Last week, the tech industry was abuzz with questions about OLPC’s next-generation laptop, the XO-2. We heard the news straight from OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte’s mouth: that the system is just a prototype at this point and won’t be available until 2010. But that didn’t stop us and others from picking apart the conceptual system. On a search for some answers, we reached out to Mary Lou Jepsen, the former chief technology officer of OLPC and a founder of PixelQi, who is working to design the XO-2’s dual-touch display. We caught up with Jepsen to find out some details on the screen-centric XO-2. How have you converted the dual-mode display in the current XO to one that is touch capable? What makes this screen different from what you might find on a touch-enabled Tablet PC today or the iPhone? Mary Lou Jepsen: We are integrating multi-touch into the LCD itself, rather than adding an additional touch-sensitive screen over the LCD as is usually done in tablet PCs and iPhone. The cost savings are tremendous, and the image quality is better because nothing is in front of the screen. Will the XO-2 have pen-input/tablet functionality? MLJ: Pen-input/tablet is still to be determined, but it’s certainly not that hard to add. Is the display optimized for any particular OS? The next generation of Sugar? Windows 7? MLJ: The display can use whatever software OLPC chooses. Will the screen use haptic technology (i.e., will users feel feedback when pushing a key)? MLJ: We are working on it. Have there been any usability studies of kids typing on a touchscreens rather than a physical keyboard? MLJ: Not with our devices yet since we are still in development, but there is a wealth of data with children using touchscreens showing that, for them, this is an intuitive and easy-to-use way to interact with computers. Are the days of a physical trackpad and keyboard numbered? Is it all about the screen? And are you concerned at all that children will be computing using a non-traditional design? MLJ: We will see. I have no concern with breaking with tradition. Portable computing is all about the screen—it is, by far, the most expensive component in a portable; it’s also the most power-hungry. We need to drastically reduce the cost and power consumption (to vastly prolong battery life), intertwine the screen with the hardware, make the screen more readable, and make it readable outside even in bright sunlight. We also must integrate touch into the screen itself as a minute incremental cost to the cost of the screen. How can you maintain the durability of the current XO in this new system? MLJ: By protecting the screen with good mechanical design. The XO-2 will reduce power consumption even further to 1 watt. How will this power-saving be achieved? MLJ: The screens will be far more efficient. I have a new architecture which will drastically cut the power consumption further while improving readability. Pixel Qi’s goal to distribute its screen technology to other partners. Any plans you can share to employ the dual-screen touch technology for other notebook brands? MLJ: I can’t share our partners names at this time. We are working with large, tier-one laptop, cell phones, and e-book makers.
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