Pixel Qi Out to Bring Principles of Inexpensive Laptop Design to Consumer Market: Former One Laptop CTO Mary Lou Jepsen On Her New Startup

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has stood on countless stages advocating to people that they buy Classmates and XOs. On the technology side, we got off to a rocky start, but we were making progress. It’s hard coming off a “60 Minutes” expose, but once you get technology people working on a technical problem to find the best solution, you’re good. The issue was on the sales side, and the disparagement we were still getting from Intel. Peru was one really extreme example. Oscar Becerra Tresierra, the vice minister of education, said to me that Intel was coming to him almost every day and saying, “Look, we are on the OLPC’s board, and we know that the laptop will never work.”

olpca.jpgX: Weren’t you working with Intel to put a low-power Intel chip into the XO?

MLJ: Yes. It’s very simple; Intel people want to sell Intel chips. I felt that the best way to work with them was to get some Intel silicon into the XO, which we were doing. The laptop we were making with them would have been more expensive and more power-hungry, and it would have taken at least six months longer to produce. But that was not the real reason [for the split]. The cost difference would have been less than 20 percent, and the power difference would have been maybe a watt or two, and we might have been able to pull a rabbit out of the hat and ship for mass production by the summer….[The problem was] on the sales and marketing side. I know how Intel is. I worked there. They are a very aggressive company and a very successful company. People describe them affectionately as the 800-pound gorilla of semiconductors, and that is what they are.

X: How fast do you hope to get some of your new designs into the marketplace?

MLJ: We are beginning to figure out what the next-generation laptop will look like. I’m hoping you’ll be able to see something in stores by the end of the year.

X: That’s fast!

MLJ: It’s a really fast design cycle, but with the XO we went from spec to mass-production-worthy prototype in less than six months.

Customizing the screen and integrating it with the motherboard was key to the XO. Nobody has thought of the display like a chip, but the manufacturing process for LCDs is that mature. The manufacturer had never taken an external design for an LCD before. I was the first one. But I didn’t screw it up, and I’ve got other ideas I’m ready to implement. The screen was just the first step.

X: Pixel Qi has gotten quite a bit of press already. Were you expecting that, and how does it affect your plans?

I’m thrilled by the response. I didn’t really think it would capture this amount of interest. What it indicates to me is that it’s touched a nerve, and there is some pent-up demand. That’s good—I think we can deliver to that demand.

I’m raising financing and working on the design of the first actual products. I’m exploring many different paths, but my inclination is that we will sell products.

Everybody at CES was interested. I’ve been talking to some big-name companies that you’ve heard of. I am bringing together the investors and figuring out what the first products will be, and I’ll announce that when we’re ready.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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9 responses to “Pixel Qi Out to Bring Principles of Inexpensive Laptop Design to Consumer Market: Former One Laptop CTO Mary Lou Jepsen On Her New Startup”

  1. Stefan Gustavson says:

    Finally someone decided to take the path less travelled and design for usability, not for raw horsepower. I have been longing for a low power, less-than-stellar performance laptop that doesn’t need recharging every couple of hours and has a screen I can read in sunlight. MLJ, if you pull this off (as I have no doubt you will), you will be my hero!

    As a side note, I don’t think that $100 price tag needs to be a primary goal. If there was someting like an adult-sized XO running a standard Linux distro I would gladly buy it even for $500.

  2. It will be like the man that invented the 100 mpg
    carburator, or the car that runs on water …
    some *big* company will buy MaryLou’s outfit and
    submerge the inventions, and we will see nothing
    this year.

  3. Michael McNeil says:

    Great stuff.

    All you really need in a bare bones lap top is an enlarged Blackberry isn’t it?

    A motherboard, chip, memory screen and battery.

    Is a graphics card needed?

    Is a hard drive needed?
    No, nor a sound card. Maybe not even a separate OS?

    How about the owners supplying their own peripherals such as the keyboard? I hate laptop keyboards. That’s the worst thing about them.

    Well done, that maaaah.. errr.. woman.
    More please!

  4. Nick Alcock says:

    Ramon, that’s crazy. Why wouldn’t some *big* company buy MaryLou’s outfit, sell huge numbers of really cool low-power laptops and eat their competitor’s lunch? Profit matters more than conspiracy to most of these guys.

    (btw, there are pretty fundamental reasons why, absent very compact and cheap nuclear fusion, a car that runs on water is energetically impossible. Even then it’s unlikely: would *you* want a multibillion-degree plasma under the hood? Cars that run on batteries, now *those* are practical.)

  5. Bob Raiano says:

    This is an idea that is so long overdue. As a home computer network configurator, I have seen many times what the high cost of computing can do to limit the adoption of technology applications within the home environment. It is much easier to sell notebook products into businesses because they can swallow the high cost of computing a little easier during good times. Expensive computing platforms are preventing people from bringing the technolgy from the corporate office into the home.

  6. Bob Pianka says:

    This is great! Not more Ghz and bigger OS, design what we need and bring the price down. I agree we don’t need to get to $ 100 as a primary goal.

    Let’s focus on the sunlight readability (I live in Florida and nothing works in direct sunlight).

    Boot up times under 15 seconds (my old Palm was almost instant on and constantly amazed me).

    Super long battery life (and I don’t mean 3 or 4 hours)how about 6 hours.

    You do this and not only will you be my personal hero, but you will sell millions of these. Heck, I’d probably buy them and give them as gifts.

    Keep up the good work!

  7. morgana says:

    Ms. Jepsen,

    I was wondering when would the public be able to buy your laptops.