In what can only be described as an unexpected development OLPC Association announced that it has managed to hit the originally envisioned $100 price the XO laptop is still so widely known for. This was achieved by borrowing a page from Amazon's playbook and introducing ad-supported versions of the brand-new XO-4.
Depending on the specific hardware configuration (non-touch display vs. touch display, 1GHz CPU vs 1.2GHz CPU, 1GB RAM vs. 2GB RAM, 4GB Flash vs. 8GB Flash) the ad-supported models will cost between $100 and $138. At this point it is unclear how much cheaper that is than the non-ad-supported XO-4 models as their prices haven't been announced yet.
One very interesting aspect of the ad system which Poisson D'Avril (OLPC Association's Director of Educational Marketing) mentioned is that it can be managed by deployments:
„All of the content in the ad system is curated and selected for appropriateness by OLPC Association and leading independent reviewers of age appropriate digital advertising in North and South America. Beyond that we will also provide best-practice guides and tools to our implementation partners in the public and private sectors. This will enable them to customize the ads seen by their pupils and teachers and therefore maximize their impact."
One thing that D'Avril didn't want to comment on is if deployments will also receive a cut of the advertising revenue or whether their main benefit will be the reduced purchase price.
Asked about the risk of ads distracting pupils and teachers when using the machines she responded:
„Naturally we did not want to risk negatively impacting the learning experience enabled by using the XOs. So all throughout the ad system's development we ran comprehensive tests in pilot rollouts in several of our ongoing projects in North and South America. As a result and after discussions with some of our leading partners it was decided that ads will only be shown when the XO is starting up, shutting down, and on the newly added screensaver when it is in power-saving mode."
Beyond that D'Avril also mentioned that for some countries special agreements with local advertisers had been signed:
„In some South American countries advertisers have been given the option to replace the famous XO startup sound with their client's jingles. In other cases advertisers will include product samples such as soft drinks, sweets, comics, but also school books and pencils with every XO-4 that is shipped."
At this point it's unclear whether a similar approach will also be used with the XO Tablet which should have become available at select Walmart stores in March. Similarly there's no word on whether the software components of that ad system will make an appearance in an update for the older XO-1 / XO-1.5 / XO-1.75 models.
Now overall of course the question is whether this development should be considered a good or bad move by OLPC Association. On the one hand it will likely enable more children in developing nations to get XOs thanks to the lower price. On the other hand I can't help but feel that exposing children to more advertising isn't something I can truly support. Especially since I still vividly remember how annoyed I was when we found that after a renovation my secondary school's gym had been turned into one big advertising space for a certain soft drink manufacturer...
So what do you think?