Steve Jobs helped consult Nicholas Negroponte on the “One Laptop Per Child” initiative

Mon, Dec 7, 2009


Apple’s business model of selling expensive and premium priced computers is an accepted par of the tech discourse, which makes it all the more surprising that Steve Jobs informally advised and provided feedback to Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the OLPC initiative.  OLPC, in case you’re unaware, stands for “One Laptop Per Child”, and is a non-profit organization geared towards manufacturing insanely cheap laptops for use in developing countries.

Initially, the OLPC initiative wanted to sell laptops for $100, a price point Steve Jobs told Negroponte was simply not-doable.  During a lecture at the University of Pennsylvania last week, Negroponte stated: “I got an email from Steve Jobs (when the laptop debuted) and he said you can’t build it for a hundred dollars, and my answer was oh yes I can.”

And whadya know, even though it would have been great for Jobs to be wrong no this, Jobs prediction was right on the money as the final cost of the device ended up being about $200.  “He was actually a very good critic”, Negroponte said, “and each time we got to a point, I did talk to him.”

Given Jobs’ history in the technology business, and his success in turning around the sinking ship that was Apple back in 1997, Jobs has seemingly become a popular sounding board for a number of individuals and corporations. This past October we reported that Disney relied on Jobs’ guidance and Apple’s experience and expertise in retail to help it revitalize its line of retail stores.  Jobs reportedly told Disney chairman Andy Mooney that Disney needed to “dream bigger”, while insisting that Disney build a prototype store before it began any construction or renovation initiatives.

Also, you might recall the harsh words Jobs heaped upon Segway CEO Tim Adams when he first saw the machine’s design.  The following passage is from the book Code Name Ginger: The Story Behind Segway and Dean Kamen’s Quest to Invent a New World.

“I think it sucks!” said Jobs.

His vehemence made [Segway’s] Tim [Adams] pause. “Why?” he asked, a bit stiffly.

“It just does.”

“In what sense?” said Tim, getting his feet back under him. “Give me a clue.”

“Its shape is not innovative, it’s not elegant, it doesn’t feel anthropomorphic,” said Jobs, ticking off three of his design mantras.

“You have this incredibly innovative machine but it looks very traditional.” The last word delivered like a stab. Doug Field and Scott Waters would have felt the wound; they admired Apple’s design sense. Dean’s intuition not to bring Doug had been right. “There are design firms out there that could come up with things we’ve never thought of,” Jobs continued, “things that would make you shit in your pants.”


But Jobs initial response to the Segway is pretty funny when you think about how many miles Woz has probably racked up on the thing.



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