CES 2012: For Better or For Worse, These Tablets Are Not iPad Clones

OLPC and a little French company demo rugged, waterproof tablet computers.

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CES 2012: For Better or For Worse, These Tablets Are Not iPad Clones

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Apple is not exhibiting at the International Consumer Electronics Show this week. But the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center are sure to be filled with iPad clones. Ho hum.

Two tablet computers introduced to the press before the opening of CES were, however, decidedly not clones. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are on the path to success, but you have to give them kudos for being willing to go outside the box.

First up, the OLPC ‘s XO3. OLPC is the One Laptop Per Child consortium, an effort to make rugged computers for educational use around the world and, eventually, drive their price down to $100. The XO3 tablet is the follow-on to the XO1 laptop; the XO2, a two-screen clamshell, never made it beyond the prototype stage. XO3, of course, is just a prototype right now, in familiar OLPC green, it is based on the Marvell Armada 610 processor, with an 8 inch LCD or Pixel Qi screen, and optional solar panel case and hand crank charger. It’s waterproof (waterproof is big at CES this year LINK TO LIQUIPEL POST). And, though I spoke to OLPC CTO Ed McNierney at length, I have no idea how much it costs (McNierney says they can’t price it until they start manufacturing it and they can’t manufacture it until they have an order of at least half a million).

Just across a crowded ballroom from the XO3 was the QOOQ, a red kitchen computer, already on the market in France, where it’s sold “thousands.” This tablet isn’t competing on weight—at .8 kg the thing felt heavy, because company reps said, of its thick glass that can handle being knocked around on the kitchen counter. The $399 QOOQ is washable (at least spongeable); you can dump a glass of wine on it without worrying. It comes with a one-month subscription to the company’s proprietary cooking videos ($6 a month for subsequent months), and is based on a custom version of Linux. Essentially QOOQ has taken control of every element—hardware, operating system, and content—to create the optimal kitchen computer, something folks have been trying to do since the 1969 Honeywell Kitchen Computer.

But there’s a reason no one has succeeded. I asked QOOQ execs why they thought they were different and could make a kitchen computer work. They pretty much told me it’s because they’re French. They’re nice guys, so I wish that were true…but I do thank them, and OLPC, for trying to knock the tablet business out of its iPad-too track.
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