fuel-cell ones.
      That part of the OLPC project somehow got lost in the 'wow - we're gonna make a better mini-PC and OS' debate...

    • by Varkias (631272)
      Speaking of smugness ... *ahem* I find this fascinating, especially the part about making LCD screens easier for reading and watching video while increasing battery life. When she mentions that the increases to battery life will start coming next year it makes me wonder if Apple is working with Pixel Qi on their rumored Mac Tablet.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DrXym (126579)
      The sad part is OLPC could have cornered the netbook market before any of the competition knew it existed. It is so obvious that OLPC should have released a consumer version (say in black with slighty modified specs and form factor). It would have sold by the shit ton and helped fund the educational arm.

      Instead OLPC twiddled its thumbs and Asus, Acer and others stole the market from right under them. I still think OLPC could salvage something by doing a commercial variant. After all, it still has some adv

      • by hughk (248126)

        I absolutely agree. It is possible to find laptops that can be taken outside, say Panasonic's Toughbooks - not at all cheap. The market is a niche because it is aimed at people like the military or the largest construction companies. Unfortunately, they are a tad expensive to be used for many other outdoor persuits like field research.

        A commercial OLPC for adults that was aimed at the low-end of the Toughbook territory, in other words, a hardened netbook would have been extremely successful for all kinds

  • Here the laptops were finished to deploy in all public (and a few private) schools of the country last month afaik. Not sure in how much other countries was so widely deployed. But for having "the perfect" ebook device with most school children it still don't look like is being taking advantage of that fact around here, or at least is a bit too slow yet, and i mean both from the public/education sector as from the private one.
  • by mellon (7048) on Saturday October 03, 2009 @05:20PM (#29630261) Homepage

    One of these screens with a low-power ARM CPU motherboard would be a really sweet geek laptop. It seems like that could hit a price that would be attractive to a lot of people while performing well enough to actually be useful. But all we're hearing from Pixel Qi at the moment is silence, and I'm betting the first laptop to come with this screen, if one ever does, will have an Atom CPU and run Windows. I wonder if Pixel Qi would be willing to sell these in hobbyist quantities... :'}

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In order to get adoption of Win7 they're including an "XP Mode". Sometimes your existing customers don't want innovation because what you made before is "good enough".

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by FrostDust (1009075)

      "XP mode" just lets you run older programs for which the developers haven't cranked out a Windows 7 patch/version yet. It's not like you can just dual-boot XP and ignore you have 7 or something.

    • by KDR_11k (778916)

      The funny thing is that this is on topic because the Innovator's Dilemma is strongly based around people thinking that things are good enough and an innovator cutting back in the overshooting areas and instead focusing efforts on either the price or other areas (or even both). The netbooks are an example of where laptops were overshooting the customer and the smaller machines brought benefits through their size, the incumbent companies brushed it off as weak crap but the customers didn't really need more th

  • Hard figures (Score:5, Insightful)

    by abigsmurf (919188) on Saturday October 03, 2009 @06:51PM (#29630947)
    I've read lots of vague new stories about this over the past few months and seen lots of videos but I'd like them to just release some proper technical specs without having to parse a collection of transcribed press releases and watch dull 10 minute videos.

    how much exactly does a screen cost at each size?
    Resolution at each size or DPI?
    response time?
    Power usage in W?
    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      We can infer this from the video:

      Cost - must be comparable with normal LCDs for Acer to be interested in it.

      Resolution - the netbook shown looks to be at least 1280x960, maybe more. Look at the size of the task bar and icons.

      Response time - the video shows page flipping to be almost instant, probably limited by the CPU more than the screen.

      Power usage - unknown, but presumably good if they are comparing it to a Kindle and using it in the XO.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 03, 2009 @07:16PM (#29631103)

    I'm not interested in your philosophy. When can I buy your product without jumping through OLPC's hoops?

  • These videos are excellent examples of why the internet shouldn't move to be video based.

    I don't mind having an additional video, but for the love of all that is decent, create a decent article around the video's contents first that we can all read quickly, without the "sorry, my home lab is a bit crap" filler that wastes time.

    • by lxs (131946)

      I think it's a learning process. Just because people now don't know how to edit a snappy video doesn't mean that video is a dead end. Back in 1996 people didn't know how to design readable website, now those people are banned to myspace and the rest has either taken an active interest in web design or learned to work within standard web page conventions that have emerged since. Add to that things like an outline on the progress bar like in the TED videos, and most of the problems are solved.

      Add closed capti

      • by jbengt (874751)
        To me, it's not just the quality of the video, it's that I would rather read than watch. A video is more passive, harder to follow, harder to grasp and remember details (at least for hard concepts or complicated issues), and takes a lot longer than reading. Pictures or videos added to illustrate a point in the article is fine (like showing a side-by-side comparison of screens), but I don't want to watch a lecture, I want to be able to read the information, skim through it if I choose, and take my time wh
        • by hattig (47930)

          Yeah, that's exactly what I want.

          Never mind the people that can't watch videos at work (even during lunchtimes, etc) due to the audio aspect.

  • Old news (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stasike (1063564)

    You forgot to tag the article as "old news".

    We have seen all those videos long time ago.

    • by lxs (131946)

      Well we haven't seen it but if this is as old as Your Highness seems to imply, then we would like to know when the video was made.

      Now off with your head!

  • RatOot (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RatOot (1403949)
    Please read http://perniciousolpc.wordpress.com/ [wordpress.com] and comment.
  • I was recently looking into LCD sub-pixel layouts, and found that there are more than just RGB columns [alienryderflex.com]. For one, there's the same arrangement, but with every other row shifted horizontally by 1.5 sub-pixels [wikimedia.org]. This improves things because the spacing between like-colored sub-pixels is similar, no matter what direction; with columns, vertically they are right next to each other, while horizontally they're 3 sub-pixels apart. Others put twice as many greens [ias.edu]. There's even RGBW [diycalculator.com], that adds white into the mix, to i

  • I'm hoping the screen has improved enough to eliminate those annoying dead pixels.
    I avoided my new G1G1 XOPC after the novelty wore off because of the dead pixels in full-color mode. They don't appear in reflective mode.
    Why don't we pass a law that all laptops should have reflective mode?

  • So, I presume this new LCD won't give me a headache after 12 hours looking at it?

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