As I read about the low cost tablets popping up in India like the $140 Classmate and the $45 Akash, I can’t help but wonder, would these low cost tablets exist if it were not for Google and their open source Android operating system?
It once again points to the importance that open source software plays in driving innovation. If Google had decided to create a proprietary operating system available only to an elite group of manufacturers with hefty licensing fees, would we see these kinds of inexpensive products appearing? Would we be seeing the kind of uptake of mobile devices that we are seeing right now?
Sure, you can argue that these tablets are nothing but cheap riffs on a truly innovative product (the much more expensive iPad), and you wouldn’t find me necessarily disagreeing: the iPad was a truly innovative product that created a whole new segment of products. But it is one thing to create an innovative product, and quite another to create an innovative environment that enables more innovation, especially innovation that lowers the cost barrier and allows technology to move from the elite to the common.
More is different. And by providing us with an open source platform to build on, Google has helped ensure that we will see what this different will look like.
Image: Powered by Android by JD Hancock used under Creative Commons Attribution license.
MIT has received some funding from Google Education to launch a new mobile learning centre focusing on “the design and study of new mobile technologies and applications, enabling people to learn anywhere anytime with anyone”. Not surprising since it is being funded by Google that Android looks like the platform the center will be concentrating on, at least initially.
While I am breathless to see what kind of mobile apps will come out of the center, I am equally excited that the center will be focusing on developing and improving App Inventor for Android.
The Center’s first activity will focus on App Inventor for Android, a programming system that makes it easy for learners to create mobile apps for Android smart phones by visually fitting together puzzle piece-shaped “programming blocks” in a web browser.
App Inventor was in a bit of a limbo after Google announced it was shutting down Google Labs, and by having the lab take over the development ensures that the platform will live on, at least awhile longer. And by focusing on App Inventor, the center will continue to develop a tool that empowers learners to create their own mobile learning apps. While a good mobile learning app developed at an MIT lab is a very good thing, there is something even better about developing a simple platform and ecosystem that allows people to create and share their own mobile learning apps.