OLPC versus Nintendo DS

by Andy Polaine on January 4, 2008

olpc_laptop.jpg

Alexander Stojanovic makes an interesting comparison between the Nintendo DS and the OLPC. Having bought both for his five year-old daughter at Christmas he has been able to compare:

The Nintendo DS (NDS) is the clear winner as an interactive device and learning platform. It truly is a paradigm shift for UI/UX. Our daughter was able to figure out how to configure two DSs for PictoChat (via WiFi) and now constantly wants to “IM” pictures and text with me. It’s an eye-openning experience.

The OLPC is the utter disappointment though. Everything about it is sluggish, unresponsive, cryptic and just sub-optimal.

Like Alexander and as someone who works in both interaction design and educational futures I really want the OLPC project to be a great idea, but I’m pretty worried it isn’t.

The first objection is that really the world would be a much better place if every child had enough to eat, was healthy and happy quite apart from having a laptop.

The second is the potential environmental hazards of sending out so many laptops perhaps not [all that environmentally friendly](and the associated environmental concerns.

Finally, everything is in the execution. Nicholas Negroponte is keen to stress that the OLPC project is “an education project, not a laptop project” and that is, of course, highly laudable, but I’m worried that in the quest to make them so cheap, the user-experience might have been lost in the process.

Alexander Stojanovic’s post seems to be confirming these fears for me:

The OLPC delivers a very – how shall I put this – “academic” idea of what people (children) will want and like. The NDS was clearly tested and usability done on each aspect. The OLPC looks like all the decisions were hardcoded early on by a brain trust of “experts” without any thought of the actual experience of using, maintaining or enhancing the device.

Having created several interactive projects whose primary audience is children, I have experienced first-hand the need to test ideas on children. Looking through the “lens of the learner” is one of the first tenets of teaching and learning.

Engaging people is one of the first tenets of interaction design. Without that the rest doesn’t even get seen. Whilst I congratulate the OLPC team on their achievement I really hope they don’t forget those two principles.

[tags]OLPC, UI, Nintendo[/tags]

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 tim rudder January 4, 2008 at 1:52 pm

not sure if you saw..

2 Andy Polaine January 15, 2008 at 9:47 am

Yes I did read that. I got the feeling that was more to do with Intel wanting to do their own one than anything else.

3 Thomas.S January 17, 2008 at 12:31 am

Maybe it’s just that the nintendo has spent a long time on the market, has lots of software available? The OLPC has not even hit any market, and we look at its most basic functionalities?

4 Andy Polaine January 17, 2008 at 12:51 am

Well, the OLPC has hit the market otherwise Stojanovic wouldn’t be able to make the comparison. Whilst I’m sure Nintendo have far greater resources than OLPC, I would imagine that they have not dissimilar cost and speed/specs issues.

The thrust of my post in response to Alexander’s was about the way the OLPC was conceived rather than its most basic functionalities. There’s no reason why the OLPC couldn’t have a very different approach and interface – and I haven’t had one in my hands myself so I can’t confirm what Alex was saying.

On the other hand I have been involved in education and interaction design projects that have really suffered from starting out from false premises, even with the best will in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I really want the OLPC to work wonders, but I’m worried it’s going to be another Sinclair C5.

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