Power. That’s the real problem for information and communication technologies (ICT) in the developing world. Specifically, electrical power, and the lack there of. All the coolest ICT tools, from radio to computers, the very Internet itself, require electricity, and usually vast amounts of it.
Yet in the developing world, electricity is very rare and expensive. National electrical grids don’t extend past the national capitol or major trading city. Outside of population centers, electricity is generated by local, even personal generators.
Often noisy, polluting, diesel or petrol generators that need constant repair, or very expensive and delicate solar panels that break or disappear overnight. Either way, electrical infrastructure costs usually exceeded the ICT investment, often by 2-3 times.
These two opposing forces collided during the 2000’s, as the international development industry, local governments, and communities themselves tried to bring ICT to rural and underserved areas, with disastrous results. Untold millions of dollars, man-hours, and even computers were lost in these ICT for development (ICT4D) projects when energy sucking computers starved themselves and their hosts, as they gorged on rare, expensive electrons.
We would still be wasting silicon and staff today, if it were not for one, very small invention that has literally revolutionized an industry: the Intel Atom processor.
Back before there was One Laptop Per Child and the 4P Computers it spawned, we had to hunt for information on ICT projects. Finding low-cost devices or the initiatives behind them was a challenge only solved by infoDev‘s comprehensive Quick Guide to low-cost computing devices for the developing world.
I can remember pushing to get the Geekcorps’ Desert PC listed, and the pride I had in our entry. Flash forward five years, and I’m now tasked with updating this list. Time has changed more than my involvement with ICT, its also changed the entire ICT field. Now, new 4P Computing devices are coming on line every day.
Yet so are great data gathering tools, like this Google Docs form below. Please let me know what’s your favorite ICT device via this simple interface:
Mary Lou Jepsen of Pixel Qi has a stunning gift for 4P Computing this Christmas. In December she will start production on the 3qi, a revolutionary new display technology just for 10-inch netbooks.
Imagine reading a computer screen in bright African daylight that has 3x better resolution that what you’re looking at right now. A screen that reflects light, just like paper, with similar high contrast and ease on the eyes. And when in that reflective mode, adds over an hour to your netbook battery life.
This is the promise of Pixel Qi’s new dual mode 10-inch netbook display, the 3qi.
Today I went to the Wuse Market in Abuja, Nigeria to check on the ability of entrepreneurs to find business opportunities using 4P Computing platforms. I found an innovative mix of using computing power to enable mobile phone content, at a profit.
Young men who invested in laptops are selling music, movies, and ringtones to market visitors at a tidy markup. Now ringtones and music sales is not new. Back in 2004, I heard of techies in the wilds of Mali selling ringtones and I got a few Gig of African tunes for a few bucks at a Senegalese cyber cafe.
What I found innovative was the movie sales.
Recently, the famed technology writer Steven Levy submitted his gadget list for 2009. His second request? One Laptop Per Adult Computer: I was skeptical about the XO at first but was pleasantly surprised by its ruggedness, screen quality, antenna sensitivity, and software, which treats every app as an invitation to collaborate. Yes, it’s great that […]Read More
Earlier this month, I had the luxury of inspecting a new Omatek Smartbook at the Ministry of Education in Ghana. The Smartbook is a low-cost laptop aimed at the education market, and with one look, you’l know its an XO laptop derivative:
It also happens to be one of the many
4P Computers that are coming out of the developing world. Not content to leave the 4PC market to Asus, these local computer manufactures are making their own low-cost, highly-portable, power-efficient, and performance-relative computers for local and regional markets.
Three years ago, the IT industry was shocked with a radical idea – a “$100 laptop” designed specifically for education in the developing world. Price would be low and yet quality high, through innovative design mixed with low-cost components, and sales would be focused exclusively on the developing world.
This heretical bombast upset the longstanding computer manufacturing tradition to keep adding functions to maintain high prices in the developed world, while ignoring the developing world. While the revolution was lead by One Laptop Per Child and its visionary founder, Nicholas Negroponte, we now have a whole plethora of revolutionaries – from the upstart Asus to the goliath Intel – who are developing 4P Computers.
4P Computing is a new class of appropriate technology – computing power, performance, portability, and price specificity designed for the realities and markets of the developing world.
Now join Wayan Vota, an expert on ICT in the developing world, in an overview of this revolution, the resulting 4PC’s, and their impact on the whole information and communication technology industry:
With the plethora of new 4PC’s (computer power, performance, price, and portability perfectly suited for the developing world), coming out of Computex this year, you might be wondering who is the current market leader. Personally, I would have to say its Asus with its popular Eee PC line.
Now that may surprise those that know me as a One Laptop Per Child fanboy, but as I told the Economist in its article “The rise of the low-cost laptop“:
By raising the very possibility of a $100 laptop, the XO presented the industry with a challenge. Wayan Vota, founder of OLPCNews.com, an independent website that follows the project, calls the XO a “harbinger of an entirely new class of computers”.
As such a harbinger, OLPC took the concept of 4P Computing, first conceptualized by the Simputer, and made it a practical reality with the XO laptop. But in the many missteps we chronicled on OLPC News, it never really commercialized its lead.
Now that One Laptop Per Child has brought the 4P Computing vision into reality, and Asus proved its market with the Eee PC, expect to see an amazing plethora of form factors at this year’s Computex that ascribe to the power, performance, price, and portability required by the developing world.
But don’t take my learned opinion on the matter, just listen to Mary Lou Jepsen, inventor of the XO laptop’s dual mode screen:
So many new machines are coming out about the size of the XO laptop. I’ve heard that 50 distinct different laptop models will be introduced at Computex (in Taiwan) alone in early June. These machines use screens between 7-10â€³ diagonals – and have been slapped together rather quickly to capitalize on the momentum first created by One Laptop per Child.
Now she sees the new 4PC entrants being high on price, and they are. The cheapest 4PC laptops that I’ve seen are still around $450 for the base models.
Last August, I crowded a few friends into a Japanese restaurant in Silicon Valley to talk about technology in the developing world. Back then, the discussion swirled around One Laptop Per Child, as it was the most visible manifestation of our collective drive to spread appropriate information and communication technology beyond the world’s elite.
That’s because three years ago, Nicholas Negroponte stunned the technology industry and the development community with an amazing idea: One Laptop Per Child – a rugged yet low-cost computing device, the XO laptop, can empower primary education in the developing world.
His idea that low-power, appropriate performance, highly portable, and low-priced computers were not only possible, but could also radically change education in the developing world and computer manufacturing in the developed world was an instant hit with Presidents of the Global South.
While the global telecommunications industry was quick to dismiss his idea as folly, as I told the Economist in its article “The rise of the low-cost laptop“, they did not laugh long: