"It turns out what people are looking for is something is something that has the full functionality of a PC," he [Barrett] said. "Reprogrammable to run all the applications of a grown up PC... not dependent on servers in the sky to deliver content and capability to them, not dependent for hand cranks for power."Barrett certainly has a point when it comes to the preferences of the established high-tech consumer market; the industry is littered with dozens of low-cost electronic gadgets that failed to produce anywhere near their projected sales. MIT, however, isn't targeting first-world or even the tiny number of high-tech third-world buyers. Instead, they've focused their efforts on schoolchildren living in Brazil, Thailand, Egypt, and Nigeria. The fact that the laptop is crank-powered is a practical design consideration meant to allow for system deployment in villages where there is no electricity (or only very limited amounts of it).
Barrett said Intel was committed to delivering IT access to the developing world -- and is helping Sri Lanka Telecom (SLTL.CM) set up south Asia's first long-range WIMAX wireless network -- but would not produce a cut-price product like MIT's computer.
"We work in the are [sic] of low cost affordable PCs, but full function PCs," he said. "Not handheld devices and not gadgets.
The $100 laptop project faces a number of technical and economic hurdles that must be overcome before such systems become a reality—not to mention the over-arching philosophical question of whether or not the people MIT is targeting really need laptops anyway. There's no guarantee that we'll ever see wide scale deployment of these systems, but I don't think it's possible to predict how third-world citizens in highly impoverished environments will react to them based on how consumers in first-world or limited third-world markets have reacted.