OLPC brings tablet capability to aging XO laptop with touchscreen

OLPC's XO Touch will add a touchscreen to the original XO-1.75 laptop design.

One Laptop Per Child is redesigning its venerable XO-1.75 laptop, by adding a touchscreen, the non-profit organization said in a blog post late last week.

The next version, called XO Touch, will have a "tablet mode," the organization said in a blog post. The tablet will have a sunlight-readable display and function in both tablet and laptop mode.

The XO Touch will modernize the XO-1.75, which the non-profit organization has been shipping as a learning tools for kids in developing countries for a few years. OLPC also plans to ship a tablet called the XO-3, which has an 8-inch screen, an ARM-based Marvell chip and a multitouch display. The XO-3 was due to be shipped earlier this year, but design constraints have delayed the device.

OLPC signed a license with Neonode, which will provide the touchscreen technology for XO Touch. The screen will accept pen input and ambient light, which reduces the need for a backlight and will extend the battery life of the laptop.

The organization's laptops, XO-1 and XO-1.75 are in the hands of 2.4 million children and teachers worldwide, according to OLPC.

Touchscreens for laptops have been growing in importance with the emergence of tablets. A host of PC makers are expected to release laptops with touchscreens later this year, and Microsoft is expected to release the Windows 8 operating system, which is optimized for touch. Many laptop-tablet hybrid models with the Windows 8 OS have already been shown such as Lenovo's Yoga, in which the screen flips to the base of the laptop to turn the device into a tablet.

The idea of a touchscreen on the XO-1.75 was discussed almost two years ago and some early prototypes were also produced last year, said Christoph Derndorfer, a computer scientist and blogger for OLPC News, in a blog entry. The laptop never came to fruition though.

However, the addition of touch to hardware also requires a software change. Much work remains to be done for the Linux-based Sugar user interface, which ships with many XO-1.75 laptops, Derndorfer wrote.

There is a small developer community, largely volunteers, writing code for the version of Linux with the Sugar UI.

"I'm still worried that trying to use one interface for both touch and mouse/keyboard driven input leads to a less than stellar experience," Derndorfer wrote.

The XO Touch may be slightly more expensive than the non-touch models, and there may be little interest in the touch laptop until the software is ready, Derndorfer said.

OLPC did not provide a specific shipping date for the XO Touch laptop.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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