Saturday, October 01, 2005

$100 Laptop?

This is really a brilliant idea, with only one small hitch. First, the goods:

The $100 laptop computers that Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers want to get into the hands of the world's children would be durable, flexible and self-reliant.

The machines' AC adapter would double as a carrying strap, and a hand crank would power them when there's no electricity. They'd be foldable into more positions than traditional notebook PCs, and carried like slim lunchboxes.

For outdoor reading, their display would be able to shift from full color to glare-resistant black and white.

And surrounding it all, the laptops would have a rubber casing that closes tightly, because "they have to be absolutely indestructible," said Nicholas Negroponte, the MIT Media Lab leader who offered an update on the project Wednesday.

One of their ideas is:

To keep the $100 laptops from being widely stolen or sold off in poor countries, he expects to make them so pervasive in schools and so distinctive in design that it would be "socially a stigma to be carrying one if you are not a student or a teacher." He compared it to filching a mail truck or taking something from a church: Everyone would know where it came from.

As a result, he expects to keep no more than 2 percent of the machines from falling into a murky "gray market."

But, as The Speculist notes, this is ridiculous:

This 2% grey market projection is naive. If there is a demand, the supply will flow to the demand. Certainly it would be shameful to take a school-bus-yellow laptop marked "For school use in developing nations only" to work. But these computers could be quickly absorbed into a home use grey market.

This problem could be addressed by offering a commercial version of this cheap machine. If a $150 or $200 version of this machine was offered to the rest of the public at the time the $100 student versions come out, much of the grey market demand could be satisfied honorably.

People are going to sell them on the "gray market." Fact of life. Besides, why not sell a slightly more expensive consumer version? They'd make gobs of money off of US parents buying them for their kids, and could reinvest the profits into refining the design and distributing to even more impoverished places. Good idea with the laptop, but their ideas about the market a bit fuzzy.


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