Later this year, the XO laptops are expected to hit the retail stores. Sources say Reliance Communications, which partnered OLPC Foundation to conduct an XO pilot project in Maharashtra last year, is looking at retailing these laptops bundled with its CDMA modems.
There are two game-changing ideas dropped innocently in that one paragraph - retail sales and CDMA modems - the key ingredients, I believe, in creating a base of the pyramid market in ICT devices beyond just the cell phone (no offense to the cell - now the most ubiquitous communications device not part of the human body in history, but it does have some platform limitations). As I wrote in my entry discussing a "base of the pyramid" approach for the OLPC:
The same entrepreneurial idea can feed development, using the OLPC technology instead of (or possibly in addition to) cell phones and PVs. Set up a group of in-country micro-lenders who can walk someone through the usage of the OLPC XO laptops, evaluate requests for laptop loans with local situational and social knowledge, and help with initial setup. Provide micro-loans to individuals with an idea of how to use the laptop in a way that could generate enough revenues for repayment and self-employment. Work with local social customs and systems to find the best way to create social pressure for loan repayment (only x amount of money is available on a rotating basis?), as well as adapt to local markets and needs.
Can the OLPC turn a BoP profit?the technology is powerful when you combine the pieces of the rugged and portable XO laptop, off-grid power capabilities, and a cell-network Internet connection. The only piece lacking is the business model to repay the loan for the laptop, modem/power marginal costs, and make a living, but in a few minutes I was able to come up with the list below back in March:
Below are a few ideas (presuming some form of Internet, probably cell-phone-network enabled) that could combine the OLPC, community development, and education with making a bit of profit. There are a million other possible things to do with the laptop, using its built in hardware and software tools as well as adding other open-source software to it, so this is by definition an incomplete list. Only local agents can really know what the local demand for OLPC-related services would be, so take these as very basic, generic ideas:
- Youth could create radio programs with local advertising -- youth gain experience in writing, public speaking, budgeting, aspects of radio operation (physics lesson on radio waves?), as well as marketing. Local industries could advertise goods during their radio program, and this isn't even getting into the FOPSE (For-profit Social Enterprises) possibilities like the LapDesk.
- The OLPC could be used as a traveling/home-visit cybercafe and "digital office" (some tasks might require a portable printer as well) to provide services like:
- Letter/resume transcription and/or typing
- Contact (skype/voip with family abroad?)
- Interaction with eGovernment services
- Access to current market prices for locally produced goods
- Manage an eBay store of artesania / handcrafts
- Remote basic medicine and consultation with urban-based doctors
- Of course, email/chat/web surfing/entertainment and the like if there's a demand for such services
- Schools (or other groups) could offer the public training and adult education -- the laptop is built to support education; so it's an ideal machine to support training in basic computer skills (typing, mousing, etc.); literacy and numeracy, and so on.
So I hope that the Times of India article has their facts straight, and I hope someone's reading -- and implementing -- our thoughts here and at OLPCNews.com.